Papo & Yo: A Different Kind of Family Story

GameSpot's Carolyn Petit examines how her personal experiences influenced her reaction to Papo & Yo, and why she thinks the game's story needed to be told.

by

PLEASE NOTE: This story contains major spoilers for Papo & Yo.

When I was very young, I would sometimes lie awake in bed, afraid to fall asleep because of the monster that might be waiting for me in my dreams. It was a massive creature, its skin orange, buzzing, and crackling like electrified fire, its voice rumbling like the end of the world. Waking up provided little comfort, though; in the waking world, another fear drove me to withdraw deep into my own imagination, trying to escape from my unstable and often terrifying reality. The fear of my father.

Narratives about family in America, whether they rise out of film or television or the speeches of politicians, tend to stress the notion that family comes first. Family can be difficult and painful at times, and conflicts may erupt periodically, but in the end, family should stick together. So dominant is this message in American life that it has been hard for me, as someone whose life followed another path, to not feel guilty at times about the choices I've made. Papo & Yo tells a different kind of story about family, a story that I suspect that I'm not alone, as the child of an alcoholic parent, in relating to.

There is love here, but love isn't always enough.

My father was a man who spent much time in his mind. His interests in politics and technology ran deep, and when you got him talking on a topic he was interested in, it was hard to get him to stop. I remember how much I enjoyed pestering him for information about the workings of calculators and car engines, in the way that kids pester their parents about all sorts of things. My curiosity was insatiable, with every answer leading to another question, and he was only too happy to satisfy.

These experiences are a part of me. I can't leave them at the door when I read a book, watch a movie, or play a game like Papo & Yo, nor do I think I should be expected to. We respond to art as we are.
But he was a haunted man, and often, with the aid of a bottle, his demons got the better of him, and he became a terrifying force. Sometimes, when a door slams, I'm that scared little child again for an instant, cowering in bed as my father approaches with that malicious gleam in his eye and curl in his lip that tell me that, at this moment, he's the living embodiment of the monster who haunts my dreams.

These experiences are a part of me. I can't leave them at the door when I read a book, watch a movie, or play a game like Papo & Yo, nor do I think I should be expected to. We respond to art as we are. Sometimes art may resonate with us on a more personal level because of experiences we've had, though I tend to think that the best art often illuminates its subject matter in universal terms. You don't need to be transgender, for instance, to be moved by the humanity and tragedy of the film Boys Don't Cry.

As someone who knows something about growing up with an alcoholic parent, I was deeply concerned about where Papo & Yo was headed. At a certain point, the game's story becomes about young boy Quico's quest to cure the monster named Monster of his ailment--a hunger for frogs that, when consumed, send Monster into a fiery, all-consuming rage. This is, of course, the game's not-so-thinly-veiled alcoholism metaphor, and what troubled me was my knowledge that there is no cure. If an alcoholic takes the difficult step of acknowledging that he or she has a problem, and if he or she has the determination to do something about it, then of course, recovery is possible. But this motivation must ultimately come from within. For a child to cure a parent of alcoholism is impossible, though a sense of guilt for not being able to do just that often weighs heavily on children of alcoholics.

Being the focus of such undeserved rage is more than any child should have to bear.

During this phase of the game, I was concerned that it was going to trade in its potential to say something honest about its topic for a happy ending in which Quico saves Monster, which would have rung hollow and false. But in the end, my concerns were allayed. What Quico learns when he reaches the summit where he's been told the shaman awaits is that there is no cure, that he must let go of Monster--and since the walls between Quico's real world and his imaginative world have crumbled, there is no longer any doubt that Monster and his father are one and the same. This moment, when you, as Quico, push Monster irrevocably away from you was the honest, painful, cathartic conclusion that I had hoped for. In my own way, this is how I ultimately handled things with my father, letting go of him and extricating myself as much as possible from the instability and strife he generated around himself like the center of a hurricane.

