Papo & Yo Creator’s Next About Bullying, PC-Bound

By Nathan Grayson on May 6th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

Papo & Yo‘s tale of parental abuse, coping, and giant rhino dogs that appear to be made of chewing gum might not have been perfect, but on the whole, it was a marvelously powerful, important experience. Honestly, if you haven’t already, I really recommend giving it a try. Plenty of games tell great stories, but rarely do they teach us to understand and empathize with other human beings. Real ones. In the wake of Papo’s strong reception, Vander Caballero and the team at Minority have decided that’s their goal: to craft inherently human games that explain, heal, and tear us away from each others’ throats. That brings us to Silent Enemy. Rooted in Cree Indian culture, it digs deep into the battered hearts of two Minority team members whose childhoods were defined by bullying. I spoke with Caballero about what exactly that will entail and also received confirmation that – contrary to previous reports of mobile and OUYA exclusivity – Silent Enemy is definitely coming to PC.

“Yes. It will come to PC. It will,” Caballero immediately replied when I asked the PC question. So that’s settled, then.

But what is Silent Enemy? Where did it come from, and how can a medium that usually sees us playing the bullies – inflicting the harshest punishment possible on our foes for the sake of sheer, visceral pleasure – turn that dynamic around? Caballero explained to RPS:

“It started as a survival type of game, and then we changed it. We got funding while we were in the middle of Papo to make a game about Cree [Indian culture from Northern Quebec]. So we had design director Ruben Farrus thinking of the game, and then Papo came out, and he said, ‘Vander, we cannot do a game about survival hunting. That’s not a Minority game. Look at what’s happening with Papo.’”

“We had to make an emotional game. So we were like, ‘OK, Ruben, you’re right. Let’s do it.’ But the challenge is that you have to bring someone to a place of healing. You have to help someone with your game. So he started working with Ernie, our Cree partner, and they both came back to me and said, ‘OK, we have the angle: bullying.’ And I was like, ‘Wow. Why?’ Turns out, Ruben was bullied in Spain – in a small town, where he always had to feel nervous about being bullied – and creative director Ernest Webb was bullied in the Cree Indian reserve.”

So, right then: no bully hunting in the Wedgie Fields. Obviously, Silent Enemy won’t be some Tarantino-esque anti-bully revenge fantasy. But where do you take such a delicate concept? “Bullies bad, everyone else good,” after all, doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of everything underpinning this issue. Unsurprisingly, Papo & Yo’s drawn up a lot of the basic blueprint, but this is a very, very different sort of story.

“This is a fairytale story, so we’re going to have a lot of magical realism,” Caballero said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. You’re going to be able to use your powers to collect experience and freeze rivers, possess animals, and things like that. So there’s going to be a lot of that joyful part of the world. Something that we had in Papo too – it was fun to explore the favela. There was all this fun and beauty. So there’s going to be all of that, with lots of animals and powers over nature, and then we’re going to bring in the bullies. The guys who are going to ruin your fun. You will have to defeat them, but not by fighting back. Because they’re really big.”

“We didn’t end our Papo with a fight. We didn’t have a curve of power to convey a meaningful story. Instead, you kept getting weaker and weaker. So we have gotten support from the people to break the rules of game design that are hurting many now. We can do something about it. You’re not going to defeat your bullies by getting better armor and a bazooka. So it’s a Minority challenge for us to do the game.”

And make no mistake: this is a Minority production. It’s a group effort, a collage of visions plucked from multiple countries, cultures, and walks of life. Caballero himself, then, isn’t exactly the star of this particular show, and he’s well aware of that. This time around, it’s about helping other people tell their own stories – though maybe not quite with Papo’s flare for, er, emotional devastation.

Pictured: creative director Ernest Webb.

“I was bullied too, but not to that point. It’s a personal topic, but I’m not a creative director. I’m more a producer on the game. My goal right now is to help Ruben and Ernie to transform their feelings into mechanics. Now, it’s not going to be as personal as Papo. I put a lot of my own story and background into that one. Silent Enemy is going to be a lot more universal – but all based on really powerful stories they have lived.”

Which is not to say Caballero’s all tapped out. He definitely has another intensely personal tale in him. He’s just waiting for the right time to tell it.

“I’m working on it,” he admitted, a heavy sigh revealing the weight of it all. “I have one. I’m making a really personal game. It’s just that it takes time to do them. For Papo, it took me a really long time to feel it out. So if I finished Papo – this crazy journey – and then jumped right into my next one, it would be too hard for me. I couldn’t have done it. So right now I’m helping others, and I’m also going back to my other journey that’ll be the foundation for my next game.”

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47 Comments »

  1. sonson says:

    I think bullying is bad

    • Ultra Superior says:

      Whatever. I am eating your lunch now.

      • Jackson4q says:

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    • Bhazor says:

      Someone’s just askin’ for a noogie.

    • bhlaab says:

      With this comment you’ve more or less rendered the game itself obsolete. I’d be heavily surprised if its message managed to run any deeper. I don’t know, maybe at the end you find out that the crows are acting out because of socio-economic frustrations making their family life emotionally painful.

      Or, what is much more likely is that they made a mean-looking crow man and then wrote BULLYING and drew an arrow from the word to the crow. And this jumping puzzle! It stands for… jumping away… from bullying! And pushing this crate onto a switch! It’s, like, you’re pushing your feelings aside, man.

      Papo y Yo was a good effort (but a pretty poor game) but this just strikes me as crappy, hippie, touchy-feely bullshit retroactively applied to capitalize on the current ‘popularity’ of bullying.

