How Papo & Yo Could Raise the Bar for Video Game Storytelling

Story. It’s what makes a good game great, connects us to the characters, and truly gives life to games that might not have the same feeling on their own.

It’s also one of the most common complaints about games as well; poorly written dialogue, weak characters, and boring conflict are accusations slung all too often at games in our industry.

So, what can be done to remedy this? What can we do to make storytelling in games better?

Look no further than the upcoming PSN exclusive Papo & Yo for a great example.

Papo & Yo is a puzzle/platformer that charges players with controlling Quico, a young boy living in South America with his large friend Monster. Using the combined efforts of the two, you’ll be faced with multiple environmental puzzles that must be solved to traverse the game’s many levels.

It sounds lighthearted and cute on the surface, but it’s the darker tone to Papo & Yo that really makes the game striking.

Monster has an obsession with eating poisonous frogs. Quico tries to help him stay away from them, but when the creature eats them, he will suddenly break into a violent rage that Quico must steer clear of to avoid getting hurt.

The mechanic is not something thrown in there on a whim. Vander Caballero, the mind behind Papo & Yo, grew up in a home with an abusive alcoholic father. Monster in the game is meant to be a direct representation of that, and is supposed to subject players to the same fear and vulnerability that he felt growing up.

This is it. This is what storytelling in gaming needs. Writers need to not be so hesitant to tackle sensitive and uncomfortable subjects. They need to not be afraid of placing a small piece of themselves into the project. With such a powerful and emotion-evoking metaphor, suddenly we understand something a bit deeper than the game. We experience emotions that Caballero has opened up and injected into his work to help give his game a new depth that not many Triple-A titles have today.

I can’t get enough of this idea of the use of a metaphor in gaming. Using something in the game world to directly represent something out of reality is a uniquely genius and artistic way to help open our eyes and minds to things we might not have considered before. And the interactive medium of a video game allows us to experience the same emotion and thought in a quasi-firsthand way. When writers and developers are willing to inject this level of personal background and experience into a game, suddenly I’m faced with a compelling experience that not only gets me excited for it, but also gives me hope that video game storytelling will continue to evolve into something fantastic in the future.