Of course, family should come first. Every child deserves to be raised in a stable, loving home. But this isn't the reality for many children, and these children deserve to see themselves and their experiences reflected in stories…
Papo & Yo tells an honest tale about this difficult issue in a way that I found both beautiful and captivating. There's no denying that my experiences influenced the ways in which Papo & Yo affected me, though I also believe that it didn't affect me solely as a result of those experiences. I believe that the visual language of its metaphorical fable has a universal power to it, that it can help children who don't grow up with an alcoholic parent better imagine and empathize with the experiences of those who do.

Of course, family should come first. Every child deserves to be raised in a stable, loving home. But this isn't the reality for many children, and these children deserve to see themselves and their experiences reflected in stories, and to know that if a parent brings constant upheaval and fear to your life, that's not a reflection on you. It's not your fault, and it's OK--even right--to distance yourself from those who hurt you when life presents the opportunity. Sometimes, you need to let other people go, even if they're family. I'm grateful to Papo & Yo for telling a tale that illustrates this seldom-heard, vitally important truth.

Discussion

67 comments
nate1222
nate1222

Another damn good article, grounded in sincerity.

 

I'm studying to become a Social Worker. And we cover a good deal of these issues in some of our courses. When kids get dragged into it, it becomes a whole new can-o-worms.

 

And you're very much correct: the only person who can get an addict recover is the addict. They gotta want it. To expect a child to do it or expect a child to stay where they aren't safe and happy is both foolish and highly inconsiderate of the child.

DigitalDame
DigitalDame

I wanna give you a big ol' eHug, thank you for sharing this Carolyn.

Derugs
Derugs

This is such a POWERFUL thesis!!  An absolute pleasure to read and very inspiring.  :)  

bgranli
bgranli

Thank you Carolyn for yet another great article. There are so many "articles" on gaming sites that hardly touches on difficult or even important subjects. And if they do, it seems to be in a shallow, defensive, juvenile and/or ignorant manner (I am not saying all other gaming sites are like that, but let us be honest and admit that there is a lot of bad gaming journalism out there). When it comes to articles, I find Gamespot to be a good source of critical, and also educational writing (not limited to Carolyn by the way). 

 

Royial20
Royial20

Fantastic writing Caroyln. The game was as interesting as it was insightful. Thanks for sharing.

tango84
tango84

So carolyn isn't afraid to show us her fears and weakness.. and you bash... How typical.

Psycold
Psycold

I've always been taught never judge unless you've walked in that persons shoes. 

franzito
franzito

Beautiful what you wrote, Carolyn. Every family has its "ways of abusing" but this is what makes you stronger to go on and live an honest life when you acknowlegde that, for every experience, there's much more to gain than pain and tears.There's hope to do better!

Bennettfoam
Bennettfoam

Great article, Carolyn! Congratulations for you honesty and courage!

metalman116
metalman116

I love your prose, whenever I read an article of yours, my apathy lessens. You are one of the few reasons I keep returning to Gamespot.

nix253
nix253

i haven't played the game yet but i really liked the article and understand that why some games affect some people more than the others. this is the beauty of games i believe. it's not often that people share the same thoughts and feelings regarding something that we've. but when we see a game (which is made by some people only), every once in awhile, whose theme or essence resonates with what we feel and think, the game becomes special to us even if in technical aspects it may be lacking what makes a good game thereby bringing it's (metacritic) score aggregate down. and this makes the game fail to reach many people, which it should, and in the way it did reach some people. 

