Stunned, heartfelt, shocked, compassion, terrified, empathy, despair, profound, anger, courage: these are the emotions that stampede through my soul as the credits roll across the screen. I’ve just finished playing Papo and Yo, and I will never be the same.
“To my mother, brothers and sister, with whom I survived the monster in my father.” Vander Caballero’s opening dedication.
Before Papo and Yo is a game, it is an extremely personal story. Should you choose to share in this journey of addiction, betrayal and courage, you will find that your own inner world has been somewhat altered. One thing is for certain; you cannot play Papo and Yo and remain untouched.
The game is a mirror for its creator, Vander Caballero’s troubled childhood with his alcoholic and abusive father. The main characters are the boy Quico and his father, Monster. Monster is for the most part a docile, fun and care free chunk of pink. He kicks the ball with Quico, allows him to jump on his belly when he’s asleep and spends most of his time eating coconuts. If Monster however eats a green frog he turns into a flaming, rage filled abusive beast. In this state he will hunt Quico and hurt him until he is fed a rotten coconut that will cause him to vomit out the frog. Quico is joined by a girl and his favourite toy, Lula, to aid him in his journey to cure Monster of this condition.
“Papo & Yo, a lyrical tale of a boy and a monster, has set a new and altogether different standard in gaming for representing the world as it is.” By Chris Suellentrop on the New York Times.
The game plays out in a Brazilian favela (a shanty town in Brazil). One of the many remarkable aspects of the game is the graffiti that sporadically appears on walls as the player progresses through the favela. Unlike other video games, the artwork in Papo and Yo resembles real life graffiti that can be seen in the streets of Brazil. Everything about this game reflects authenticity, the story, the Latin American music, the landscape and the art. This enables the player to identify with the game on multiple levels, and it adds an immersive quality unlike what I’ve ever experienced in a video game.
The creativity [in Papo and Yo] is dizzying. Susan Arendt on the Escapist
The game is built around the premise that Quico can cure Monster of his disease. This sets Quico on an adventure through the favela to find the temple of the Shaman that will set Monster free. Through simple yet entertaining puzzles, the player navigates himself and Monster to the temple. This journey has moments of pure joy as well as moments of deeply disturbing tragedy. When Monster eats a frog and falls in the grip of rage, he will shake Quico and hurl him across the screen. The PlayStation controller would vibrate and Quico would let out the most heart wrenching scream as he hopelessly hits the ground. I eventually had to mute the game because I couldn’t stand to hear that cry of anguish and hopelessness anymore.
I felt that Papo and Yo successfully captured the most crucial aspects of an abusive parent relationship. So much so that the game tore open my own troubled childhood memories. There were moments where I had to stop playing in order to think through a memory the game sparked in me. There are a few of these moments I want to highlight.
“Papo & Yo is a difficult game, and not in the usual sense of the phrase (even its most knotted conundrums yield after a little consideration). It's the ugly subject matter that's challenging, and the way in which the game invites you to walk through the contours of distress.” By Simon Parkin on Eurogamer.net
Within the first hour of the game, Quico meets up with a girl, who blandly tells him the following. “Quico you are cursed. It’s a monster’s burden to kill, he cannot help himself and there is no cure. You must cure him."
These few words hold the essence of what Papo and Yo is about; it is also a very accurate portrait of every abusive relationship. I cannot count the times I’ve said those same words to myself, “I must be cursed to deserve this.”, “There must be something I can do to change the abusive person.” and how many times do we excuse abusive behaviour by saying, “The person cannot help him/herself.”
I also felt that the game highlighted something extremely important for any person that has gone through abuse. By giving Quico the power to overcome obstacles by solving puzzles, it changed him from just being a victim into the role of survivor. It lessened the burden of hopelessness and defeat and empowered him.
“You can only find a handful of games that can truly be classified as Games as Art, and this is definitely one shining example.” By Paulmichael Contreras on PlayStationLifestyle.net
I don’t want to elaborate on the game’s ending, because I want readers to experience it for themselves. I also honestly don’t have the ability to articulate it; it plays off in the heart and must therefore be felt rather than explained.
Papo and Yo echoes the journey every person that has experienced abuse in some form or another has gone through. That this can be achieved through the medium of video games is astounding and profound. You have to play this game just to experience that. If you expect the usual puzzle adventure you will be disappointed, instead, just allow the creator of the game to tell his story, you are an interactive guest sharing his tale.
Papo and Yo is a PlayStation exclusive title from the Indie studio, Minority (an interview with the studio coming soon).
Check out this gameplay trailer for a peek into the life of a boy and his Monster.
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