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Graphic Novels, Games Bring Syrian Refugees’ Stories to New Audiences

Recent mobile app games, comics and graphic novels are seeking to bring refugee voices to the fore through these new mediums for information-sharing and storytelling.

Written by Fatima Mohie-Eldin Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
An image from the mobile app game Bury Me, My LoveThe Pixel Hunt

As the Syrian refugee crisis persists, some journalists have lamented the general lack of understanding of the personal experiences of refugees. Recent initiatives in gaming and graphic novels are being developed to tell these untold stories.

Among these is the recently developed mobile app game Bury Me, My Love. The game simulates text conversations between fictional characters Nour and her husband Majd, as Nour flees Syria for Europe. Majd, who must remain in Syria to care for his ailing parents, tries to advise and console Nour as she makes the dangerous journey alone.

As users play along, they are prompted to make interactive decisions affecting the course of events. The game is inspired by the countless stories of refugees escaping Syria that the developers compiled through personal interviews and social media accounts.

Responding to concerns the game’s format might trivialize the crisis, developer Florent Maurin said in an interview with Polygon that “like every medium, games can tackle any topic.” Maurin, who is a former journalist himself, suggested that, like his game, graphic novels have also been used for documentary purposes.

In fact, in the last year alone, several works of long-form comics journalism have been produced about the Syrian refugee crisis, for similar purposes. Among these are Wolfgang Speer’s “Stories from the Grand Hotel” and Kate Evans’ “Threads: From the Refugee Crisis,” which feature stories about refugees who have fled to Germany and France, respectively. Both accounts depict the dangers involved in the passage numerous refugees must undertake from their homeland, as well as the discrimination and xenophobia they now face in Europe.

In 2016, Marvel released a free online comic, “Madaya Mom,” in collaboration with ABC News. The story documented, almost in real time, the life of an unnamed woman and her family trapped in the besieged city of Madaya, Syria.

Along slightly different lines, Sarah Glidden’s graphic novel, “Rolling Blackouts,” published in October 2016, chronicles her 2010 trip to Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Through the graphic novel, Glidden recounts several encounters with refugees, most of whom were fleeing Iraq at the time and resettling in Syria. Although the book does not focus on the current refugee crisis, it establishes a context for understanding the situation, by linking it to the repercussions of the 2003 Iraq War.

In her review of “Rolling Blackouts” for the Huffington Post, Jillian Capewell notes that the novel prompts readers to engage with how Americans “should help refugees from a conflict we’ve created.” Through Bury Me, My Love, Maurin also hopes to call on European citizens to reflect on their responsibility toward the refugee crisis and the Syrian civil war.

The focus on personal stories coupled with graphic visuals in these games and graphic novels, “pack[s] in the kind of intimacy and sensory information that is missing from more traditional forms of information sharing,” as suggested in a February article published by the Economist.

By placing Syrian voices at their center, these productions offer a nuanced understanding of the ongoing crisis and push readers and players to consider their own positions in relation to the conflict.

This story was originally published by Muftah and is reproduced here with permission.

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