In the wake of a worrying global tilt towards right-wing politics and the relentless “othering” of migrants and refugees, there is perhaps no time more ideal for a game like Bury Me, My Love. It tells the story of a separated husband and wife, Majd and Nour, as Nour tries to make her way from the war-torn streets of Homs in Syria to the relative safety of Europe. While Majd stays at home to look after his elderly family, he offers his beloved advice and support through a WhatsApp-style phone messaging app. It is a personal, emotional and at times devastating tale which, while fictional, succeeds through its incredibly realistic and sensitive writing.
The game plays out as a continuous conversation spanning multiple days as you track Nour’s progress and as such feels more like a stripped down visual novel. Your actions are limited to basic choices such as selecting between binary dialogue options or picking emojis, though there is also a map which tracks the route Nour takes (and provides information on the state of real, disturbing migration situations at each checkpoint).
As Majd, you can only watch as Nour tackles the perilous plight of migrating to a safer country, interjecting as she has to make decisions such as whether to take a cheaper but potentially fatal black market transport route, or a safer option which will diminish her rapidly dwindling savings. The horror and deviousness of those who exploit migrants is laid out clearly, whether it’s a taxi driver scamming Nour for extra cash to go to “less safe” areas or a smuggler taking advantage of her desperation to cram her onto a dangerous boat.
Like any couple under stress and forced separation, it’s an emotional rollercoaster of a journey for both them and the player. The pacing is superb throughout, allowing moments of real tension — such as when Nour believes she is being followed by a far-right gang — to the relief when she reaches a safe haven or refugee camp, and even the luxury of a hotel. Morally dubious choices may sometimes need to be made and justified in your head which do a great job of putting you in the migrant’s shoes. Guilt and pity alike come in waves as you realise the predicaments that we consider unthinkable (unending queues for basic food and humanitarian facilities, relentless deportation between countries which don’t want to deal with the “burden”, and so on) are an everyday occurrence for migrants.
But for all of the despondency threading its way through the game, there are real moments of hope and humour. Majd and Nour feel like a genuine couple, their bickering and teasing are infectious and do a great job of highlighting the moments when Nour is genuinely in trouble. The ever-progressing clock is a third character in the game; given the frequency with which the couple communicate, any significant gap between updates from Nour often provokes dread — as not hearing from a loved one surely would for the player.
Mechanically, the game is functional. Originally a mobile game, Bury Me, My Love would certainly feel more at home on a portable device than PC, but the story isn’t lessened by the format change. While you can save progress at any point and revisit it from there, a welcome improvement would have been the addition of checkpoints to go back and change some of the decisions you made along the way. The game has a whopping nineteen different endings, but you won’t be able to easily experience these without going through all of the dialogue from the very beginning up until the point you made a branching choice — and the majority of players are going to struggle to justify blasting through the two hour runthrough a second time, let alone nineteen.
Even so, Bury Me, My Love is an important game. It might portray a sole migrant’s journey, inspired by a real Syrian refugee (and we’d recommend reading how the two writers created it in this article on Gamasutra) but it does so thoughtfully and without hyperbole. It’s a worrying, often awful glimpse of how humanity treats its own, but it isn’t without hope and it never feels less than realistic. In an era when it’s all too easy to use a screen to gate yourself off from the news stories that make you feel uncomfortable, Bury Me, My Love embraces that technology, and in doing so shines a light onto the hardships that the vast, lucky majority of us will never experience in our lifetime.