Video games are getting more and more impressive every day, but as an art form they're still in their infancy. DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION and WITCHER 2 may have convincing characters, moral choices and permanent consequences. They are my two favorite AAA games. But you wouldn't call either of them a deep emotional
experience. You wouldn't say they say fresh, true things about the human condition.
But every now and then a game comes along that pushes that envelope. PASSAGE was a teeny little iPhone game that managed to say something about the shortness of life and the permanence of decisions. And now along comes PAPO & YO from creator Vander Caballero and game designer Ruben Farrus, downloadable on Playstation Network.
In PAPO & YO, you're a little kid in a hallucinatory barrio where houses can be coaxed into sprouting cartoon stilts and walking around; only by rearranging the landscape can you chase after the little girl who keeps taunting you.
Your best friend is a giant rhino-esque monster, who generally only wakes up for coconuts. By bouncing on his belly (see the pic), you can jump places you can't get. He can also open gates for you. You need him.
But, whenever he eats a green frog, he becomes a true monster, belching fire and beating the crap out of you if you don't run. He's terrifying. Your quest, you discover, is to get him to a shaman who can cure him.
And to do that, you have to manage his rages. Sometimes, you need to feed him a green frog so he'll destroy an obstacle you need destroyed.
So here's where this becomes personal expression. The game is about the creator's relationship with his abusive, alcoholic father; it's dedicated to his sisters and mother, who survived along with him. He needed his father, but he needed to manage his father's rages.
I grew up with very reasonable parents who rarely even raised their voices. I don't think I've ever seen either of them drunk. Intellectually I know that an alcoholic parent is terrifying. I've seen it in movies. People close to me have had parents or lovers who were abusive. I've always wondered why, given the choice, they stayed with their abusive lover. I've always wondered how there's still affection for the abusive parent.
This game taught me something about that. You can't reject Monster. You can't leave him behind. You need him. Most of the time, he's kind of cute, in an ugly way. You wind up forgiving him for his rages. That's just the way he is, after all. It's your fault for not getting out of the way, for not running fast enough, for not hiding better.
I mean, I knew that. But I didn't get it.
PAPO & YO barely has a story. It's a puzzle platformer. But its simple game dynamic and stunning visuals make it a real emotional experience. The mechanics tell the story.
The game's mechanics tell a story. Is there any higher praise I could give a game for its artistic expression? I think the creators have really shown what games are capable of. I hope when CONTRAST comes out, we will have risen to the same standard.