Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kids, Monsters, and Metaphors

Image from
This week at PopMatters, I take another look at Papo & Yo.

Like I said in my review, I think it's well worth playing, largely because it's not afraid to tackle themes that most games don't touch. The game uses platforming and puzzle solving as a metaphor for heavy subjects like alcoholism and child abuse. I've heard some people complain about how obvious these themes are (especially toward the end of the game), but this didn't bother me. On the contrary, I admire the game for unambiguously embracing a message. There's a variety of ways to undermine the "it's just a game" brush-off that many folks throw around. Papo & Yo's technique is to make the larger message a critical part of the game that can't simply be ignored. And since so few games address the themes Papo & Yo explores, I think its heavy-handed approach is more than justified.

It's been interesting to read reviews of Papo & Yo, as it is the kind of game that highlights a constant tension in game reviews. The question is whether games should be evaluated holistically or should each piece be evaluated and then aggregated in order to find the value of the whole package. As the years go on, I find myself increasingly drawn to the holistic approach. A game like Papo & Yo doesn't have to have a perfect frame rate, flawless controls, and Portal-caliber puzzles to be great, because that's not (in my mind, at least) the point of the game. Complaining that the puzzles aren't hard enough strikes me as a bit like criticizing Rock Band's story. For more on this, I highly recommend Drew Dixon's piece over at Bit Creature in which he warns against falling into the trap of actually demanding ludonarrative dissonance.

Finally, much of my post revolves around the way childhood is presented in games. I don't often see the topic discussed, but thankfully Jorge is well-versed in the subject. I don't cite them specifically in the article, but his knowledge of children's literature as well as the way youth is portrayed in games definitely influenced my thinking as I played Papo & Yo. Do yourself a favor and read that stuff!

I realize I've been cheerleading for Papo & Yo, but when a game is willing to embrace topics most games don't even acknowledge, I think it deserves the praise.


  1. Thanks for this. I've barely heard anything about it, but I'll probably pick this up now.

  2. Hopefully you like it! I always feel a little weird about endorsing a game so wholeheartedly, since I don't want to over-hype it for people before they play it. Looking forward to what you think of it.

  3. I won't be able to play it for a while, but when I do I'll try and remember to tell you how i find it!