A game with brains as well as heart.
Bury Me, My Love is a truly excellent piece of interactive fiction. Told exclusively through the medium of one man’s text correspondence with his wife, Nour, who is trying to escape Syria and settle somewhere in the holy land of “Schengen,” it is a story told with tenderness plus a surprising depth, nuance and scope.
Much of the story plays out in front of you. From the start of Nour’s absconsion from Syria, she faithfully texts you (her husband Majd) updates of her journey, as well as the odd photo. At times, you can choose your reply, giving her advice on what steps to take next.
It’s a very neat little framework that’s surprisingly immersive. Everything that happens which might, in other games, seem like a mechanic and break you out of its universe can be justified under the small but expertly designed umbrella of the game’s premise. Typos seemed like genuine mistakes on behalf of the text sender, not the developer, for example.
In other instances, when I had to Google something like a place name I hadn’t heard before, I felt like I was doing exactly what Majd would do as he sat anxiously awaiting a text back. Furthermore, when Nour decided to go against my decision, it didn’t feel like the game forcing me down a certain path as many interactive games do, but like a real person making a decision they would later explain. Even things like long periods of time passing to help the sometimes laboured pacing along were deftly explainable by Nour’s phone having died on the road.
Indeed, for a piece of fiction, I found that I rarely had to suspend my disbelief. Partially, of course, this was because of the game’s story’s proximity to reality, but also because it was so believably told and plausible, and because the mechanics were perfectly integrated into the story. Okay, so the idea that Nour would text updates in often dangerous, volatile situations could raise an eyebrow, but that was really the only thing that pulled me out of the game on occasion.
Along with texting vital information, we also see a lot of just normal husband and wife chat between Nour and Majd. This really helps develop a sense of depth to the story and is crucial in raising the stakes. Like most of the rest of the game, it seems very believable: the two are often jokey, sometimes snarky, sometimes serious, never contrived (except maybe the autocorrects). It’s a testament to the ability of the writing team; this could very easily have been annoying, nauseating or overly romanticised, but they get the balance just right.
Bury Me, My Love also surprised me with its sheer volume. Most text sims I’ve played aren’t much more than a couple of hours long, with a couple of possible endings. I played this game for 13 hours, and in that time only got to two of nineteen possible endings. Whilst I’m satisfied (ish) with the ending I got on my second playthrough and probably won’t play through the whole thing again, knowing this gave Bury Me, My Love a tremendous sense of scope, possibility and ambition. Fortunately, I missed the ending which I assumed gives the game its title.
There were times when Bury Me, My Love could be incredibly frustrating. On one occasion, I (well, Nour) tried to cross the French-Italian border three different times, and she was sent back thrice. It was annoying – I felt powerless to help, and I was frustrated at getting nowhere. And yet, this ability to infuriate is at the core of the game’s message. Sitting powerless on a phone thousands of miles from your wife who is a refugee in an uneasy European political climate, you do feel like you get a distillation of the refugee experience through experiencing Bury Me.
What’s really admirable, too, is how well Bury Me avoids being didactic. The story it tells is sensitive to the plight of refugees, yet it’s never patronising in being too overbearing with this message, and crucially, its nuance means it doesn’t shy away from the harder questions. Some of the refugees do bad things, and not for the right reasons either.
Because Bury Me is mainly text-based, there’s not too much in the way of art direction to talk about. The phone screen is pretty straightforward and comes with a map function which means you can see the spatial progress Nour has made, as well as some context about her current location. It is only in photos that the game can really show off its art design, which is a shame as it looks superb.
I will admit that Bury Me has a couple of minor flaws. The Syrian main characters are quite Westernised, which makes them more relatable but less authentic. That’s about the only criticism I have, except for the emojis. Oh, the emojis.
I get why emojis are used. They no doubt allowed the developers to use man-hours elsewhere by saving writing time, and people do use them in real life. However, their deployment is sometimes comically mistimed. Your wife is stuck on the Serbian border? Emoji. Stuck indefinitely in Bulgaria due to bureaucratic asylum policies? Emoji. “What will happen to the refugees of Nizip?” asks Nour. That’s an emoji answer too. It’s a small issue in reality but when the developers only gave me emoji text options, it did make me question the otherwise stellar tone of Bury Me.
Nonetheless, Bury Me is a remarkable game overall. It’s tender and well-written, being amusing and endearing whilst packing some hefty emotional punches, exploring thought-provoking issues with nuance and without didacticism, all under a sleek-looking facade and with the help of tight, immersive game design. Whilst it may still be better suited to its original mobile format, it’s well worth picking up on any platform.
[Reviewed on PC]