 

also when i read this article it makes me feel if i could only have more time to appreciate many games out there just like the author here was able to do so. when you're busy the whole day with your job, studies, family etc. and you know you could only give so much time to your gaming then there's this guilt that you know you're gonna gradually only miss out more of those things about gaming that made you fall in love with it in the first place. when you're only getting to play a game for a couple hours maybe even less then you naturally tend to incline towards the best out there which arguably are the AAA titles in the market. most of the time these titles pull off most things right because... well, because they're AAA titles. but still when i'm finished playing one of these 'blockbusters' i find myself trying to justify that why i played this game and why my time playing it was worth it. this i believe happens because, as the author in the article has stated "the best art often illuminates its subject matter in universal terms". the AAA games have to try to be the best in the market so that they can make the profit necessary to keep their AAA status. this makes them tend to focus more on technical and entertainment aspects of the content rather then the art aspect. and this makes the game try to bring as many people together as it can on a limited emotional plane which it uses to justify it's particular gameplay. but games like papa and yo, bastion and portal, i think their devs understand the best game is the one whose goodness is best justified by the experiences of gamers who play have played it  rather than by the devs themselves through the fancy box art or heavy budget promotions and marketing.

 

but as much as the review-providing-crowd on net bashes even the good AAA titles out there by exaggerating what they missed out on (yes the mass effect 3 ending controversy most probably comes to your mind), the fact is we're used to them and they cannot stop nor they shouldn't. the AAA have their own place of MIND BLOWING ENTERTAINMENT in our minds we must admit. but with that we should also try games like papa and yo every once in awhile because they hold a special place in our heart called GAMING.

xavvor1
xavvor1

Interesting and very true article regarding the message this game delivers and what not but still I did not think this game was a 7.5.

thom_maytees
thom_maytees

Very interesting read as I did not know that the game brought up the issue of parental alcholism.

vishisluv7
vishisluv7

Powerful read C, thanks for sharing. Now I have to go watch your review.

mekentosh
mekentosh

Amazing, I hope you enjoyed the game Carolyn! On a less serious note: "Every child deserves to be raised in a stable." dot!

ZachMasta
ZachMasta

 @Psycold I agree.  How on Earth do some people have the gall to judge people or attack people and not even admit to it when you don't even know the person or have been in their shoes?  It makes me question the motive. 

franzito
franzito

@Morphine_OD I'm sorry but it's impossible not to notice how angry you are. Does that anger feeds you or eats you? In any case, you should ask for help, you might need to deal with the facts you exposed in a more healthy way than attacking others for their personal views of life.

CMOTKarlos
CMOTKarlos

 @Morphine_OD So Brave. Did you confuse, "self-dependent, strong, thick-skinned and hungry for success." with being a bully? How you handled problems in your own life has absolutely no relevance to how Carolyn dealt with hers, or her insightful article.

metalman116
metalman116

 @Morphine_OD You are missing the point. The article is meant to draw attention to video games taking on more serious subjects. Not to point a finger at her father; the story of her father is meant to give a frame of reference to her understanding of the game. I honestly see no problems with her life, she seems to be quite successful, in fact we are both debating over her article not yours. Take that hunger for success that you abusive family gave you and try doing something half as useful in the world.

carolynmichelle
carolynmichelle moderator staff

 @WizardGlass I'm not going to elaborate on this--this will be my only comment on the matter--but your conclusion is wildly offbase. I was born transgender. My father's alcoholism is an entirely separate issue. There is no correlation between the two.

Smokescreened84
Smokescreened84

 @WizardGlass SHE is just remarking on how the topic of a game has a personal tone for her in regards of her own experiences in life, I'm sure that many of us have suffered the damage that an alcohol addiction can cause to a family -either from personal use or family issues.

 

Being an American doesn't give you the right to be a transphobic, narrow minded idiot who can't accept people for who they are, instead of who they are not.  That was a very nasty, very ignorant personal attack on your part.

She did not choose to be trans-gender and to undergo the transition, nature chose that for her and she did the only thing she could do within her heart to find her happiness in life.

