Five years ago indie studio Minority Media released Papo & Yo on the PlayStation Store. The 3D puzzle-platformer features contrasting settings of a fantasy world where monsters exist and the broken down favelas of Brazil. As the player continues solving block puzzles and attempting to keep their friendly beast of a partner away from the frogs that enrage him, they start to learn that this isn’t a story of fantasy, but of a young boy trying to find an escape from an alcoholic and abusive father.
Papo & Yo portrays all parties involved as tragic figures. The beast that symbolizes the father is seen as incredibly kind figure at times, but one that relies on alcohol after an unfortunate experience. He’s not a one-note monster, but rather someone that can’t help but succumb to his own failings. Once he’s acquired his vice, he’s a different being completely. He’s a figure that can destroy everything in its sight and is blind to the trauma that he’s causing others.
I believe anyone who plays Papo & Yo would end up having an emotional response to the game, but its themes hit a little too close to home for me. My father (if he can even be called such) was never really in my life aside from a handful of memories I can recall, and ultimately what kept him away from me led to his death while I was in high school. I don’t recall much sadness when I was informed that he had fatally overdosed on heroin, as I found it hard to have any real sympathy for someone who chose a quick high over a long-lasting relationship with his only son.
Things weren’t much better with the parents that were in my life. Both my mother and stepfather abused alcohol, and I spent countless nights dreading that they were coming home from a bar. Like a lot of people, alcohol brought out a different side to them (one I’d go as far to say was their true side), and many school nights were spent listening to two drunks argue while I tried to get some sleep.
For a long time, I held an active resentment against those involved in my childhood. I had little sympathy for those that suffered due to their own choices. Papo & Yo helped change that. While it’s true that addicts’ own selfish actions end up causing both them and their loved ones pain, they too are victims. I can’t think of anything more sad than not having control over your own actions, and it’s their need for a substance that overrides any of their other feelings.
A lot of this change in mindset for myself came while playing Papo & Yo. The game’s effective symbolism made me consider for the first time what they were going through, as the game constantly showed the radical shift in behavior that came from a need to cope, not from a place of anger. Growing up I was young and selfish. I couldn’t see past my own pain to realize that I wasn’t the only person hurting in the situation. The addicts in my life weren’t inherently hateful people that chose escape over responsibility. The reality was much more sad. I still have conflicting feelings about addiction in general, but I now choose to remember my father by the few good memories I have instead of defining him by the times he wasn’t there.
Addiction is painful to many, but if I’ve learned anything in my 25 years on this Earth, it’s that a person’s upbringing is not what defines them. I am my own man that will succeed or fail on nobody’s merit but my own. I no longer have a burning hatred towards those that made my childhood such a trying time for myself, and in a weird way I’m actually thankful for it. I don’t have to follow down those footsteps, and I learned at an early age that I get to choose my path. To this day I’ve never touched a drop of alcohol (although I’m not about to get preachy here as I definitely don’t have everything figured out), and I’ll continue to own my actions rather than dwell on the ones done by others. In a small way, I feel like moving on has been made easier thanks to Papo & Yo.