Peter Padder Pauleypop is a charming little game that explores the poetry and futility in every day mundane tasks in both life and gaming worlds. Though it only came across my radar in the last week or so, this beautiful game was made for the Ludum Dare 31 game jam in early December 2014. As soon as I played it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it—about what it seemed to say about monotonous tasks in games or monotony in my own life.
When you begin the game, you stand up from your place on the edge of a long pier. Slowly, as you walk, the camera pulls back to reveal you’re standing on a floating structure. A giant, monstrous looking being that has either been twisted and grown around a floating structure or has had one built into it. It’s not entirely clear which is the case here, nor is it terribly important. After shuffling your bean-like blob of a character toward the beastly home, it’ll ask you to feed it. When you try to, however, you’ll discover that there are no fish and you’ll have to get some. There’s no way to go any further left, so your only option is to shuffle back the way you came—back to your starting place—to the edge of the pier. You fish for food, return to the monster and it extends a gigantic tongue to eat. Each time the monster eats, its giant black heart beats for a few moments, and then rests. Once you return to the end of the pier, more poetry appears on screen—to me, these are emotional echoes of the avatar’s past—a past he perhaps regrets now that he has become trapped by the demands of the beating monstrous heart. And perhaps the heart represents a physical, external presence: a loved one, an audience, a client. Perhaps, as Super Soul’s website suggests, this heart is the expectation of a game designer himself: the aching, eager, and hungry independent game designer who is perhaps dissatisfied with himself and his work but feels he has no choice but to continue on.
There are no clear instructions in this game, just as there are none in real life; you simply perform these tasks over and over in the hope for a different outcome, though it’s pretty difficult to get things wrong. Peter Padder Pauleypop manages to strike that balance between inciting curiosity and spoon feeding the player with instructions that take you out of the scenario. Though I was more bemused than excited by the activity, I kept with it to see what might happen.
And Peter Padder Pauleypop plays with expectation. Each time I went to the edge of the pier to fish for my monstrous habitation, I would hope for something different, something new, but aside from a new sentence or two of poetry—of thoughts about life—there was nothing different to see. Peter Padder Pauleypop is the kind of game full of moments on introspection; the monotony of the movement, the repetitive task gives you space to consider what the moment might actually mean, and what might happen next if anything. It’s a thought that can sometimes hit me at work: why am I doing this task? There’s no point in asking this question if you expect an answer: you’ll only be disappointed.
One minute, you’re in the thick of this world, getting ready to hunker down, and the next, the game is over; “the end” in place of where the poetry once was, the avatar stuck sitting on the edge of that pier. It’s a startling, uncomfortable end—where I wanted conclusion, some sort of explanation or result for performing this task. And maybe that’s the whole point of the game: if you’re presented with the conclusion then there was a point to all this, and if there’s not, then you’re left wondering if you really made a difference—if you really accomplished anything at all. It’s a troubling feeling and I sat for a good ten minutes watching the end screen bob up and down—as if on the water—until I couldn’t take the awful feeling of futility any longer. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t play Peter Padder Pauleypop—in fact, I think it’s a heroic aim to challenge conceptions and encourage deep thought about the appearance of control we have over our lives, and whether or not the things we’re doing now are merely mundane tasks or if we’re helping ourselves and others at all.
On a larger scale, Peter Padder Pauleypop could also be commenting on the nature of RPGs—the game’s site specifies that this game is a “love poem to SNES Final Fantasy games and the fishing sequence in the Illusion of Gaia”, which are full of tedious tasks and sidequests that do little but illicit frustration. No matter what you do some of the tasks in these games seem to make little to no actual change—there are usually no immediately noticeable affects on the world or the characters and it seems all for nought. It was interesting to me, then, to see this kind of monotony in AAA games recently released. I’m currently playing through Far Cry 4 for the first time and there are few positive effects to your continued challenge on dictator Pagan Min. Repeatedly taking over outposts for the Golden Path, rebellion force in Kyrat, may lead to unlocking skill points, new missions, and the creation of new places to spawn, but Pagan’s forces can often retaliate and try to take back these posts, leading to more death and terror for the Kyrati. I often feel, as I suppose I am meant to, like I’m making very little positive change. I’ll keep grinding through these secondary objectives to earn achievements and to help unlock more areas, but it doesn’t seem to help the story world or the people within it. The Golden Path and other Kyrati tell me I’m making a great difference, but I see little evidence of it. The trick here is that I have the next mission to focus on, the next collectible to search for, the next radio tower to capture. I’m distracted from having to think too deeply about my impact in this world. In Peter Padder Pauleypop, however, there is no safety net or distraction from this feeling. It’s a thought that will no doubt continue to accompany my gaming sessions, even if that thought is satisfied by something as seemingly trivial as a new achievement.
Peter Padder Pauleypop is available for free or through donation on PC, Mac, and Linux here, and you can also visit Super Soul’s website to learn more about the company behind this experimental short game.
Disclosure: This review was written using a personal copy of the game bought by the author. The views within this review reflect solely those of the author, not the publisher or developer.
//All screenshots from Super Soul’s Peter Padder Pauleypop.