Path Out is an autobiographical role-playing game that goes beyond just telling a story through dialogue and quests. You play as a cartoon version of Abdullah Karam, a Syrian refugee who now resides in Austria. As you help him escape the civil war in his homeland, videos from present-day Karam pop up in the corner, and he talks to you about what was going through his head during certain events. Karam worked with indie studio Causa Creations to develop the title, and it’s available for free on Steam and Itch.io.
Karam is 21 and from Hama, Syria. He says that he’s always loved games, and that it was the perfect medium to tell his story.
“Just like any other person I have dreams and goals and I always dreamt of being involved in the video games industry, which was not an option while I lived in Syria,” said Karam in an email to GamesBeat. “When I came to Austria I met my current mentor Brian Main and Causa Creations’ founder Georg Hobmeier. Georg had experience with these kind of games and so we decided to give it a try and make my journey into an adventure game.”
Hobmeier cofounded Causa in 2014, and since then, it’s made a wide variety of games. In addition to sci-fi choose-your-own-adventure titles like The Station, it’s interested in games that examine political and social justice issues. It’s explored social and environmental topics such as the ramifications of electronic waste in Burn the Boards. It collaborated with studio Gold Extra on titles like Frontiers and From Darkness, which told the stories of folks like urban refugees and NGO workers.
“Causa Creations was always focused on a particular niche of documentary games and interactive applications that address issues that were pretty much ignored by mainstream gaming,” said Hobmeier. He added, “When I met Abdullah, he was very enthusiastic and interested into working with us. By making a project together, I hoped that we could involve him even more and give him the opportunity to tell his story. Also, I thought it would be an interesting angle to approach the refugee crisis with a fresh aesthetic and a playful approach, and let him speak as a gamer to his fellows.”
Causa developed Path Out in collaboration with Karam and Main, who created the art, along with the music and game development studio Wobblersound. It takes place during the Syrian Civil War, which started in 2011. A young Karam is about to turn 18, which means that he’ll be conscripted in the army. His parents decide that the safest course of action is for him to flee the country and join his brother in Turkey. It’s an intensely personal perspective on a crisis that’s left 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Karam talks about these issues, narrating what it’s like to see your hometown devastated by attacks and fighting. But it’s not all serious. Occasionally, he’ll sarcastically comment on details in the game. When the character exits his home, Karam pops up and says, “Come on, honestly? That’s a very kitschy version of a Syrian courtyard.” He adds, “My home was a little more modern than this. But, sure, enjoy the clichés!”
“I really wanted to walk a fine line between portraying my experience, but being as engaging as normal, well-made games,” said Karam. “The jokes and the humor were important because they reflect the Syrian humor we’ve developed over decades to escape the dire reality of life and cope with the hardships we face.”
The video commentary came from an idea that Hobmeier and Karam were discussing for marketing the game. They originally thought about showing the game to refugees and creating Let’s Play-style videos to show their reactions. But Hobmeier took that a step further and suggested incorporating Karam’s commentary in the game.
Though the feature might sound disruptive to the players’ experience, feedback from playtesters was positive. Karam says that folks told him that it added a “strong dose of reality.” It’s an intimate reminder that, although the aesthetic of the game is cartoonish, it’s based off a real person’s story. Someone really had to flee their home to escape violence and war.
“I hope that people will understand who we Syrians are and why some of us showed up at their doorstep,” said Karam. “We are actually pretty normal. Our sense of interior design might be over the top for some Europeans, but at the end of the day, we are just as ordinary citizens with ordinary dreams, hopes and desires. Same goes for me personally. At the end of the day, I’m just a gamer who’s also into wrestling, just like so many other kids from Denmark, Vietnam, Kazachstan, Illinois or Uruguay.”