The emotional journey of Papo & Yo
This is a digital version of a story that appeared in the print publication of Gamercamp Magazine. Dork Shelf is Gamercamp’s official media sponsor. Gamercamp takes place in Toronto from Nov. 3-4. For more details, click here.
Vander Caballero asks, “Can a game heal your heart?”
Caballero is creative director of Papo & Yo, a puzzle game with a powerful question: what happens when an addict runs through your life, not only hurting himself but you as well? It’s a big topic to address, let alone in a medium that asks its audience to invest so much of themselves by interacting within its worlds.
In Papo & Yo, the main characters are a young boy Quico and Monster, a horned beast that acts as an abstracted stand-in for Quico’s abusive, alcoholic father. We often see video games as escapism, yet, on Quico’s journey, we discover that he himself is attempting an escape, entering a magical realist world of favelas (Brazilian slums) where houses sprout legs and can fly and floppy frogs transform Monster from playful and dopey to furious and fiery.
The game is openly about Caballero’s experience with his own father. Given the difficult subject matter, Caballero decided to establish Papo within a fantasy realism. “Keep the reality,” he says, “and then transform the reality to keep people connected.”
Graffiti drawn from the real work of artists like Charquipunk, La Robot de Madera, and INTI is featured throughout the game—a reminder that beauty is found in unexpected places—and the game evokes a South American landscape that is itself a piece of art.
That landscape is interactive with chalk drawings that magically turn gears and pull levers, opening up new areas to explore. There’s a parallel between Quico’s escape into his own world and our role as players: Quico is trying to affect an impact he ultimately cannot and, similarly, in games, players are offered direct interaction in a way that provides only the illusion of control.
Papo is an emotionally-draining, yet always engaging journey as both Quico and the player grow a better understanding of Monster. Monster offers frustration as his alcoholic condition renders himself an obstacle to Quico’s progress around the favelas; he brings pain with fiery, frog-drunk escapades—watching a furious Monster thrust Quico like a rag doll is a harrowing experience. “Do not be afraid of violence,” says Caballero, “what is important is to put it in a frame that is constructive.”
In the end, Quico realizes his choice is not about saving Monster but how to save himself. Throughout Papo we see Quico’s heart—and, by extension, our hearts—open and close to the people and the world around him. Miraculously, in sharing this journey with Quico and, ultimately, with Caballero, all of our hearts become a little stronger, a little safer.
Can a game heal your heart? Vander Caballero’s story of that process is detailed in Papo & Yo, and it becomes ours.
Vander Caballero will be sharing his experiences on Papo & Yo on Saturday of Gamercamp in the main theatre at the Isabel Bader Theatre.