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Bury me, my Love stays true to the experiences of Syrian refugees

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Bury me, my Love is a game about a journey that millions of people have made simply so they can survive. It’s from developers Pixel Hunt and Figs, and it’s based on the true stories of Syrian refugees who fled their homes because of a brutal civil war. It will debut October 26 on iOS and Android.

It plays out as text conversations between a married couple, Nour and Majd. He stays in their home in the Syrian city of Homs because he has to support his family. Meanwhile, Nour forges ahead to Germany to resettle in safety so that Majd can join her later.

You play as Majd, guiding Nour along as she has to make impossible choices. It’s a perilous trek that’s over 3,000 miles and pockmarked with minefields both literal and metaphorical — treacherous waters, hostile locals, unsympathetic politics, and bullets spitting past her head when violence breaks out with no warning.

Based on limited information, you have to help her decide if it’s safe to trust this smuggler or that, if she should head to Izmir or Istanbul to try to cross the border, if she should stick with the other refugees or strike out on her own. Each decision is fraught with tension, and the consequences are sometimes fatal.

“There are 19 different endings,” said Florent Maurin, Pixel Hunt’s founder and game designer, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We really tried to cover a wide scope of different things that can happen from migrants from Syria to Europe. It’s based on real facts, obviously, but it’s more particularly based on the story of Dana, a young Syrian who left in 2015 and now is living in Germany.”

Maurin first read about Dana’s story in an article in the French newspaper Le Monde. She goes simply by Dana S., and she had sent journalist Lucie Soullier over 250 screencaps of text messages she’d exchanged with her loved ones back in Syria during her grueling journey. Maurin reached out, and both Dana and Soullier agreed to consult on the game.

Pixel Hunt also interviewed other refugees as well to try to incorporate as many realistic scenarios as possible. The story, including all the different branching paths, amounts to 110,000 words, and Maurin says that Dana read through everything and corrected the details.

“The game shows almost my real story, without a doubt there is always more details from other people and other stories,” said Dana in an email to GamesBeat. “I hope that who plays this game don’t take it or understand it as it’s about one single story or about two people, but about all the people that put their lives in danger just to escape even greater danger, which is really sad, maybe who plays the game can feel more our pain, and understand our case.”

More than a statistic

The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that there are over 5 million Syrian refugees who have fled their homes to seek asylum in other countries. Some of them never manage to resettle, instead staying in camps. The 2015 documentary Salaam Neighbor explores one of the largest refugee camps, Zaatari, in Jordan, where 85,000 refugees live. Even if they do manage to make it to somewhere like Germany, it’s difficult to resume a normal life. For instance, it can be difficult for refugees to find jobs, because of issues like the language barrier, legal status, and a competitive market.

“If you live in occidental Europe today, you can’t not care about this topic,” said Maurin. “It’s impossible. It’s everywhere. In Paris you have lots of migrants everywhere, people who don’t know where to go. It’s a very important topic. For some people it’s a topic that causes worry, or even fear. Sometimes I think it’s because, if you look at it through the prism of the media, you see migrants as like a wall, just this big entity, faceless, people coming in the thousands across the borders of your country.”

Maurin says that Bury me, my Love is an attempt to show that each immigrant has a story and a family. The relationship between Nour and Majd is something that’s familiar, even when they’re discussing life-threatening situations. Nour loves Starbucks. Majd is a teacher and shop owner. They fight over petty misunderstandings, they send each other selfies and emojis, and they make inside jokes. In the context of both of their situations, their conversations are devastatingly normal at times.

“I think what the game can represent, is a real-life experience of people fleeing horror, murder, injustice and dictatorship to find a better life, to find a more human life so to say,” said Dana, “and I think it’s important for other people to see what we must go through before we can get to their countries, because a wrong turn can turn really deadly, we are not just risking our lives to come to a better one, we either die trying or we die living in Syria.”

An accessible experience

Bury me, my Love is designed with an internal clock that runs three times faster than real time. It simulates what it’s like to wait for a text from a family member who’s in a life-or-death situation. Sometimes, you won’t wait very long to receive a new text notification from Nour. Other times, she’s worryingly quiet for a while, like when she has to go into hiding or her phone runs out of battery. It’s a simple interface and familiar mechanic that has enabled people who are unfamiliar with games to appreciate the experience.

“Lots of the people we’ve tested the game with are people who are not really gamers,” said Maurin. “For some of them, it was their first time playing a video game. They really enjoyed the fact that it was more like a rendezvous. You didn’t really know when you were going to get news from Nour. You could go through your normal agenda, go to work, and sometimes a message would pop up. You could play for five minutes, and then Nour would be busy again. They enjoyed that, because it could fit in their reality, but also be very different from their reality.”

Even though the story addresses heavy issues and the very real danger that many people face, it’s also uplifting. Nour’s cheeky sense of humor and Majd’s bookish sensibilities make them lovable, and it’s easy to get attached to them. When Dana was giving feedback on the game, Maurin says that she emphasized that the text conversations were the good parts of her journey. They kept her spirits high and enabled her to stay connected to the people she loved.

“I hope that people don’t take it only as a game, but as a story that you are going to live it throughout the pictures and the choices you make in it, and I hope that people will look at the characters not as heroes but as a seekers for life,” said Dana.

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