Magadly Caballero knew that her brother Vander was making a game about their alcoholic father. She'd lived through his scary rages alongside Vander. But she still wasn't ready for how Papo & Yo would make her feel.
Vander Caballero's sister hasn't been able to play Papo & Yo yet—Kotaku's review is here—but she's seen videos of the game in action. "It was hard," Magadly says in response to questions that I sent her over e-mail. "I felt deeply uncomfortable, even though I was happy that Vander did the game. It was really hard for me to remember those memories. When Monster eats the frog [which send him into violent rampages], I felt terror and anguish."
But despite how upset the game made her, she feels that Papo & Yo could help other families in similar crises. "I liked the idea that Vander could actually help other families that are struggling with alcoholism," Magadly says. Decades have passed since Vander and Magadaly had to weather their father's worst behaviors but they've never talked about their shared trauma.
The new PS3 game—focused on solving the puzzle of a volatile symbiotic relationship—is very different than the ones Vander used to make. While he was a creative director at EA, Vander helped craft games like Army of Two, a paramilitary shooter where players mowed down waves of enemies. That those games were so extreme might not have been a coincidence. "I felt Vander was re-enacting the discomfort he lived with in our family by doing violent games," she muses.
"We have never talked about details of the past," Magadaly confesses. "We have never confronted that reality together." It's understandable to want to move away from the pains of the past and conversations about those moments can be hard to have. But providing a catalyst for those kinds of healing dialogues is one benefit she sees springing from Papo & Yo. The game is built on their lives and Magadly says that "maybe our experience could help others that are in the dark."
I asked Magadly if she worried that players of Papo & Yo might think that the elder Mr. Caballero was a bad person and not a good parent. "No, never," she replied. "Because each person and family is unique. He came to this life to fill a role and our role was learn from it." Besides Monster isn't just an allegorical stand-in for her father. There's a bit of her—of all of her and Vander's family—in the lovable yet dangerous creature and the other characters in Papo & Yo. "I can see traits of my siblings and my mother in all the characters, even Monster."