I always like it when an app uses my phone in the same ways I use my phone. I'm sure more and more will pop up, but right now it still surprises me. So, in Bury Me, My Love, everything plays out over an IM, kind of like WhatsApp.
'Bury me, my love,' is an Arabic phrase meaning take care — a kind of 'I care about you so much, I hope you outlive me.' In this, a piece of interactive fiction for mobile devices, you're Majd, a Syrian, and your wife Nour has left your home to seek asylum in Europe. She messages you and you can reply. At first it's chatter about Nour's day, updates on her flight or her bus being delayed. But the journey quickly becomes hazardous and frightening for Nour. She asks for advice, and what you say can affect her choices. Should she pay extra for a taxi to take her all the way to the airport? Should she try sneaking onto a bus without a ticket? Should she cross a border by land, risking guards, or by river, risking drowning?
Sometimes you will make jokes that Nour doesn't appreciate, and her relationship with you sours under immense pressure. Maybe she spent too much money, or didn't find something she needed. At one point you discuss hiding the larger notes of her money. Should she hide them in her shoes? What if her feet get wet, though? Nour goes to find a plastic bag. This takes her a while, during which time you can't talk to her.
Bury Me, My Love takes place over real time (or, semi-real time, anyway), so when Nour is off finding a plastic bag she'll be too busy to speak to you. When she says goodnight at bedtime you might not hear from her again until the next morning. It's a great way to frame the journey, and it kind of made me worry about her; I kept checking to see if she'd come back online, especially if the last time she messaged had been just before she did something dangerous. At the same time, you can check her progress on a map, via a little icon keeping track of her location whenever she logs on again.
Nour and Majd exchange emojis. Sometimes Nour will send a picture of where she is, or a selfie; on her first night away, Majd sends one of himself lying on his pillow, so she can pretend he's next to her. Occasionally Majd will look up information to help Nour make a decision: this is a map of the area; this is how to say this phrase in another language. Rarer still, Nour may send a voice recording.
Because the game integrates things like this, that you're used to yourself, you are more easily engaged. After all, isn't this how a lot of us engage with our friends now? You can check on your friends hundreds of miles away, even friends in different countries, before you've had a shower or a cup of tea in the morning.
It could, conceivably, be happening; it is happening, the game's website points out. Although Nour is not a real person, thousands have made the journey she attempts, and the game is partially inspired by the one made by a refugee named Dana, as recorded in her WhatsApp messages to family (Dana and the journalist Lucie Soullier, who wrote about Dana's story, were both on the 'editorial team' for Bury Me, My Love).
Nour might not make it. You might give her bad advice. She might go the wrong way, or run out of money. But if Nour doesn't make it on one attempt of her journey, you can try again from the start, which is a luxury that people in real life don't have. This was supposed to be a review, but I don't know how to score something like this. Functionally I can say that it takes existing ideas for cool game mechanics and uses them in an original and effective way. It made me think more about the refugee crisis, something I am almost entirely insulated from, because it presented the issues in a format I can more readily understand and relate to. But that is itself an embarrassing conclusion to come to when this is an issue happening to real people in real life. So I can tell you what it is, and say I think you should try Bury Me, My Love, and come to your own conclusions.