Project and Conflict Background

By Austin Branion

I first had the idea for this project two years ago; December 2013, to be more specific. It was inspired by one particular passage in this article. Things [in Syria] were absolutely terrible then; no one could have imagined how much worse they would get. In any case, here’s the excerpt of interest (emphasis added):

The taxi pulled up to the curb near Bab Touma, and it was clear, even before it came to a halt, that this place, in the Christian quarter of Damascus and one of the oldest parts of the city, was not the same as it had been in the late summer of 2011, just a few months into the uprising, when I was last here. But then, why would it be?

That Syria is gone, replaced by a country of shards. No corner of this ancient land is untouched by the war, now almost three years old. It has left over a hundred and twenty thousand dead, at least half a million wounded, and displaced close to a third of the population. It’s most obvious in the northern belt bordering Turkey, seeping south and east toward the Iraqi border, where many towns and villages have been pulverized by regime airstrikes and artillery, and where even colors seem to have died. Gray, red and black predominate: the mounds of gray rubble that were once homes, the red of so much blood spilled, the black Islamist banners of many rebel units, flying alongside or instead of the more secular three-starred revolutionary flag.

I copied that quote into my idea journal and then wrote the following:

Key concept: evoke feeling of loss in war using color. Player tries to maintain landscape color (greens, blues)  as gray, red, and black encroach
Manifesting concept: Fight to defend/give color to an ever decreasing circle/area beset by black/grey/red colored space as a metaphor for ever-shrinking circle of concerns (e.g. family, food) as the black/grey/red tides of war gradually weaken and break other concerns (friends, school) fragmented, tenuously connected circles, each containing their own colors, increasingly divorced from each other and beset by darkness. what will you choose to stay connected to?
representative avatars within the circles eventually die out or somehow reproduce darkness that encroaches upon the player

So, there are the roots of my idea.
As for getting a sense of the heartbreak that characterizes the utter evisceration of Syria, I highly recommend an essay titled just that: The Syrian Heartbreak. This essay is actually three years old, but it remains, by far, the best summation of the trajectory of destruction and despair that Syria has been on. It’s a very long read, but it’s so impeccably well-written, incisive in its analysis, and exquisite in its sensitivity that you can hardly do better.

About our Game

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Hold On is a top-down arcade style game that through a constant barrage of enemies and an environment changing for the worse tests your ability to protect those people, places and things that you love most. This game has no end and it will only get worse from here.

This game intends to evoke, through mechanic and sound the sense of loss, melancholy and ever decreasing options that Syrians face and have faced for years in a way that is accessible to them and that they would recognize. It also speaks to the stress and sadness that pushes people to flee their homes for the unknown dangers and unwelcoming atmosphere of other nations.

This game is intended for play in a structured and mediated environment such as a gallery or museum with other game/art pieces on the impact of the Syrian conflict. Hold On is one of several planned short game vignettes exploring the experience and impact of the Syrian civil war.