Path Out starts with the player character lost in the woods somewhere in Syria. Not knowing where you are and where to go next isn't great, particularly in a war-torn country where you never know who's likely to point a gun at you. We die. And a video feed with developer Abdullah Karam pops up in the left upper corner of the screen telling us that the character is actually him, that this is an autobiographical game, and that it's time to move back in time a few years, back to his home in a town called Hama. Abdullah is a high-school kid indulging in his favourite hobby, playing games on his Xbox. And that's when the power cuts out.
Apparently, the government has decided to sell power to Lebanon instead of providing their people with electricity. We're sent on a simple fetch quest to collect an oil lamp for Abdullah's uncle so that his mother can cook dinner. It's a game that has been created using RPG Maker and it's basically a top-down narrative adventure that tells the story of how young Abdullah fled from his hometown of Hama, through the notorious Aleppo region to Turkey, to avoid being drafted into the army and forced to fight neighbours, friends, family or whoever might be on the other side in this civil war.
It's a simple game that takes about half an hour to complete (that is the first chapter that sees release now on Steam at no charge), but what it lacks in terms of mechanics it makes up for in theme and tone. You really feel like you get to know Abdullah and his family through very brief interactions. And while the conflict in Syria and the way the global community has dealt with it is extremely complicated and troubling, the game does a great job of boiling it down to the essentials as it tells a very relatable story from the perspective of young Abdullah.
With that in mind, when we were offered the chance to play the game and ask some questions of the now-grownup Abdullah, we jumped at the opportunity. Check out the full interview below:
GR: Why did you feel a video game was the best way to tell your story?
Well, unlike a movie or a book a game allows the players to literally walk through the experience themselves and what a better way to create an understatement for the journey than living and feeling it through a game?
What games did you play on your Xbox (and/or other platforms) as you grew up?
I went through all sorts of games when growing up, since I wasn't really an outdoor person. More like a sitting at home playing Crash, Sonic, Mortal Kombat, Need for Speed, GTA, Farcry, Halo and Blur kinda guy. Right now I play only PC games like CS:GO and still GTA.
Video games are often used as escapism, maybe that's part of their attraction for you as well, what do you feel of their potential to convey other experiences?
As said, I enjoy a good CS:GO romp, but video games also have the potential to do more than that. Games can also give us other perspectives in life, allow us to experience new things and unknown aspects of reality and beyond.
In the game, your feelings towards the smugglers who facilitated your escape are made clear. What do you think motivates them and why do you feel they lie and keep you in the dark like they do?
The only thing that motivates them is the money. They used to smuggle petrol, now they changed over to people. They keep you in the dark to keep their cover and to keep their secret escape routes to themselves. You can call this the secret of their profession, I guess.
There's a bit of fourth wall breaking in the game, and there's quite a bit of humour, what was the thinking behind this as opposed to making a more straightforward RPG experience without commentary and camels?
This intends to make the game more accessible and fun to play. It also reflects the particular Syrian humour we have developed in the last decades that weren't that great.
The comment bit is also there to drag this rather innocent looking game into reality. Yes, it looks cute and reminds many of those 1990s RPG classics, but we wanted to create a particular friction between this cute style, the dire reality and the irony oy my comments.
How do you hope to continue Path Out beyond this first chapter?
Obviously, the journey didn't end in Turkey, but took me all the way to Austria. I can assure you, there is still plenty of adventure ahead, perhaps the most dangerous parts ...
Finally, if you will I'm sure people who have played the game are curious, what's your life like now and what are your hopes and plans?
I got really lucky. We have our refugee status confirmed, I make an IT apprenticeship and work with Causa Creations on Path Out. I want to thank these guys, Georg, Brian and Tilmann, who taught me a lot in the last year. There is still a lot to learn, but I hope to be a real game producer one day.