After Taking On Abuse, Papo & Yo Dev Sets Sights on Bullying
Caballero said the the development of Silent Enemy hadn’t originally started as a game tackling childhood bullying. Instead, it was originally designed as a documentary, covering the harshness of wilderness living in a game. But after the success of Papo & Yo, the scope of the company had changed, and there was a drive to emphasize tackling tough emotional issues.
As it turned out, addressing bullying through their game resonated with a number of members of Minority’s team.
“It was really interesting because (Papo Design Director) Reuben (Farrus) comes from Spain and (Executive Producer) Ernie (Webb), our partner that is Cree, he comes from northern Quebec, and they both were bullied when they were young. One was bullied when he was (living on a Cree reservation), the other one was bullied in high school in a small town in Spain. We were like ‘wow, it’s incredible.’
“I was bullied too, but not as much as these two, they were having nightmares about being bullied still,” Caballero said. “It is our reality that while we all have gone through the experience, we haven’t gone really deep into what bullying is and how to cope with it. We’re trying to put that into the game. We’ve found that we’ve had success with that in Papo and we wanted to keep doing it and keep breaking the rules of what game developing is.”
Bullying among young people has recently received a lot more attention as an issue in popular culture, with stories of harassment and torment among teenagers and children even driving some to commit suicide. Stories like those seem to have had a big impact on Caballero, and they’ve informed the development of Silent Enemy to be a game that can convey what it’s like to be bullied, and maybe teach people how to cope with it.
“I’ve heard about this on PBS news about three years ago, about a kid who told his dad he was being bullied,” he said. “And then his dad says, ‘Okay, let’s get you to the gym, let’s get to the punching bag, I want to train you, I want to teach you how to defend yourself,’ and that’s what they did. One year later, the kid committed suicide.
“If he couldn’t defend himself from suicide, how could he defend himself? His father looked into his computer and he read that he was being bullied online. How do you defend when you’re being bullied online? You can’t go to the gym, you can’t become stronger.
“Now suddenly there’s something that we have in mind: how do you defeat bullying by not fighting back with power? And that’s something that we’re working on — figuring out how we do that and one of the key things (in coping with bullying) is, ‘hold on, it’s going to get better,’” Caballero said. ”So now we want to embed that into the game through mechanics, that’s really hard — we have some ideas on how to do it but it is taking a while.”
He explained that an interesting fact about video games is how it is possible to invert the roles. For instance, there’s a moment in Papo & Yo when the player can become the monster, which represents the abuser. Caballero said that by putting the player in the place of the aggressor in Papo, the player develops a sense of empathy towards the creature, and the game provides a perspective different from the player’s own.
“It is interesting to see how people react when they see the other half of the story,” said Caballero. ”But what I expect on that one is seeing the weakness of the aggressor, because when you see someone who is weak and you’re attacking him, you feel how desperate the action is and how pointless it is.
It feels like writing the first novel sometimes, it’s like we’re doing the first dramatic game.
“We’re trying on that one. If it’s going to work, I don’t know. When we were finishing Papo, I wanted to finish it as a good game — suddenly you have the key and the monster that is your enemy, you have to end it with a boss fight. We felt so wrong about that and said, ‘No, if I do that, I’m not giving closure to anyone who suffered this.’ So I said ‘F–k this s–t!’ If I do this game, and I break all the rules that we know, then we have to keep doing it.”
Caballero said he returned to his team with a prototype, and they agreed the non-boss fight ending was something Minority could do. To Caballero credit, his attempt at breaking the rules worked out as well as he could have hoped.
“I think, creatively, it’s really fertile terrain because no one has done gameplay in these areas. It feels like writing the first novel sometimes, it’s like we’re doing the first dramatic game,” he said.
Ultimately, Caballero said that Silent Enemy will try to convey a message that not many games every achieve, or even attempt: that it’s not outward strength, but inner strength, that’s necessary to combat issues like bullying and to grow as a person. As Caballero said, “…trying to become like the bully implies you are playing their game.”
“Actually defending yourself from bullying is finding who you are and appreciating who you are.”