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 Papo & Yo  and the evolution of the game designer
Papo & Yo and the evolution of the game designer
September 16, 2013 | By Brandon Sheffield




Vander Caballero worked in triple-A for many years, on Fifa, The Sims, Need for Speed, and Army of Two. But he was discontent, as he told the audience at GDC China. "I was not happy," he said. "I wasn't happy with the game industry. I was a creative director - I had a really good position, a lot of power, a lot of influence. Why did I leave?"

First he had to think about why he worked in video games at all. "We have a lot of games that are about escape from reality, and power fantasy," he adds. "But the reality is actually quite scary." Consider the power fantasy of Army of Two, versus the terrible reality and fallout of war, for example.

"When I was a kid, I didn't play violent games, I played Mario," he says. "It wasn't so violent. But now, if you ask school kids if they know what an AK-47 is, they all know. Why are we giving kids all this warfront knowledge?"

"I have to change it," he thought. "I don't want to make games like that. I want to make games that help people, and help them to cope with life, like good movies or good books do."

In his youth, Caballero spent hours and hours playing Mario, and trying to beat Bowser, but then he had to go back to reality, a reality in which he had a father who was an alcoholic. "You don't defeat an alcoholic father by bouncing on things, and shooting fireballs," he says. "How do you defeat an alcoholic father? That's why I made Papo & Yo, to try to help kids defeat that feeling."

The average kid plays 13 hours of video games per week: "We have a huge responsibility today, for what we are teaching kids," he says. Emotions that games do well include fear, ecstasy, and rage. And that's all well and good when you want to escape a rule system in the reality of life. But what happens before? What happens after?

How can we create feelings of love, and grief, the way movies can? "These emotions are really hard to achieve in games," he says, "because for love and grief you need empathy. You can't feel love, if you don't feel for someone else. You can't feel grief if you don't feel for someone else. We have to start making games that make us feel these emotions, but not in a linear way."

One of the problems, he says, is that most character development in video games is terrible. Most character development starts with you getting a gun, and progresses by setting up barriers between yourself and everyone around you (guns, shields), because everyone wants to kill you. But in reality, character development is the opposite. It's about breaking down the barriers, and opening yourself up to other people.

We have to change our roles as a designer, if we want to achieve these emotions, he says. "Our role is to tell stories to people. To tell stories from a different point of view," Caballero concludes. "We have to become storytellers, not designers. So I ask you: change the game industry. Please."


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Comments


Raul Hernandez Solano
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I agree totally with Caballero!

William Johnson
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I love that last paragraph. When I was in high school, yeesh seven years ago, I made the decision to pursue developing games because I loved telling stories and I felt that the game industry didn't have many developers that really focused on telling good stories and having good character development. I'm a long way away from being good enough, but I'll just keep making them and refining my skills until it is good. So that part where you ask "change the game industry. please." I say to you, "Working on it."

Jack Everitt
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" "Our role is to tell stories to people. To tell stories from a different point of view," Caballero concludes. "We have to become storytellers, not designers. So I ask you: change the game industry. Please.""

Wow, I so disagree with this. First, if it's that important for you to tell stories, write novels, write plays, make films, etc. Second, the job of a game designer is to make a great game. If you want to make a great game that has a great story, fine, go for it. But to suggest that the game industry needs to change to become story-driven is absolutely ludicrous.

Keith Burgun
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>>If you want to make a great game that has a great story, fine, go for it.

Just know that this has basically failed 100% of the time it has been tried and logically WILL fail every time in the future, since the way stories and games work is fundamentally in conflict.

Paul Laroquod
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Famous last words.

Kyle McBain
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I agree to an extent with this reply. The player is suppose to be the author. And good writing is important but it is like I said in another post "Narrative" does not equte to "game". It is an integral part, but ultimately it is a tool to help the player relate and to give ability. It is not the driving force... that is the players role.

Luke Meeken
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Plays and films are no more inherently narrative than games. If he wants to tell stories, games are as viable a medium as any other. If he doesn't want to tell stories, games are as viable a medium as any other. That said, people DO seem to have an overwhelming desire to tell and hear stories, which is why the vast majority of films, plays, and writing involve some sort of narrative, and perhaps why many people feel compelled to include narrative as a component in game development and/or design.

But your other point is true - his calling for games across the board to be narrative is not well-founded. It would be like a painter asking all paintings to be figurative or narrative in nature. There's plenty of space in the medium for mechanical. formal experimentation and development as well as aesthetic and content-based experimentation and development, and there's no reason or need to force the whole medium into the content/narrative-focused mold.

William Johnson
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What I took from this is that we should have more meaningful experiences in games. I agree that not all games should have stories. I mean who really wants to know the story behind angry birds or candy crush? I relate it to the days of snes and playstation 1 where you had tons of rpgs that gave these meaningful experiences. For example, the ending of Lufia 2 or the ending of Chrono Trigger. Classics. Fun games in their own right but the story was what sold it to me and makes them so memorable. I feel that there is a niche out there for games like that today, but that's just my opinion.

Malcolm Wilson
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This is completely missing the point of what a designer is, and it's saying that storytelling is only one thing. Games like Crusader Kings II and Civilization 5 are PACKED with story and storytelling, yet run exclusively on pure game design.

I understand Caballero's problem with taking part in an industry that's cranking out depictions of violence, and agree that maybe we should do less of that and definitely target it at kids a lot less, but saying that games can be only One Thing is not the solution. Saying that we need to be storytellers and not game designers is like saying we need to be screenwriters and not cinematographers. What he's defining as storytelling is only one part of the process of making a game (a part that can be emphasized to the degree the creators wish, as games exist on a spectrum) and it's not even a very holistic view of storytelling.

The message should be that we need to get better at making all kinds of games, from pure story like Gone Home to pure design like Civ. We need to get a lot better at being inclusive and progressive and rising above the negative, hostile and toxic parts of the gaming culture, but we can and should be doing that across the boards, across all genres and styles of games and not by insisting that only small art games have value.

Kyle McBain
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I agree we need more games with these types of emotions attached. I love the moving expereince some games are capable of giving me and yes we do have a responsibility to young people.

I don't agree with the line "I have to change it". No you don't have to change anything. Focus on your own game and let the players decide. It's one thing to add to the industry and have variety, but to "change it" is a ridiculous thing to say. And maybe he is speaking for those that don't have a voice... young people. If that is the case we need to back it up with more than "warfront knowledge is bad". No it's not. It is just knowledge. There is nothing bad about knowing stuff.

ganesh kotian
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You can't feel love, if you don't feel for someone else. You can't feel grief if you don't feel for someone else. We have to start making games that make us feel these emotions, but not in a linear way." I completely agree with this point.

Paul Laroquod
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All this article does is restate a problem every story game designer is already familiar with. Seems kind of like a waste of space to me, Propose specific solutions or stop wasting everyone's time, I'd say. We're long past the stage where putting your hand up and saying 'Reconciling a story with game mechanics is difficult and this difficulty is holding us back' is of any use to anyone.


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