I don't usually fall for interactive fiction or smartphone games, but Bury Me, My Love hooked me. This mobile game charts the journey of a young woman named Nour as she tries to escape the civil war in Syria by fleeing to Europe, told through text messages.
Developed by French studio The Pixel Hunt, Bury Me, My Love is based on the stories of actual Syrian refugees, including one in particular who, like Nour, communicated with loved ones back home over text message. The game attempts to recreate that experience, both in the events and people Nour encounters and also how these are communicated to the player.
Bury Me, My Love has a minimal interface and is always running in the background on your phone. The story updates in real time as Nour messages you new things. The app's notifications mimic the type you would see on your phone when getting a message from an actual friend, except in this case, the message is from a fictional one. On a single-scrolling stream of texts Nour will tell you about the cab that's just picked her up or talk about some memory from the past, perhaps even a time before the war.
You choose how to respond in a manner similar to the dialogue wheel in a BioWare game, but with fewer options. Every so often Nour will even ask you for advice, and it's in these moments when you truly start to feel everything about the journey - the exhaustion, fear and hope - weighing down on you. Often the choices between what to tell Nour left me paralysed. Where should she sleep? How much extra should she pay to try to bypass dangerous areas? There were never good options, just ones that seemed less bad but inevitably led to unforeseen consequences.
To add to the drama, the real time nature of the game means it will sometimes take a few minutes or hours for her to respond. Unlike in Mass Effect or The Witcher 3, where you can see the ramifications of your actions play out almost immediately, Bury Me, My Love asks you to make difficult choices and then wait breathlessly to see if they were the right ones. It's an interesting mechanic that most games don't get to play around with, but Pixel Hunt's creation takes full advantage of it.
According to the studio there are about 110,000 words of possible dialogue between you and Nour and 19 different endings. Of course, the unique events that have befallen hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees aren't so easily measured. But Bury Me, My Love isn't meant to be an encyclopedia. Instead, it takes what for many can be a decontextualised tragedy playing out halfway across the world and gracefully renders it as deeply human. I've never been so disarmed by a conversation with a character in a game than the first time Nour sent me a kiss emoji right before turning her phone off at the border to save battery life.
The game is currently available on both iOS and Android.