Why Papo & Yo Should Be Game Of The Year

Why Papo & Yo Should Be Game Of The Year

Papo & Yo did something that too few games manage to do: it let me step into the life of another, actual-living-breathing person. And once I did that, I played through an experience that showed me how that person got through a painful relationship and was left with a lesson that I too could pick and use if I needed it.

Look, I love being embedded inside the fictional events in a made-up character’s biography — as in Mass Effect 3 or Max Payne 3 — as much as the next person. But the same trauma, ambiguity and joy in either of those games feels more poignant when attached to the facts of an actual life. Some of my decisions in ME3 tied me up in knots and I winced as Rockstar’s ex-cop kept drinking himself to death. Nevertheless, there was a safe remove that I could play in as that super-capable space soldier or slo-mo-shooting bodyguard. With Minority Media’s downloadable game, however, I couldn’t ever stop thinking that another human being had offered up parts of his memory for me play inside of.

Papo & Yo drew strength from the fact that it was drawn from pieces of designer Vander Caballero’s life. Yet it found even more power in how it didn’t ape reality.

It was a big, fanciful metaphor, in part because it needed to be. A rote recreation of the abuse Caballero suffered at the hands of his alcoholic father would have been too specific. I could have moved through the whole thing and shrugged it off, thinking “Well, that was one guy’s story. Doesn’t apply to me.”

The layer of magical realism in Papo & Yo — cartoon legs that popped out of homes and shuffled them around, boxes that let you pick up buildings and plop them down where you needed — taps into an emotional core that resonates more broadly. I didn’t grow up poor in Colombia but the game’s hero Quico, his companion and the world he lived in brought back feelings from my own childhood. My single mom’s surprisingly goofy sense of humour. The impotence I felt trying to move the crushing weight of her depression. The way she tried to get me out of my shell. Hiding under the couch so she couldn’t beat me when she got mad. Finding escape in places where she couldn’t follow: drawing my own crude comics, playing video games or hunkering down in the public library.

And my rapport with Monster — the oversized fantasy stand-in for Caballero’s father — reminded me of my mum too, even though she was very different from the elder Caballero. When he’s drunk on frogs, all you can do is run from him and reel from his blows. But when he’s calm, the symbiotic need he and Quico have for each other is touching. So it was with my mother. Experiences like having an abusive parent can be difficult to talk about, even with people who went through it with you. A game like this one could, amazingly, make those conversations happen.

Does it make sense that the person who raises you also tries to cut you down? Even if you factor in the substance addiction or other shitty stuff that happens in a parent’s past? No, it doesn’t. Not really. But there you are, needing to create something out of the puzzle pieces you’ve been handed. A personality in response to the ones you grew up around. A mythology to make others understand. A philosophy that governs how you’ll act as an adult. And maybe a video game, even.

Papo & Yo is a creation that tells us that we don’t have to be ashamed of our lives if they’re occasionally ugly. Its painful ending isn’t a feel-good denouement. But you leave the PS3 title with an understanding of what it took for one person to craft his own closure with his past and get on with the business of living. Call it a sign of video games’ burgeoning maturity, or evidence of another of the medium’s facets. It’s the game of someone’s life, playful and sad all at once. Can it be Game of the Year,too? Yes. It certainly can.


  • It was my understanding that this game had some seriously nasty glitches, some ugly graphics and the gameplay was bland… I can understand why you connect to it personally and it may be your personal game of the year, and it certainly tackles themes and issues that other games don’t and I applaud it for that, but I wouldn’t give GotY to a game based solely on themes. It has to have good gameplay too.

    • I haven’t played this game, but I don’t think you’re necessarily right.
      I recently played Journey (perfect post-NYE come-down game), a game that has appeared on many people’s top games lists for 2012. And while I think it rightly deserves its place on such lists, there wasn’t a whole lot of what I’d call “gameplay”, moreso exploration.
      Spec-Ops: The Line is another that has appeared on many lists (Yahtzee gave it his #1 position), not for the functional-but-generic shooter gameplay mechanics but for the overall experience the story drags you through.

      • But my point was those games were at least polished and played well. Papa & Yo was and did not. A game needs to work to be a GotY, not just have amazing or confronting themes or visuals.

        • And my point is that despite drawbacks, if a game’s themes are suffiiciently confronting it could very well warrant being someone’s game of the year. Perhaps not your game of the year, but someone’s. Too few developers these days are confiedent enough to challenge a player. If I play something with originality and heart that offers a unique experience I’m often more than willing to overlook gameplay inadequacies.
          But again, I haven’t actually played this game, so perhaps it was broken beyond redemption, but not everyone seems to think so.

        • At the risk of drawing this friendly debate out (I totally get where you’re coming from and just feel like playing devil’s advocate at this point), can I use The Elder Scrolls games and Fallout 3/New Vegas to belabour my point? I love those games. Hard. With a passion. But never have I played such bug-ridden messes before. Never have I played games that have continuously crashed on me as much as these. But the overall experience for me is sufficiently rewarding that I’d put those games in my personal list of favourite games for their respective years without hesitation (I can never pick an absolute favourite).

    • Bought papo & yo a few weeks ago and finished it on the day, your right… lots of ugly graphics and heaps of glitches. gameplay was all right though.

  • I thought this was a pretty good game, certainly an interesting sort of experiment, which sets it apart from other games even though the gameplay isn’t especially unique and, as mentioned above, technically it’s a little rough in places.

    Good game, then, but there are much more worthy GOTY contenders, IMO.

  • That ending sequence was pretty gut wrenching as well. Really sad and haunting but with the promise of hope as well.

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