If there’s one thing London Games Festival can teach us, it’s that gaming is more than just shooting and fantasy games.
For instance, there’s Bury Me, My Love, created by French design studio Pixel Hunt, focusing on the Syrian refugee crisis.
The mobile game is unlike anything else. It’s an interactive fiction game which follows the story of Majd and his wife Nour. The couple has been separated by the refugee crisis and you are given a chance to see their communications via WhatsApp.
The game plays out in real time, forcing you to endure the long stretches of no contact which is all too real for the many families, friends and couples separated by the crisis.
We caught up with Maurin to discuss the idea behind Bury Me, My Love and how gaming is the perfect medium for this type of story.
Meet Bury Me, My Love’s creator, Florent Maurin
Maurin started his career as a journalist in France, though he has always been interested in how games can tell stories about the world.
He began designing video games that focused on the news, learning how to create games on the job, before quitting his role as a journalist and starting Pixel Hunt in 2013.
The studio creates reality-inspired games, working with clients including European TV channel Arte and Radio France Digital. Bury Me My Love is the studio’s first independent title, inspired by an article in the French newspaper Le Monde.
“The article was about the journey of a Syrian migrant, named Dana, who left Damascus and how she stayed in touch with her family during the journey between Damascus and Germany,” Maurin explains.
“It was really powerful as it felt very familiar to me and how I use WhatsApp to chat with my friends and family, sending emojis, jokes and pictures. But it was also very odd because they were discussing matters of life and death.”
This got Maurin thinking about how it could be turned into a game. He contacted the journalist who wrote the story, as well as Dana, the Syrian women who was featured in the piece, in order to make the most realistic and believable game possible.
“When I talked to Dana, she said yes in 15 seconds,” says Maurin. “She told me: ‘We lived through so much that I want to help anyone who wants to convey our stories’.”
The experience of creating Bury Me, My Love
After receiving funding from France’s National Centre for Cinema and Arte, Pixel Hunt set about making the game alongside another studio, Figs, who made the game’s interface.
Around 10 people worked on the game full time, which is available to download now from the App Store and Google Play, as a premium game. This is unusual for games, which are usually free to play, subsidised by apps or in-app-purchases.
“We didn’t want to make the game free to play because it would have been tasteless,” explains Maurin. “If there had been in-app purchases or advertisement in the game it would have broken the experience.”
At the moment, no proceeds from the game’s sales are going towards the refugee crisis. Maurin says this is because as they are not activists, it would have felt out of place to make this decision.
“People are more than welcome to give to charities if they feel compelled to after they play the game, or even instead of buying it,” he explains.
As well, there aren’t really any proceeds from Bury Me, My Love so far, as Pixel Hunt has not recuperated all the game’s expenses yet. However, Maurin says this wasn’t the point of making the game.
“We knew that making a premium game would be a risky business. But I created my company to make projects like this, so I don’t really care about getting money out of the game.”
Why gaming can tell a story like Bury Me, My Love
Due to the format of Bury Me, My Love, it’s unlike almost any other mobile game. Maurin says playing the game is really waiting 90 per cent of the time for the messages to come through from Nour.
“When we spoke to Dana, what we took away was waiting is the hardest part. Nowadays, every migrant has a smartphone so they can stay connected to their families, but if you don’t get messages back you start to feel worried.
“In order to convey the feeling of helplessness and also how excruciating waiting is [for refugees], the best game design solution was to write the game as it would unfold in real time.”
And although the game hasn’t been making a lot of money, it’s proved successful in other ways. Bury Me, My Love is nominated for Best Mobile Game at the BAFTA Game Awards this week, as well as receiving a nomination in a new category, Gaming Beyond Entertainment.
Maurin says this sends an interesting message to the video games community.
“It says, yes it’s possible to use video games and tell different stories, important stories. This is what we tried to do with Bury Me, My Love, explore a new direction in gaming.
“The fact the BAFTA members decided to give us a nomination is a recognition for us, but also the rest of the video games industry.”
Catch Maurin and play Bury Me My Love at EGX Rezzed as part of London Games Festival this weekend
The Evening Standard is the official media partner of London Games Festival
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