Bury Me, My Love

iOS, Android

Sidequest was provided with a copy of Bury Me, My Love for Android in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“Bury me, my love” is an Arabic phrase, used as a farewell to loved ones. It expresses a familiar sentiment: don’t die before me, I couldn’t live without you. Bury Me, My Love is also the title of a mobile game exploring the experience of one refugee’s perilous journey out of Syria. In it, you play Majd, messaging your wife, Nour, as she attempts to make her way to Germany, seeking refuge from the bombs and bullets of her homeland. Bury Me, My Love is a compelling game that explores important and emotional themes but not without replicating western patriarchal and paternalistic beliefs.

Bury Me, My Love, Playdius, 2018

You receive messages from Nour in pseudo real time, just as if you were really messaging a traveller. It’s an immersive mechanism that feels real, but its purpose goes deeper than gameplay. It creates an emotional connection as you wait to hear back from Nour. She often finds herself in risky and uncertain situations, disappearing for hours—sometimes days—on end. I found myself feeling anxious, wanting to check in on her as she takes a bus to a new location or as she explores a new city.

The gameplay highlights the real emotions felt by the loved ones of refugees: fear, anxiety, desperation. As I attended to events in my real life, I felt pangs of guilt when I didn’t have the time to read a new message—even though I knew the game would wait for me. Nour was frequently at the back of my mind, as my real-life relatives are, living in countries where a car bomb or a mass shooting is common. Playing Bury Me, My Love is a grounding and heartbreaking experience, providing a constant reminder of the struggles of refugees and citizens living within conflict zones around the world, right now.

Throughout the game, Nour turns to Majd for guidance. You are asked to choose which paths Nour should take, creating a sense of responsibility in the player. You try to strategise with each new decision and you doubt yourself every time something goes wrong, which is often. You feel like it’s your fault when the reality is that the conditions facing refugees today are designed to fail them. From terrorist organisations destroying cities to border soldiers firing on refugees (or arresting them or beating them), everything is against Nour, regardless of the decisions you make.

Bury Me, My Love, Playdius, 2018

As Nour’s husband making choices for her, the game also begins to reveal its paternalistic foundations. By placing the power in Majd’s hands, Bury Me, My Love replicates patriarchal attitudes from around the world, including western beliefs and behaviours. It’s on you to protect Nour, even though she is a doctor entirely capable of making smart decisions independently. Nour often comes across as helpless, deferring to Majd without offering up her own views on what she would like to do. Although western Europe is referred to throughout the game as relatively safer and superior to most of the Middle East, the game’s script reproduces prevailing western views that women—particularly brown and Muslim women—require protection, especially from men and white folk.

Ultimately, Nour follows your orders. She relies on Majd to have greater knowledge than she does. She turns to you to make decisions for her. This is a gameplay device, of course, but it also made me question how differently your conversations might look if you were playing Majd instead. Today, many men choose to make the journey to Europe, hoping to bring their families – and their wives and children – over to a new home later. It’s a dangerous journey and many people around the world maintain the patriarchal view that men are stronger, more capable, and that they should be the ones to find work and provide a home. Whilst the game positions Nour as undertaking this voyage, it nonetheless undercuts much of her courage and strength with over-protective and occasionally paranoid comments from Majd. Majd seems to expect to be asked what to do, a common attitude in both the west and in Asian and Middle Eastern cultures.

As Nour faces increasing despair and physical exhaustion, she leans on Majd more and more. She trusts you to have greater insight into her own situation, despite the fact that she is knowledgeable and relatively privileged. She is educated, she speaks English and she is probably middle-class, as the game establishes that she and Majd have enough savings to buy her vehicular transport and hotel rooms. She has a greater chance of success than many refugees, and the game assumes this also makes her more relatable to western players.

Bury Me, My Love, Playdius, 2018

In fact, Nour expresses attitudes that suit mainstream western ideals. She rebels against wearing a veil, she drinks alcohol, and she doesn’t feel uncomfortable hanging out with large groups of men; all behaviours that seem to fly in the face of our media’s depiction of Muslim women. And whilst those fleeing oppressive regimes and areas of conflict – especially women and queer people – ask for the freedom to express themselves and to live how they want, this game was not made by those people. Bury Me, My Love is not a creation by Muslim women nor does it reflect the diverse attitudes and behaviours of Syrian women and refugees. The creators of this game are white and French, and I frequently felt like the game romanticised western values and behaviours in a similar way to our media and cultural narratives. The game is not critical of the subtle misogyny in Nour’s interactions with Majd, a form of misogyny so common in the west that it frequently goes unnoticed. Majd often responds with authority, agitation, or paternalism, a reflection of how white westerners treat Muslim women. I found this frustrating; sometimes, I just wanted to ask Nour how she felt. I wanted to see her agency. Instead, I felt that she portrayed a specific kind of Muslim woman, one that conforms to western values and rejects most of her own culture, therefore making her acceptable to white westerners.

But Bury Me, My Love also offers hope. Although I clashed with some of the game’s sensibilities, and whilst I wish this game was made with more input from actual Muslim and brown women, it also has its empowering moments. Nour is funny, determined, and empathic. On her journey, she finds community in the chaos around her, softness in hard places. At times, Nour reminds me of the fiery women in my own family, rebelling against men and violence and imperialism in their own ways, big and small.

Bury Me, My Love, Playdius, 2018

I wanted a happy ending for Nour but I didn’t find one this time. I know that I will try again in multiple playthroughs, chasing the hope of guiding Nour to somewhere safer to live. Yet I wonder if Bury Me, My Love even has a happy ending. As Nour navigates bullets and minefields and patriarchal power imbalances, I know that even in her best case scenario, she faces dehumanisation and alienation as a refugee in western Europe. I know that thousands of migrants die every year trying to reach Europe, including hundreds of children. I know that tens of thousands of refugees who manage to make it to my own country, the UK, face deportation based on subjective rulings from officials. I know that while they live here, they face casual racism and violent hate crimes, as well as misogyny, Islamophobia, and queerphobia. I know that safety is relative and I know that western imperialism forces people to flee their homes then refuses to offer stability within its own borders.

I know all of this and still, I’ll hope. Nour needs hope. We still have to work for a future where we reject imperialism and treat migration as a normal part of life. Refugees around the world need compassion in the face of brutality both at home and in the west. Whilst it’s missing some of the heart and authenticity needed for a game exploring this experience, Bury Me, My Love nonetheless strives for that compassion. Through its engaging gameplay, it asks us to hold on, to fight, and to keep our hearts open for real refugees and migrants. It reminds us that we have a long journey ahead of us to make meaningful change, but there is always hope.