There is a must heaviness when you are immersed in the world of Liyla and the shadows of war. You play the game as Liyla’s father, jumping through the rubble, hiding behind trash cans and fleeing the Israeli bombs that hit the Gaza Strip. Your goal is to protect your daughter. But you can’t, no matter how many times you play, no matter what you do. Unlike your typical mobile game and just like the war itself, there are no extra lives, no superpowers, and there is no victory.
A dangerous idea
“I saw the photo of a father carrying the body of his deceased daughter. And I asked myself, what if I can’t protect my family? What if that happened to me? ”For Rasheed Abueideh, 37, father of four, it was not an exercise in the imagination but a very real possibility.
In 2014, the Palestinian software engineer observed from his home in Nablus the Israeli ground bombings and airstrikes in the West Bank, just 130 kilometers from him. It sparked an idea that scared him, that could cost him his freedom: to make a video game about war.
“I live in Palestine, and if you do something that makes noise you are risking your freedom.”
He started his job in secret, being careful not to share anything on his social media platforms. He assembled a team made up mainly of international members, so as not to endanger anyone. This was the start of Lilac, a platform mobile game / choose your own 20 minute adventure heavily influenced by the art style and gameplay of Limbo and by a few history beats of The last of us.
But Abueideh did not want to use his game as an escape: “Palestinians in the mainstream media are always dehumanized. Their personal stories are not covered, they ignore that we exist, that we have feelings, that we experience attacks and that we do not have rights like everyone else in the world. I tried to do something to break this, ”he told WIRED in an interview.
Put things in motion
Abueideh makes sure you know the game was based on real events. It’s the first piece of information you come across when you first start playing, and you feel it throughout gameplay.
Many, if not all, of the elements of the world of Lilac were modeled after photos taken during the war and distilled in a very minimalist art style heavily dependent on silhouette and completely devoid of color except for flares from rockets and plumes from explosions. For Abueideh, verisimilitude was an essential part of his development process.
“People were killed, actually. It’s not just a game. It has a much deeper meaning. So, in connecting all of these images, I wanted to reflect exactly what happened and be able to convey it. exact emotion of the person in this situation. “
It was this effort to reflect exactly what happened that was the most difficult for Abueideh. During the two years he worked on the game, he had to read and watch footage of the war over and over again. “I literally cried sometimes while writing the code or designing the game. It was difficult,” says Abueideh. “The war lasted 51 days, and I repeated that for 2 years.”
In 2016, the year of its release, Apple wanted Abueideh to reclassify Lilac in the App Store under the “News” or “Reference” category rather than under “Games”, because of what he considered to be a political message. This sparked a wave of support from gamers, which ultimately prompted Apple to give in and display. Lilac like a game.