Bury me, my Love Review — Experiencing the Other Side of the World Through Text
In the framework of a text adventure game, Bury me, my Love takes the struggles of a Syrian refugee's journey and crafts an emotional, human story from it.
As I was playing through Bury me, my Love, in one of my interactions with the main character’s wife, Nour, I couldn’t help but catch myself in the moments where I found the game’s text-messaging interface fully believable. There was always that part in the back of my head reminding me that yes, I’m not really talking with another person on the other side of our text message exchanges. But more often than not, Bury me, my Love was able to cloud that illusion: to make following Nour’s trek across Europe feel as believable and real, as if it were my own loved one making a dangerous, life-changing journey.
Whenever I exchanged selfies with Nour or tried to cheer her up in a moment of defeat, I felt elation. Whenever she would tell me about the bus that she missed, the delayed train, or a run-in with aggressive law enforcement, I felt frustration. Whenever I didn’t hear from Nour at all for hours or even days, my mind started racing, wondering where she was, how she was doing, and just how much longer she had left on her journey and was safe.
In its essence, Bury me, my Love is a text-adventure game that was co-developed between Arte France, Figs, and The Pixel Hunt which has players–in the role of the main character, Majd–interacting through a text messaging app with his wife, Nour, over the course of its 1-2 hour running time. Taking place within the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis–effectively paralleling the events taking place in the country to this day–Nour decides to depart from Syria in the hopes of seeking a better life in Europe, as Majd stays behind to take care of his ailing parents. While the couple is physically separated from one another, Nour shares her journey with Majd through texts and gives him updates on the progress she has made towards Europe, along with sharing the various hardships and joys that she encounters along the way.
This interaction between Majd and Nour mostly plays out through a text messaging interface (which looks pretty similar to WhatsApp), where players choose between a few different dialogue options in their conversation with Nour. Many of these exchanges can be simple ways to keep the conversation going between Majd and Nour, but more often than not, the player will often end up making crucial decisions to help guide Nour’s trek. And while the game is short compared to most experiences, Bury me, my Love provides 19 different endings that can play out, giving a real sense of consequence that each playthrough of the story between Majd and Nour can have wildly different outcomes.
While Bury me, my Love may be limited in a gameplay-sense, it more than makes up for its shortcomings by delivering a wholly unique story that is bound by the player having to make some occasionally hard decisions, but it also never loses sight of its incredibly human sense of storytelling. Throughout the course of my conversations with Nour, I could feel nothing but compassion as she encountered roadblock after roadblock in her journey to Europe, constantly at the will of circumstances beyond her control politically, societally, and often just out of sheer bad luck.
With the game being simply a display of Majd’s phone and the string of text messages from Nour scrolling through (alongside some of the pictures that she and Majd exchange along the way), the core of the experience in Bury me, my Love has to be carried mainly through the writing, and in that sense the game delivers beautifully. All of the exchanges between Majd and Nour feel genuine and human, and even with just a short amount of time spent with the two characters, it’s incredibly easy to get a sense of their relationship and the love shared between them.
This is especially impressive when considering that the game’s text message dialogue system could have ended up feeling gimmicky or contrived in lesser hands. Thankfully, Bury me, my Love and its dialogue feels natural and engaging, especially when it has players deciding what they want to say next to Nour, whether that is to encourage her when she is feeling down, or trying to help make a key decision of where she should head to next.
With the game relying so heavily on dialogue to drive the action, there is an especially immersive sense of tension that comes from having to rely on Nour’s messages to hear and see from what is happening on her journey. While there are moments of levity and comedy that arise between Nour and Majd on her trip, such as her explaining the joy of finding a Starbucks or sharing her interactions with locals that she meets along the way, there are equally tense situations where the physical separation between the two adds to the sense of unease with Nour being on her own in a foreign place. In the situations where she was crossing country borders, I couldn’t help but be on edge waiting for her next response, along with an especially tense scene where Nour believes she is being followed by some street thugs, waiting for her next message with baited breath.
As Bury me, my Love first debuted on mobile in 2017, this week’s release of the game on Nintendo Switch and PC brings it over to a new audience to experience the journey for themselves. As I played through the game on Switch for my first time with it, I have to say that overall it seems that playing through the game on a console or PC seems to deliver its story effectively. However, I will say that at some point down the line I wouldn’t mind picking up Bury me, my Love on mobile, as it truly feels like the place where this game is best suited to be played. While the Switch version was a fine way to play through Bury me, my Love, I can only imagine that playing it on mobile would add far more weight to the sense of immersion that its developers intended the game to deliver.
In particular, the mobile version runs in real-time based on when Nour texts you, so you could potentially go hours or days (in real life) before hearing from her next, creating that uneasy sensation of waiting for a reply back and fearing for her safety. The Switch version, on the other hand, doesn’t have this real-time progression and simply fades to black and fast-forwards to her next message, which loses a bit of that tension and immersive feel that the mobile version has. However, the Switch version does offer the ability for players to rotate the display and play through the game vertically in handheld mode with the touchscreen, so you can at least get some of that mobile-style experience here.
In a time when the plight of refugees and immigrants are being discussed to no end in the current events cycle of today, Bury me, my Love is a loving reminder of the human side of these discussions and their impact, thanks to its gripping story and sympathetic characters. Though the topic of incorporating “politics in games” has often drawn as much criticism as it has support, Bury me, my Love‘s very real, genuine sense of storytelling puts it in league with a small selection of games that attempt to feel contemporary and in tune with the events shaping our times. It takes on hard-hitting, sensitive issues that are intentionally meant to draw comparisons to what is happening in the real world, but does so in a way that feels far from being contrived or manipulative.
Though the game might best be played on mobile to really get an appreciation for how its developers intended the experience to be, regardless of where you play it, it will be hard to deny that Bury me, my Love won’t leave some sort of lasting impact next time you turn on the news, as Majd and Nour’s story is just one of many.