Bury Me, My Love: Games, Digital Empathy & Migration

Bury me, my Love tells the story of Nour as she flees Syria through the medium of simulated text messages. As her husband Majd, you try to help her make decisions–go to Izmir, go to Beirut, try to make the border into Bulgaria, which smuggler to trust. Your responses help guide her actions, but you do not wholly control Nour as she will occasionally overrule you.

The game feels intensely personal, two lovers chatting on Whatsapp, and was inspired by a story published in le Monde that featured over 250 screencaps of messages that Dana, a young Syrian who fled in 2015, sent to her family. The story also plays out in a modified “real time” and you wait to see the consequences of your direction.

There are some scary moments, as above, or when Nour turns off her cellphone to save battery while dodging brutal patrols on the Turkey/Bulgarian border. This is powerful testimony for the utility of smartphones as a guide and lifeline for vulnerable people. Further, the format of the cellphone to deliver this game is perfect–there is an immediacy and urgency in your interactions with Nour as you make incredibly difficult decisions. The writers were able to convey Nour’s humor, vulnerability, loneliness, defiance and despair through texts.

Bury me, my Love relies in part on immersion through telepresence. Telepresence, where you are when you’re talking on the phone–not with the person you are speaking to, but not quite alone in the room either–is a longterm research interest of mine. Delegation and the extended self play important roles in interpreting the past and building an understanding of past people. The game takes the familiar distant-closeness of communicating with friends and loved ones through digital devices and social media and uses this dynamic to deliver a powerful message about the lives of asylum seekers in Europe’s hostile landscape. Through the simple mechanism of text messaging, Bury me, my Love is an impactful, truthy account of people’s lives, one that may improve empathy and provide some education in human rights.

But.

but.

Do I want these things to be delivered digitally? Is the gamification of the horrendous treatment that desperate people receive at international borders really how we teach ourselves that state-sanctioned brutality is a bad thing? I want there to be important games, impactful games and Bury Me, my Love certainly is such an example. This game is harrowing, but I can walk away. After working with Syrian refugees, it makes me a little queasy to play them, to play their struggle. But perhaps any kind of intervention, especially a very sympathetic, impacting, intelligent game is better than nothing.

This game really begs the question: how serious should serious games be?

Recommended, regardless. More reviews:

Kotaku

Engadget