 

All the article is about is remarking on how the plot of a game can have a personal touch to those who have experienced a lot in their lives.

franzito
franzito

@WizardGlass God knows why you're bringing her sexuality to the topic when she's talking about alcoholism and how this affected her as a whole person, not as a transgender uniquely. If it bothers you, deal with it! Nobody cares if you dislike it, you don't have to, but respect is fundamental.

metalman116
metalman116

 @mekentosh haha I doubt she meant a real stable, I am sure 'Environment' was supposed to go in there somewhere.

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

 @ZachMasta  @Psycold because judging doesn't involve understanding. Killing someone because you had no choice is the same killing. Some people would rather die than to kill, some won't, but both have a right to judge.

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

@franzito@Morphine_OD

my anger is actually extreme contempt and a lack of patience for inattentive, stupid or weak people. Call it arrogance, but it has a valid base and a perfect excuse. It stems from the other personal experience, namely from studying in one of the best phys-math lyceum in Russia and realizing how easy is it to think before saying and to double check if you understand correctly what you're reading.

 

And I doubt there are healthy ways other then contempt for people who are making up excuses for being weak.

 

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

 @metalman116  @Morphine_OD "try doing something half as useful in the world" assuming much? Half as useful as that worthless article made of selfpity and sexual identity disorder? Literally every comment in that section beats than, including mine and paradoxically yours. 

franzito
franzito

@Morphine_OD Well, it looks like you're eager to give the final word/post, so, be my guest.

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

 @franzito  @Morphine_OD Why would you post this if you didn't care for real? It's like that situation with Jay Wilson, if he didn't care about Dave's comments, he wouldn't have posted.

franzito
franzito

@Morphine_OD I don't care if you think I'm an idiot. I really don't! Your reaction to my analysis of your behavior in one of the posts below JUST proves your anger. Sorry if I bothered you.

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

 @franzito  @Morphine_OD "attacking others for their personal views of life." Isn't it the same thing? If not, then please explain, what did you mean, because it was ME who was attacked for my personal views.

 

franzito
franzito

@Morphine_OD I never mentioned the word personal attacks, from where did you get that?

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

 @franzito he has enough grounds for it. You assumed that my strong disdain for Carolyn's views and some statements I made in self-defense are "personal attacks". Is that what smart people do?

franzito
franzito

@NOscope42 I'm sorry but you just drop in the middle of the discussion and call me an idiot? What are you, a 12?

NOscope42
NOscope42

 @vishisluv7  @NOscope42  @Morphine_OD  @Royial20  @Anthrizacks  @franzito first off, I said nothing in relation to the article, I merely pointed out my issue with an argument that peaked my interest; second, you prove my point by using your view of your own moral superiority to throw around as validation to your argument.  you assume I agreed with Morphine_OD, which I did not state anything that indicated such views.  and yet, you lump everyone you see as threatening your opinion as if you must prove that you are a good person, a better person then anyone else.  you do this with such vigor, that you fail to see your lack of understanding from others point of view.  your last attack on me, shows the same ignorance you accuse everyone else of having.  you mention I should meet Morphine and carve a swastika in my arm, just as you finish carving a cross in yours. nicely done sir!

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

 @NOscope42  @vishisluv7  @Royial20  @Anthrizacks  @franzito It's ok, I'm used to that. Unfortunately that's what I have to put up with regularly. When someone weak voices his opinion, everybody jumps on his side and act all understanding. But should someone strong raise his voice and suddenly the caring and understanding bunch becomes judgmental, hating, abusive and ignorant substance, sometimes even ready to basically tear you apart at the first chance.

 

Nevertheless, it's a good thing we can take it. Someone like Carolyn would be crushed by that "caring"  bunch or even contemplating committing a suicide.

NOscope42
NOscope42

 @vishisluv7  @Morphine_OD  @Royial20  @Anthrizacks  @franzito I read the whole spread of comments in this argument, and I can't help but notice that people who don't post some fluffy like:  Awww, I feel for you, or your so brave, are condemned as angry or unable to understand another persons position, then when he defends his point of view, you bash him for being exactly what he called you out on?  its like everyone is trying to prove that they are better people then Morphine_OD, by assuming the role of what you assume is a humanistic oriented person, and anyone who would contradict Carolyn's view is automatically a bad person? because they were not sympathetic?  

