I didn’t know what I was stepping into when I bought Bury Me, My Love. I was intrigued by the beautifully illustrated cover art and the morbid name. I knew very little of what the game was actually about…and man, was I in for a surprise!
Bury Me, My Love seems like more of a visual novel than a game at first, but your decisions are hugely important. It is told entirely through text messages and – here’s where it gets heavy – follows the plight of a Syrian refugee. Released in 2017 and produced by The Pixel Hunt, ARTE France and Figs, the player takes on the role of Majd, whose wife, Nour, undertakes a terrifying journey to seek asylum in Europe in the midst of the refugee crisis. The player must make decisions about what to send Nour, including choices of emojis, selfies, and various messages. You decide what routes Nour takes and ultimately decide her fate. Your decisions in this branching story will lead you to one of 19 potential endings, many of which are haunting and traumatising – but that is the point, and boy, does it make it well.
The game is based on the testimonies of real refugees, and it shows. It communicates the terror refugees face with real sensitivity, and you quickly become invested in Nour’s story, though you see very little of it with your own eyes. All you have to go off are Nour’s messages and occasional pictures that she sends you. Making each decision is terrifying, and you have no idea if it’ll lead to salvation, arrest or even death. As the player, you are constantly on edge, from worrying if a boat Nour takes will capsize, to fretting about whether the people she meets along the way will take advantage of her or put her in danger, to hoping and praying that security will let her through border control.
I played Bury Me, My Love on Switch, but from what I understand, the terror of the experience is somewhat increased by playing it on mobile, the platform it was originally intended for. On the Switch, your in-game time skips ahead to the next message you receive from Nour, so the game can be completed within a few hours. On mobile, however, you receive the messages in real time. You might wait for a few minutes or hours for a text, or it might even be the next day, building suspense constantly as to Nour’s situation. Things like this drive home how careful the developers have been to reflect real experiences effectively and sensitively.
This game is deeply uncomfortable. And that is why it is so good. It threw me right out of my privileged bubble and made me think. If I feel this scared and I’m only playing a game, how must real refugees feel?! How must real refugees feel when they are constantly met with setbacks and scares, when they must constantly find somewhere safe to sleep for the night, when they face such uncertainty as to when they will finally be safe again?
This is a game I think everybody in the privileged West would benefit from playing. My only real complaints about it are that the Switch version is notorious for crashing, so approach with caution on that front – perhaps mobile would provide a better experience. There’s also no option to trace your steps back to replay certain parts of Nour’s journey – you must do it all from the beginning again if you want to try for a new ending. But I find myself thinking that this feature would be rather tacky in a game with such a serious subject matter where every decision is meant to matter. I’m not the best at living with my decisions in games – I’ve never recovered from Detroit: Become Human – but in this situation I really had to live with it – no saving and going back a chapter to rewrite my story. And that was what made me reflect the most – the real and painful permanence of each decision, however small. Equally, I’ve seen reviews that criticised the ‘gamification’ of such an issue as the refugee crisis, which some believe is in bad taste. I could see this point of view if Bury Me, My Love wasn’t so well done. From my perspective at least, it is not an insensitive game in the slightest, and it does a lot to draw attention to the plight of refugees.
Overall, Bury Me, My Love is yet another incredible game that draws attention to an important real world issue, just like other games in this vein that I’ve liked: Lydia and Figment are two great examples. It is the most haunting game I have ever played. A game like this does not need jump scares and gore to scare you: the real world is horrifying enough as it is.
Bury Me, My Love is available on Nintendo Switch, Steam, Google Play and the App Store.