Path Out starts in 2014, with your character Abdullah lost in the forest of Northern Syria. Landmines block your route one way, armed patrolmen the other. When you die, the real Abdullah Karam suddenly breaks in through a video box in the game. “You just killed me, man,” he moans, teasing that he wasn’t nearly so clumsy.
Every level of the 16-bit RPG video game is inspired by Karam’s own escape from Syria during the civil war. The artist is now based in Europe, although in the demo version of Path Out, you can only make it to Turkey. “In its final form, the game could be made of four chapters, each describing a particular part of the journey that took Abdullah from Central Syria all the way to Austria,” Georg Hobmeier, cofounder of Causa Creations, told Hyperallergic.
In the fall of 2015, Hobmeier met Karam at a theater show in Salzburg, shortly after he’d arrived in Austria. Karam discussed his interest in game design and illustration, and he soon began working with the studio’s associated illustrator Brian Main. The Path Out demo was released this June on Itch.io as a pay-what-you-wish download for Mac and PC.
“The idea for the game came quite organically, when some funding opportunities for projects addressing migration opened up,” Hobmeier stated. “We already worked on games that took a closer look at migration before, and so we asked Abdullah if he would be comfortable putting his experiences into some sort of game. His answer was, to put it mildly, very enthusiastic, and so we embarked on this journey together.”
Causa Creations, started in 2014 by Hobmeier and Tilmann Hars, often develops games exploring issues of social justice, whether Where Phones Go (2015), a text adventure on European recycling fraud, or Totem’s Sound (2014), an RPG on Norwegian explorer Johan Adrian Jacobsen as he travels the Northwest coast of the Americas in the late 19th century, collecting objects from indigenous people who are trying to protect their way of life.
Following the player’s initial failure in the forest, they travel back in time to 2011, when a power outage has interrupted a pixelated Karam playing a computer game in his own home in Hama. The demo concentrates on Karam’s flight to avoid conscription into the Syrian army, and he regularly appears as a character in video commentary, wearing the same yellow hoodie. He alternately trolls the game’s sometimes clichéd graphics — “That’s a very kitschy version of a Syrian courtyard” — and emphasizes how much of the game’s harrowing moments are based on his own reality. “Suddenly everything you see has a meaning,” he says, as your digital character says goodbye to his parents.
I didn’t find any of the gameplay to be challenging — it’s mainly picking up objects and navigating some basic mazes — yet Path Out is more like interactive storytelling masked as an RPG. The colorful graphics and old school electronic music, composed by Wobblersound, can lull the player into forgetting the uncomfortable ride in a barrel across the border is based on biography. Yet in asking a person to assume his place in a game, Karam makes his story engaging on an individual level, and his appearance in the videos further humanizes his story, especially through his humor and acknowledgment of the imperfections in putting his life on screen. Hobmeier noted that they’re looking for audience feedback as they expand the game and search for financing for bigger platforms, but soon hope to add more of Karam’s journey to Path Out’s complex narrative.
Path Out is available in a demo version for Mac and PC on Itch.io.