Trigger Warning! Papo and Yo – Breaking the Chain of Abuse

[“Trigger Warning” – is a piece dedicated to showcasing video games which focus on mental disorders as well as emotional and psychological trauma. It is my hope as a lifelong gamer and sufferer of various psychological disorders to combine my greatest passion with my greatest weakness to benefit the gaming community at large. These pieces are meant to applaud games that I have found to appropriately exemplify such issues in the human condition. Some of them are visceral and violent games that take a liberal approach and are not for the faint of heart. Others take a lighter approach to the whole affair and can apply to a much wider audience. Hopefully, those who do not suffer from such afflictions can look at these games as a chance to grasp at something otherwise intangible. While those who do suffer from psychological afflictions can look to these pieces of fiction for hope and catharsis. Without further ado, enjoy. 🙂 ]

[By the way, this is the trigger warning for the article: addiction, alcoholism, abuse]


Papo and Yo, In Summation

Papo and Yo is an independently developed puzzle-platformer created by Minority Media Incorporated that has you playing as Quico in an Alice in Wonderland-style South American favela where the world itself is alive and moves around to help or hinder your progress. Flying houses and bug like structures serve as platforming fun and you are constantly following a  magical glowing chalkline to your next destination. The player meets Quico as he’s hiding in a closet where the shadow of a terrifying monster looms just outside the doors to his hiding spot. A white portal opens up in the wall that helps Quico escape to a land where he is greeted by Monster, an aptly named docile creature who will be both his companion and burden for the course of their brief adventure.

The game mechanics behind Monster become the main part of Papo and Yo’s gameplay as you are required to lead Monster through the favela by enticing him with glowing coconuts with a carrot-on-a-stick approach. Monster is enticed to rouse from his slumber whenever the area is scattered with these treats making for some interesting puzzle choices  However, there comes the introduction of small green frogs that are even more enticing to Monster who will forgo any coconuts in the area and race to consume any frogs. What’s worse is that these frogs make Monster go into a blind rage in which he will seek out Quico and attempt to throw him about the game world. In some cases, the game has you balancing when to use frogs to your benefit in luring Monster from place to place. And then there are blue coconuts that help cool Monster off during these frightening segments. This hierarchy of food items for Monster, combined with some light puzzle solving and platforming makes for a quick jaunt of a game that is innocuous on the surface but deeply troublesome over time.


The Allegory of Alcoholism

The game’s symbolism is apparent from the beginning, being abused by an alcoholic. Upon starting the game, designer Vander Caballero gives a brief message dedicating the game to his family members that suffered alongside him in his father’s abuse. What’s more, the opening scene of Quico hiding in a closet from a shadowy figure is not far off of stereotypical domestic abuse scenes of a child hiding where the monster(abuser) themself is least likely to look. Picking up on these queues early on lends to the metaphorical elements throughout the game.

The green frogs that turn Monster from a pink, sleepy blob to a literal raging inferno are symbolic of alcohol being the catalyst that an alcoholic pines after and in its consumption throws their sense of the world away. They can become violent and will lash out at those around them. This notion is hammered home when during the final sequence of the game, Quico is tasked with riding himself of Monster. When prompted to use the same pipes that have spawned frogs the whole game, instead, bottles of whiskey pop out of the pipes. This tearing away of the symbolic veil only serves to drive home the point of alcohol’s destructive nature in an addict.

However, the message here is not the obvious destructive nature of an alcoholic. Rather, it’s what the game’s final message has to say about the relationship one has with an addict.


What One Can Gain From Papo and Yo

Once you come to understand Monster’s rage, you are tasked with getting him to the Shaman, a figure who is promised to help you separate Monster’s anger from him. After traversing through the game and coming to the Shaman’s temple, you are not greeted by a Shaman. Instead, there are four statues of moments in the game that turn and change into effigies of your father slumped over while drinking or you and your sister facing the rage of his alcohol driven abuse. A single sentient flame sparks and says to you that there was never any Shaman. There was never any magical cure. Rather, the “cure” to all of this is simply for Quico to rid himself of Monster once and for all. And so, As you over “inebriate” Monster on green frogs and he falls asleep, Quico pushes Monster over the edge of a floating platform into the maelstrom below where he is whisked away.

This final symbolic act is not unlike the severing of ties between and addict and their abuser. It can be difficult to understand why cutting ties with an abusive person can be so hard for the victim. The reality is that most people who are abused have some subconscious sense of fealty to their abuser, whether the abuser be their significant other, friend, or family member. There is this underlying compulsion where the victim may still not have severed this final tie.

In the case of Papo and Yo, it focuses on the relationship between a father and a son. Our parents are people that we are supposed to look up to and approach when we need help. It is the duty of a parent to guide their child and provide care for them. Combine these societal and psychological notions with the proximity of living with a parent and being in their life day in and day out, it’s no wonder why a child can create a bond that even abuse is not enough to shatter.

As we grow up, we become rebellious in nature. This rebellion can come in something as drastic as an outright rejection of what our elders have taught us or it can be as simple as creating our own lives after we have moved on from the homestead. In these moments, where we are removed from the tenuous nature of a violent, addiction driven household, it becomes much easier to look back on the subconscious ties we kept and eventually do away with them. Effectively severing the last remaining ties to an abuser that had kept us living in fear for most of our life.


Your Dear Writer’s Thoughts on Papo and Yo

Papo and Yo is a game that hits close to home for me. As a victim of an abusive alcoholic much of my life has been governed by acting out of fear. As a young adult it meant keeping certain parts of my ambitions hidden. I never felt like I could come forth with my aspirations and I also felt as though I couldn’t reveal to the world that I was suffering. I hid my depression and sleepless nights behind silence. Once I had broken the everyday proximity from my abuser, I still felt this weird sense of fealty to them. That I had to save them from themselves. In doing so, I could salvage some of the moments of good from years and years of turmoil.

However, I came to understand something fundamental about the nature of people who are afflicted with such a disease. That sometimes, they are so blind to their own doings that they’re captured in a prison of their own actions and have no idea. They’ve created a false reality where they are empirically right despite what the rest of the world is telling them.

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that we cannot save people who do not want to be saved. Who cannot come to accept what they have wrought. Yes, the addict is a victim in and of themselves. They have an affliction that causes them to see everything differently and leads them to self-destruction and the destruction of others. In those cases, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to cut ties and stand our ground. It may seem a callous and uncaring maneuver but clinging to a person who is only dragging everyone else down is an act of self-implosion. Otherwise the victim cannot ever become healthy and rejoin the world in spite of their abuse

The final message in Papo and Yo, of letting go, can be one of the most difficult obstacles in a victim’s life to get through. It involves the willful breaking of strong relationships. But sometimes holding on can do more harm than good.


Trigger Warnings for Papo and YoThere are numerous references to alcoholism and child abuse that crop up throughout the game that could be potentially triggering. However, the game itself is meant to be cathartic and help understand the notion of letting go. It’s a game to play with some due care but could be a positive experience for people seeking an outlet for their past traumas.

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