Of all the controversy stemming from the original Little Fears, the book’s references to and condemnation of child abuse was the subject most often addressed. While I did my best to approach the topic with tact and sensitivity, I was coming to it as an outsider. I had never suffered abuse, had a stable upbringing in a loving home, and was raised by parents who watched over me and protected me. Less so Vanderlei Caballero, the creative director of the PlayStation Network release Papo & Yo.
Papo & Yo is a bright shining example of bringing the subject of abuse to the fore by masking it in an approachable wrapper, that of an action-adventure video game.
You play as Quico, a little boy we meet as he’s hiding behind a vent from a lumbering hulk initially seen only in shadow. You soon escape from the beast into a land that plays by the rules of imagination. Throughout the game, you will pull staircases out of brick walls via shining chalk outlines and rearrange neighborhoods by moving around cardboard boxes capable of shifting houses. You’ll meet new characters, gain a treasured toy that lets you do even more in the world, and run into the beast we met early on: Monster. We learn that Monster is normally very kind and gentle but it is addicted to these frogs that turn it into a raging beast. Soon you are set upon finding a cure for Monster’s addiction, freeing it and yourself from its affliction.
The developer states plainly that Papo & Yo is an allegory for his own trials enduring his father’s addiction to drugs and alcohol, even dedicating the work to his siblings who endured as well. With that knowledge, the game’s simple premise takes on a much darker tone but also draws you in even further as you root for Quico to succeed and empathize with this struggle to cure Monster of its addiction.
Yes, it’s heady stuff. But the game’s wonderful art style and engaging world make it easy to get into and enjoy on a game level while processing what all this means on an intellectual and emotional level.
While Little Fears shifted from real-world horror with the release of Little Fears Nightmare Edition, child abuse in all its forms has not gone away and conversations about it—to find better ways to prevent it, address it, and help others recover from its effect—need to happen. As long as we are able to help those affected heal their wounds, we stand a better chance, as a people, of surviving it.
Games such as Papo & Yo are designed as a personal catharsis, but others who endured similar can also find release and those of us who never faced abuse are allowed a better glimpse into its effects. Games like this challenge us all, well beyond our ability to solve puzzles, and serve as further proof that turning pain into positivity is a large step in breaking the cycles that bring us all down.
The game came out yesterday on PlayStation Network for $14.99. You can purchase it directly from you PlayStation 3, through Sony’s online store, or buy a download code from select retailers. (PlayStation+ members save 20%.)
You can find plenty of footage and developer diaries on YouTube as well as my favorite video game website, Giant Bomb. Click below for the wonderful trailer that shows even more of the game’s sense of wonder and imagination.