      • Ultra Superior says:

        I think this game, if it was a fun game, might achieve to convey a deeper meaning:

        Bullying is bad, but it is so darn fun!

  2. Teovald says:

    So, not Bully 2 ?
    Too bad :(

    • Bhazor says:

      I would give the entire industry a swirly for a new Bully game.

      • Ross Angus says:

        I bounced off that game violently. I think it was the cartoon tone of the caricaturisation of (for example) the protagonist’s mother. I played enough to know that you were not a bully, but I didn’t like anyone.

        • Teovald says:

          I played the entire game and there were not a lot of characters that I liked either. But it is intentional, almost all of them are caricatures of negative stereotypes and it serves the caricatural tone of the game very well.

      • Teovald says:

        Bullying is bad and all, but I would totally help you swirl the industry.

  3. ludicrous_pedagogy says:

    As someone who works in a school (no less in a library that is often a sanctuary for the socially excluded), good games dealing with these kinds of issues can only be a good thing.

    I just hope the system requirements will be scalable enough that we could actually get it working on some school computers.

  4. Rinu says:

    It’s definitely an interesting theme which I don’t recall being depicted in any game in depth.

  5. kwyjibo says:

    Not sure if I want more “bad things are bad, let’s hold hands” Journeys.

    Give me more Hotline Miami. I want the indigenous American berserk.

  6. Berzee says:

    If you play on Easy, your character is just homeschooled.

  7. Refpeuk says:

    Wow, I thought we were past calling native Americans “Indians” except by accident. I’d love to hear why even the game creators are using the term.

    • Dervish says:

      You thought wrong. Some groups strongly oppose “Native American” and prefer “American Indian.” Some are fine with “Indian” in the same vein. In this case, who knows, but there’s is no single, correct, agreed-upon term.

      • Refpeuk says:

        I see, that’s interesting. Where I live in British Columbia the term “indian” borders on offensive. (Not speaking for the whole province, just where I’ve lived)

        • lordcooper says:

          What do you guys have against India?

        • Tukuturi says:

          Indian is considered an offensive term in parts of the northeastern United States as well. Down in Oklahoma, where we stuck a lot of our Native peoples on reservations, Indian tends to be the preferred term. Of course calling someone by their name is always preferable.

  8. waltC says:

    I think everyone who has ever lived has at one time or another, most usually in childhood/teenage years, been bullied. It is a near-universal phenomenon. So why do present sad-sack victims of bullying seem to believe the experience is confined to them, or that it is somehow unique? Beats me.

    Best way to end a bully’s reign of terror and lunacy? Stand up to the bully and call his bluff–that will end the experience most likely. This kid used to stick a straight pin in my rear, over and over again, when I was a teen. This behavior continued until I rared back and poled him–just once. No serious damage was done, but that simple action won his respect, and as surprising as it was he and I became fast friends after that. I was never bullied again. Bullies do what they do because they believe their victims will not stand up for themselves. Stand up to them and the bullying will cease. If a bully does something more than taunting and sticking pins in your tail–that’s not bullying, that is something else entirely and most likely a matter for the police.

    I cannot think of a word which in modern parlance has been more abused than the word “bullying.”

    • Soulstrider says:

      “Stand up to the bully and call his bluff–that will end the experience most likely.”

      I don’t know why people keep preaching this, didn’t work for me neither can I see how can this work

    • Steven Hutton says:

      Or maybe your bully just kicks the shit out of you.

    • Tukuturi says:

      When I stood up to people picking on me, I mostly just got the shit beat out of me. Once I got the shit beat out of me, got thrown in a creek, then got shot repeatedly with a pellet gun as I clambered out. Once I had my nose smashed after school while my gym coach watched and laughed. I lost track of how many times I got my bike jacked. None of those times was standing up and saying “I call your bluff, bully!” an effective tactic.

      Also, a kid poking you in the butt isn’t bullying. Your friend was just a pest.

    • El_Emmental says:

      I experienced a very similar thing. But I didn’t come to the same conclusion.

      A kid kept on annoying me, and I remained stoically calm for weeks. One day, I (literally) stood up, turned around, firmly kicked him in the balls once, walked away. I’ve never been annoyed ever again, nor bullied by him, and we actually became good friends.

      A similar thing happened some 5 or 6 years later when I moved 600 km north: a kid wanted to see how I was when I’m getting angry. It took a few days, I eventually tackled him, maintained him on the ground like a LA cop, and gave him one or two hits on the sides (not like a LA cop, who would have put him in a coma). After that, we resumed on being friends, and never got annoyed again by anyone (even by the 6 delinquants bullies in my class).

      Except it wasn’t bullying. That was annoying/harassing.

      Bullying is much more subtle than that and is always a social harassment (even when it involves one active bully only), the main objective is socially isolating and depreciating a weak/passive individual, to finally hurt its self-esteem (and self-respect), to finally lock him/her down in a dominated position.

      That’s why bullied kids keep being bullied when they change school, years after years: their inner self is damaged and will remain damaged until they rebuild it (with scars), often with the help of someone they can trust (trust enough that they’re exposing their most personal self to that person), and/or a few people (reconstruction through sociability and sharing), a cultural element (music, games, books, etc).

      (I could wrote quite a few paragraph on the two main factors regarding bullying, but it needs a blog post, not a comment)

  9. Soulstrider says:

    As someone who got bullied I can definitely get behind this game

  10. El_Emmental says:

    As someone who helped quite a few bullied kids (by becoming their friends (through video games) and staying with them, even when bullies hovered around – no violence, no “stand up to the bullies”, just a social/group psychological passive defense), I’m really curious about that game.

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