Mobile game Bury Me, My Love tracks a Syrian refugee's journey to Europe through text messages
What if the person you loved most in the world was making a dangerous journey all alone and your only connection to them was through the messaging app on your cellphone?
That's the reality faced by many people in war-torn Syria who use text message services like WhatsApp to keep in touch with relatives making the perilous trek to Europe.
It's also the premise of a new mobile game called Bury Me, My Love, designed and co-written by former journalist Florent Maurin.
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"I've been a journalist for a long time. I've also been a gamer for a long time," Maurin told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.
"And I really wanted to mix both and see how games could be used as a medium to convey news or to say things about the world we live in."
Bury Me, My Love — from independent video game studio The Pixel Hunt in Paris — simulates a messaging app on your phone.
You play as Majd, a Syrian man who must stay behind to care for his elderly relatives as his wife Nour makes her way to Europe.
The title based on an old Syrian and Lebanese idiom that basically means "take care of yourself and don't die before I do."
Communicating with Nour isn't always easy. Sometimes she won't respond to your messages, or sometimes she will message you suddenly out of nowhere.
"It's an interactive fiction and it's in real time. So if Nour has to do a thing and she's not available for you, well she won't be there, so you'll have to wait — exactly as people who are in touch with refugees or migrants have to wait for them and to hear from them," Maurin said.
"That's why we chose a mobile game, because we really wanted to give the feeling of someone using a messaging app such as WhatsApp and also because we wanted to use features of cellphones, such as notifications, to be able to tell a story in real time and really mimic what happens when you're in touch with a migrant who is trying to reach Europe."
Bury Me, My Love is part of an emerging genre often referred to as "empathy games," which use their narratives and underlying mechanics to evoke powerful human emotions and make you connect to unfamiliar people or places.
Other examples include Borders, where you play a character trying to cross from Mexico into the U.S., This War of Mine, which puts you in the shoes of a civilian trying to escape a conflict zone, or 1979 Revolution, in which you must navigate life during the Iranian revolution.
The game was inspired by an interactive news feature in Le Monde by journalist Lucie Soullier, who tells story of Dana, a young Syrian woman now living in Germany.
The character Nour is loosely based on Dana, and both she and Soullier were consultants on the game.
"She told us a lot about that trip. She told us about smugglers and very shady places that she had to go through and the fear she had to go through between Turkey and Greece, and that is all in the game," Maurin said.
"But the most important part is we really took inspiration from Dana's personality. She's really special, she's very brave, she's fearless, she's independent and she's very modern also. It's everything that doesn't come to mind when you think about Syrian migrants."
Throughout Bury Me, My Love, Nour will keep you updated on her progress and ask your advice on how to proceed. Should she wait or push forward? Should she trust the smuggler she met?
But like Dana, Nour has an independent streak and she won't always heed your advice.
Nevertheless, what you say to her will affect how her journey unravels. The game has 19 possible endings, all based on stories from real-life refugees.
"You can end up in Italy and Austria or in France. Or you can give up and stay in Turkey until Majd is able to come and meet you there. And, of course, there are also sad endings because you know in reality the people that we're talking about sometimes face tragic destinies," Maurin said.
"But I hope for most of it, Bury Me, My Love carries a message of hope and people who want to reach for a better life, and I hope players will get it when they play.
Bury Me, My Love will be available for download from Google Play and The App Store in September.
Note: The recording of this interview originally included the full name of the refugee Dana, but As It Happens has since removed her surname to protect her family.