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Packing

Pack your bags and leave. A short game about the exodus of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Role:

Sole Developer

Made for:

Ludum Dare 54: Limited Space

Play here:

In September 2023 (it's always September), Azerbaijan launched yet another full scale military offensive against the indigenous Armenians of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). This came at the end of a 10-month blockade where the people of Artsakh were deprived of food, medicine, electricity and fuel.


Starved and destroyed, the Armenians were forced to surrender and the budding democratic state of Artsakh dissolved.


The blockade was finally lifted and movement allowed (under Az military supervision and control) between Artsakh and neighbouring Armenia. However the options for Artsakh's 100,000+ population had been made clear from recent events: stay and risk torture, mutilation, state-sanctioned murder, or abandon everything and flee.


They fled. All 100,000 of them.


This mass exodus was presented by the Az government as a voluntary relocation, akin to an entire population deciding one day to leave on an indefinite vacation.


Other voices, particularly those reporting for Western media outlets, couldn't fathom why so many people would abandon their family homes, their possessions and professions, even the graves of countless generations, and leave it all behind, just as many still cannot fathom what might cause, might force, countless refugees to flee their homes in search of safer land.


This lack of understanding coupled with the misrepresentational propaganda spewing from the victors led me to create a game that would put players in that unimaginable situation and present them with the only options available to them.


Gameplay

You play as an older woman tasked with packing her home into a single bag while bombs fall around her. Navigate the multiple rooms, take what you can or need or want to and leave before the bombs reach you.


Design Decisions

  • It's a simple game with few 'gamey' mechanics to make sure the emotional experience is front and centre.


  • Player movement is slow: many individuals who find themselves in these situations are elderly civilians with limited mobility, unable to move with the urgency the situation might demand. The difficulty lay in balancing player frustration in the slowness of the character with provoking feelings of stress, urgency, and powerlessness.


  • Much of the game was built from real world references to ground the game experience in reality:


    The audio was taken from the first clip in this video, which is a recording of cluster bombs falling on a street in Artsakh during the war in 2020 that I had come across and saved, originally for my Detachment Undone game. The wailing sirens and intensity of the bombs crashing onto this civilian street created such a visceral emotional reaction in me that I thought it fitting for the game. What I didn't expect was that listening to this recording again and again and again in order to accurately synchronise it with the camera shake was the hardest thing I've had to do while developing a game.


    The items, objects, furniture and building features were all taken from videos posted to social media by Azeri soldiers, proudly depicting how they indiscriminately shot at civilian houses and ransacked abandoned Armenian homes, rooted through drawers, laughed at family albums, and destroyed in one short clip what took families generations to create.


    The bonfire in the back garden (functionality not yet built in) was taken from reports that many Armenians were choosing to burn their belongings and their homes rather than let them fall to enemy hands.


    The text, which was considered humorous by some players, was taken directly from statements made by government officials or media outlets to describe the events. By pairing these statements with the harrowing experience of the game, I wanted to highlight just how absurd and out of touch with reality they were.


    The statue depicted on the cover photo is Tatik-Papik (Grandma-Grandpa), a significant cultural monument and the symbol of Armenians in Artsakh. This monument, just like all other Armenian monuments or cultural artefacts that represent the Armenian roots in this land are now under threat, if not already destroyed.


Further Development

  • Refine the packing mechanic. Something block-like, similar to Tetris or other block-fitting games, so that packing is both satisfying and an additional challenge - you won't be able to fit everything into the allocated space, so decisions will need to be made.


  • More depth to the game's end. For example, depending on what items you choose to pack (have you taken enough clothes, did you remember your passport or deed to your house/other documents) your ending and future life options are considerably different.


  • Difficulty settings that are based on the character you choose to play as, for example young/old, family size (couple/children/elderly relatives), and the impact these starting options have on what you need to pack, how much space you have to pack, and coordinating panicked relatives to make sure they all get out safely.

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