 

from a third party view vishisluv7, royial20, anthrizacks, and fanzito, you guys kind of just proved his point about being idiots, you missed his point by a mile, and he had to defend his views, and you used that as validation that you were right, like idiots.

vishisluv7
vishisluv7

 @Morphine_OD  @Royial20  @Anthrizacks  @franzito Wow this Morphine guy is filled with hate. Must be tough going through life so angry, so bitter. You really are ignorant and uncaring person. That's much worse than being brave enough to face bigots like you as Carolyn does everyday.

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

 @Royial20  @Anthrizacks  @franzito Stupid people think that idiots are untouchable and should be treated with care. I'm not lashing out, I'm showing them their place. The need to puff chest is something that Carolyn would do, he puffs it alright with hormone use. He always brings up his sex change in his articles while discussing some personal and/or emotional stuff. Ain't it justifying?

Royial20
Royial20

 @Morphine_OD  @Anthrizacks  @franzito Your need to 'puff your chest' out here shows how truly insecure you are. You also should reread the article, Carolyn said nothing about contemplating sex changes or anything that you said. Boy's Don't Cry is a movie about a transgender teen and Caroyln was saying you don't need to be a transgender in order to enjoy the movie. Just like you don't need to have had alcoholics parents in order to connect with the video game.

 

You don't come off as strong nor independent and your lashing out at idiots is something stupid people do. You still have some miles stones before you can say you are a strong, independent adult.

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

 @bgranli  @Anthrizacks  @franzito you can abuse me all you want, it doesn't change anything. If you're calling me an idiot just because I call idiots idiots, you're an idiot too. And that's a scientific fact.

bgranli
bgranli

 @Morphine_OD  @Anthrizacks  @franzito The problem here is that you are the idiot. However, you are so emotionally retarded that you fail to see it. It is quite natural considering your past. 

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

 @Anthrizacks  @franzito I'm lashing out on idiots. That makes me weak exactly how? If you put up with idiots - you're one of them. I don't have to know someone to see the whole idiocy of his statements. 

Anthrizacks
Anthrizacks

 @Morphine_OD  @franzito You're openly lashing out at someone you don't even know, Morphine_OD. That makes you the only "weak" person that I can see here. It's the easiest thing to dismiss someone as being lower or weaker than you, but making that assertion is in itself an admittance of your own insecurity.

adam1808
adam1808

 @WizardGlass It's called an op-ed. If you don't like her writing then write your own op-eds and convince people otherwise. Also I'm a citizen of Australia, we don't have a 1st Amendment, so your attacking of the player rather than the ball just seems malicious.

adam1808
adam1808

 @WizardGlass  Have some decency. Not many people have it in them to write about their lives, just because her circumstances weren't the same as everyone else' doesn't make them invalid. And yes, you did just make a personal attack on her.

ManicMasochist
ManicMasochist

 @WizardGlass  @ManicMasochist I suggest you stay in, or attend school.  You, and everyone else around you, could greatly benefit from the broadening of your horizons.  Where's the subtext in this article, exactly?  It's pretty obvious to me, at least.  It's a shame that most game developers don't aspire to say more, if they have anything to say at all.  "Who do you think you are?" was a rhetorical question.  I know your ilk altogether too well.  You're stench permeates the internet, and gaming sites in particular.  And what "experts" do you speak of, exactly?  People who never walked in Caro's shoes a day in their life?  Those experts?  

 

Note:  Maybe I misused the phrase, because I'm not going to even attempt to presume what could be behind your initial comment (that's far too depressing a venture), but it isn't an analogy.  So you know.  Stay in school.  Books, check 'em out.  All that jazz.