The thing about humour, Phil Tibitoski told me, is its ability to mask hidden truths -- sometimes, these are things that are actually kind of disquieting. This somber remark seems strange coming from the president at Young Horses, the folk behind Octodad: Dadliest Catch -- an amusing game about the difficulty that comes with being a cephalopod who is also caring father.
Turns out, trying to commandeer your limbs when they're tentacles is a difficult task. Octopi are flabby and squishy, which makes even the simplest of actions hilariously difficult. Nonetheless, Octodad pushes forward for the sake of his family, as any supportive father would.
Dadliest Catch is the followup to 2010's Octodad, which was developed by a group of about 19 students at DePaul university in a span of a few months.
Officially, the game has specific influences that the entire team can agree on. There's a bit of Being John Malkovich, Jurrasic Park: Trespasser, and Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all of which have influenced the unorthodox control scheme needed to capture the onerous nature of having tentacles. The story and setting draw a little from 90's cartoons, like Rocko's Modern Life and Ren and Stimpy.
But there's more to it than that for Tibitoski.
Phil told me that ever since he was a child, he made art to try to get people's attention. He told me that now, as an adult, he's constantly frustrated that people don't look as closely as he'd like them to at his work. I ask him what it is about Octodad that people may not see, may not catch onto.
Suddenly, Phil became kind of mum -- it seems obvious that he is measuring his words carefully. He explains that doesn't want to betray anyone. Curious, I ask about his father directly, and it's like a sigh of both hesitation and relief happen as he starts telling me about his family.
"My parents had me when they were both 19. My dad had barely graduated high school and they got divorced about 3-4 years later," Phil recalled. His dad got thrown into fatherhood too fast, too young. For Phil, it seemed young enough that his father hadn't developed the selflessness needed to properly raise a family.
He calls his father "selfish," though he is sparse on the anecdotes or too many details. It seems obvious that even after all this time, in spite of how his father treated him -- Phil told me stories about how he would be forgotten and neglected by his father at times, for example -- but it seems as if he wants to protect him.
Instead, he told me about his brother and his relationship with his father. His father has had a "drinking problem for a really long time and a lot of this has rubbed off on my brother because my brother has this dependence on my father," Phil laments. It wasn't just drinking, though -- there were also hard drugs. Both siblings were exposed to this lifestyle growing up, and his brother ended up falling into the same traps as a way of coping.
As a result, Phil has had to deal with "watch[ing] him die" - he told me how his brother seemed to lose his mind after frying his brain on drugs. His brother would appear suddenly speaking complete nonsense, claiming to "Underst[and] things and could do things none of us could." He'd tear rooms up with his bare hands, and ultimately became a danger to himself. He would even come to threaten to kill members of his family, ultimately ending up in rehab a couple of times.
All of this would sometimes happen in front of their baby stepsister, who didn't grow up with their father but would come to suffer the consequences of his actions nonetheless.
Thankfully, the brother is recuperating now and is getting better....but the father hasn't. Just a few months ago Phil visited him and the day ended up turning into a trip to the hospital after an incident involving a lot of alcohol and getting out of a moving vehicle.
I asked Phil if much of anyone knew about what was going on in his home life when he was growing up. They didn't. I think about how eager Phil is that people take a closer look at things, and wonder whether or not there's a connection here.
Knowing this, Octodad becomes a different game. I see a father trying his hardest to do right by his family, but faltering even with the simplest things. It's not exactly his fault. Circumstances would have it that he's a freaking octopus. The player has the resolve to ensure that Octodad finds success no matter what he has to do, but it's impossible to play the game with the finesse needed to avoid stumbling, avoid making a mess of things -- often.
Phil said that he knows that his father tried his hardest in spite of it all. "I know he always means well and I know he loves us," he assured me. Adulthood has taught Phil to respect those good intentions, regardless of the way things turned out.
"Some day in the future I know I want to be a father," Phil mused. He claimed me he wouldn't change anything that happened to him, because he knows that it helped mould him into what he is today. He has a clear idea of not just what kind of father he'd like to be, but what kind of man he'd like to be, too. And, without his father, Phil wouldn't have the sense of humour that he does -- a crucial part of Phil's identity.
I asked him if he thinks Octodad is a good dad. "Octodad is my ideal Dad because he does his best, and in the end that's all you really can do."