Take a group of people and you’ll find numerous differences between each and every one of them. The one undeniable truth is that they’re all human, and yet this fact can be all-too-easily forgotten when that same group of people are refugees. Certain politicians, media outlets, and xenophobic hate groups like to wash that individuality away, painting refugees and migrants in monolithic terms as something to fear. It’s a harmful and blatant lie, but this emphasis on fear has proven successful throughout history in shaping people’s opinions. Bury Me, My Love, a text-based adventure game from French developer The Pixel Hunt, presents a much more honest and truthful look at the human beings involved in the migrant crisis, taking inspiration from actual refugee stories to tell an eye-opening tale that’s equal parts heartbreaking, terrifying, and inspiring.
The entirety of Bury Me, My Love plays out on a WhatsApp-style messaging app, with your character, Majd, texting back and forth with his wife, Nour, as she makes the perilous journey from war-torn Syria to the relative safety of Europe. There’s an immediate sense of familiarity in those texts that’s emboldened by Bury Me, My Love’s excellent writing. Both characters are wonderfully realised, and the banter between the two feels authentic from the get-go. They’ll poke fun at each other, develop in-jokes over the course of the game, argue, lift each other up, and trade selfies. Harrowing moments of prejudice, traumatic nautical journeys, and tense border problems are often broken up by satisfying levity, as Nour excitedly discovers a KFC or teases Majd over his not-so-subtle habit of sneaking historical lessons into their conversations. You might only be witnessing Majd and Nour talk to each other a few words at a time, but their interactions are comfortable and believable, leaving you with no doubt as to the intimacy of their relationship.
While you mostly watch Majd and Nour’s conversations unfold, you’ll occasionally chime in by choosing between various dialogue options. Some of these might revolve around simply offering moral support by comforting Nour during a particularly difficult situation or encouraging her to push on. Other times she’ll ask for advice on practical issues, like whether she should buy a flimsy lifejacket in a local market in case there aren’t any available on the boat, or spend her ever-dwindling funds on a hotel room instead of spending the night in a migrant camp during a thunderstorm. However, just because you’ve offered her advice doesn’t mean she’s going to take it. You can try to dissuade her from a decision, but if she’s already made up her mind there’s not much you can do. Because of this, there’s a tangible feeling that you’re talking to a real person on the other side of this messaging app, and Majd and Nour are both so affable and charming that the constant, foreboding sense of danger is significantly heightened.
The end of Nour’s journey is signified by a voice message that’s usually haunting and heart-wrenching. There are 19 endings in total, with your dialogue choices shaping how Nour reaches each conclusion. As a result, there’s a fair amount of replayability involved, compelling you to go back and explore how your decisions affected Nour’s fate and diverged the story. The problem with this, however, is that there are no checkpoints in Bury Me, My Love. You have to start from the beginning each time you want to try alternative choices, and that means reading through the same lines of dialogue over and over again. Having the option to save at certain junctures would alleviate this problem, so it’s disheartening that seeing more of the game is as tedious as it is.
The only other issue with the Switch version of Bury Me, My Love revolves around the Nintendo Switch not being a mobile phone. This might sound ludicrous and overly harsh, but the pseudo-real-time nature of the game on mobile adds a significant amount to the experience. On mobile devices, when Nour’s being followed by a group of neo-Nazis, it’s anxiety-inducing when she suddenly stops messaging for a few minutes and you’re left worrying about what happened to her. On the Switch, the real-time delay isn’t featured, so you just get the image of a clock rapidly advancing time before you’re back in the conversation. Without push notifications and the physical act of using a messaging app on an actual phone, the Switch version loses some of the tension and immersion afforded to its mobile counterpart. You can still rotate the screen vertically in handheld mode and use touch controls to try and capture an ounce of that authenticity, but the touch controls are disappointingly erratic and rarely work.
Bury Me, My Love might share a similar structure to other mobile text-based adventure games like Lifeline and Mr. Robot:1.5.1exfiltrati0n.apk, but the story it tells and the themes it delves into are relatively unexplored within the medium. It shines a light on a situation people are all too eager to ignore and humanizes the stories of those most commonly relegated to ticker text on news reports, and for that reason alone it’s an essential experience. That the story it tells is so engaging and believable, with wonderfully well-rounded characters, only elevates its exploration of the realities of war, and it manages to successfully elicit a genuine human connection. Switch might not be the ideal platform to play Bury Me, My Love on, but whatever your system options are, it’s well worth following Nour on this all-too-real journey.