Bury Me, My Love, a powerful interactive tale of one woman’s migration from Syria to France, came out on mobile devices in late 2017. This week, it arrives on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC.
The game takes place via a WhatsApp-style cellphone conversation between Nour and her anxious husband, Majd, who remains in war-torn Homs, caring for elderly relatives. I play as Majd, responding to my wife’s text messages, offering support and advice through a series of dialogue choices.
Nour is a middle-class professional who works in the medical field. She wants to escape the war that has destroyed her life and the lives of everyone she knows. Nour’s journey takes her through many countries, across stiffly guarded borders as well as perilous mountains and seas. She falls in with a variety of fellow refugees and migrants. Some aid her. Others seek her help. Others exploit her.
For her journey, she has practical resources, such as a few thousand dollars and, of course, her cellphone. Nour relies on Majd for emotional support as well as his fast access to information that will help her make decisions, such as whether to head for the Hungarian border or the Croatian border.
Both Nour and Majd are well-versed in the political turmoil of the countries she must cross, attuned to the hostility and racism she can expect to face. But when they find themselves surprised, they make use of information technology to try to find a solution. The migrant paths between Syria and Europe are well-documented online.
Even so, Nour’s journey is dangerous and unpredictable. Technology can only take her so far, while the couple decides who to trust and who to avoid.
As Majd, I quickly come to understand my own powerlessness. Nour cannot be compelled to do just what I want. She often finds my well-meaning attempts to offer guidance to be useless. Majd is jealous of the men Nour meets on her journey, and finds it difficult to process his own mistrust. He is clever in some ways, and grossly ignorant in others. At one point, Nour scolds him, after he warns her not to trust Africans because “they are thieves.”
The story, the studio says, is based on real experiences of migration. Bury Me, My Love manages to show us a slice of what it means to leave a life in search of another. Nour is a smart, funny, honest person. But she is pushed to the limits. In order to survive, she cannot live by the rules of her settled life anymore. She has to make up her own ethical borders as she crosses from one country to another.
In the original mobile version, the game played out in real time by default, so if Nour went offline for a day in the story, she was also offline for a day in the game. That setting could be turned off, as it has been in these ports. Now the game plays out in regular time; I played a single sitting over a couple of hours.
Even without the anxious real-time aspect, the experience works. Almost from the very first challenge, the story superbly conveys Nour and Majd’s fears and helplessness. Much of the action comes down to seemingly mundane decisions, like deciding to take a cab or a bus. But beneath them all is the knowledge that these choices make the difference between success and failure, and perhaps between life and death.
A good story is defined by how much we desire to know what happens next. Bury Me, My Love is gripping stuff. It avoids a binary right-and-wrong structure, letting me work through my journey, unsure where I might have made a better decision earlier. There really don’t seem to be any correct answers, only the ability to make the best decision based on the available information, and good fortune.
I learn to trust my wife’s intuition, stepping back when she decides to take an awful risk, or when she puts her trust in unknowable middlemen. This means I don’t have the videogamey power to scorch obstacles. But I do begin to understand her life, and what it feels like to be tossed on the waves of misfortune.
Bury Me, My Love is the story of one individual. But it’s also the story of countless thousands of migrants who are trying to escape from violence or poverty. In looking for a better life, they place themselves at the mercy of the elements, of smugglers and criminals. They put themselves in opposition to police forces, armies, and anti-immigration fanatics. Nour faces all this and more, but the story never feels far-fetched. At times it’s frightening; at other times, it’s funny. But it’s always convincing.
There are small things we can do for refugees via the appropriate charities, or through our political systems. We can also listen to their stories. Bury Me, My Love is brilliant storytelling. It’s a lightly interactive access point to lives being lived right now, which we all too often dismiss as the travails of distant peoples.
Bury Me, My Love was reviewed on Windows PC using a final “retail” Steam download code provided by Playdius. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.