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Stick with me here for a moment as this post isn’t about a video game, it’s about being human.  I downloaded a game today from the Playstation Store called Papo & Yo.  I didn’t know anything about it except that I saw a trailer for it about a year ago and something in it had grabbed my attention.

Now I’ve played plenty of buddy games in my time, from Jak and Daxter to Ratchet and Clank.  I spent hours upon hours with Link and Midna, Wander and Agro.  I love the interactions, the snappy banter and the attachment that grows for your companion. But when Papo & Yo gave me control, the first thing I noticed was that I was all alone.  No pals around, just a small boy in a school uniform, somewhere deep within a Brazilian favela—a ghetto.

The only goal seemed to be to catch up to a young girl as the favela sprang to a magical life around her. Derelict houses got up and walked on four legs as I explored.  The old-fashioned keys of clockwork toys sprouted from the dingy walls, each composed entirely of glowing chalk lines.  It was beautiful.  Progression came quickly and I finally found my buddy, a tiny robot that clung to the boy’s back and acted as a little jet pack.  His name turned out to be Lula, not Papo or Yo.  In fact the boy’s was revealed to be Quico but I was having too much fun to consider who this Papo & Yo might actually be.

Together at last, we ran upon a creature.  A slumbering giant with horns sprouting from its head, we comically hopped on its massive belly for some extra spring needed to reach a high spot.  It woke and followed us and soon we discovered it loved coconuts.  Of course, we gathered them for it to eat.  We were bonding, building trust.  We used the coconuts as lures to get him to weigh down trigger plates and bowl over walls.  Harmless and helpful, I quickly found myself attached to him.

As some brightly colored frogs leapt out of a pipe, the monster playfully chased them, forgetting the coconuts entirely. I found this absolutely endearing.

Until he caught one.

First, he ate it.  That didn’t feel right.  It seemed out of character for this gentle titan but before I could afford any time to consider why he did it, the beast transformed.  Bursting into flame and clearly enraged, it charged, grabbing the little boy in its powerful grip and viciously hurling him.  Hitting the ground, I regained control and ran but the monster was too fast and too big and too strong.  I was overtaken and thrown again, but this time the boy let loose a scream, the horrible, helpless scream of a small child.

At that moment, my stomach tightened as I painfully realized that I was acting out a metaphor.  I was playing a part in the designer’s allegory. Papo & Yo wasn’t some buddy adventure.  Papo & Yo was Papa y Yo.

Daddy and I.

I was finally able to escape the monster’s rage and find a cool, blue glob of something that calmed him back down. But our relationship wasn’t a friendship anymore. It was the uneasy alliance of a young boy needing vital assistance from a ticking time bomb with only a toy robot to protect him. Together they ventured out to locate a shaman who could cure the beast’s rage—the kind of magical solution only a child believes must exist.

High art is a bitter fruit. You must suffer to create it, and understand suffering to appreciate it.  What is it about pain that opens the door to human understanding?  Playing Papo & Yo, I feel like I experienced the intense betrayal a little boy must feel when his own father starts to beat him.  To tell a tale like this, you have to hurt.  You have to feel a pain that’s beyond anything most of us will ever understand.  I’m so thankful for my time with this game today, but fuck this guy’s dad for being the inspiration to make it.

Brett Haile is a writer and graphic artist living in Austin, Texas.

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