It’s no surprise that the atmosphere is upbeat in the offices of Minority Media. On August 14, the Montreal-based video-game company released Papo & Yo, the first game it has developed – and the response has been very positive.
Set up in 2010, Minority Media is an amalgamation of individuals from the commercial gaming industry and Rezolution Pictures, the film and television production company best known for such acclaimed documentaries as Reel Injun and Club Native.
Two years ago, creative director Vander Caballero and lead engineer Julien Barnoin, veterans of the video-game industry, hooked up with Rezolution Pictures (Catherine Bainbridge, Ernest Webb, Christina Fon and Linda Ludwick) to create an independent game development studio and dubbed it Minority Media.
Both Caballero and Barnoin had worked for multinational video-game companies, like Electronic Arts (EA), and were looking for a new challenge.
“We were tired of making shooter games where you have soldiers just killing people. It was repetitive and we wanted a change of pace. We wanted to do games which weren’t just about violence, but told different stories,” explains Barnoin.
This is true with Papo & Yo, a PlayStation Network game featuring Quico, a young Latino boy who befriends Monster, a huge pink beast with razor-sharp teeth. Usually affable, Monster transforms into an enraged maniac when he eats frogs and starts chasing after Quico. The goal of the game is to cure Monster of his amphibian addiction.
“The game is based on Vander’s childhood. He grew up in Colombia and had an alcoholic father. And Papo is a story about a boy who has to deal with an abusive father who has an addiction problem – yet it is told in a metaphorical way.
“It’s different to the games you usually see. It’s very emotional and you get attached to the monster. Most games tend to be binary in terms of good and bad people, but here the ‘bad’ person is someone you love.”
Set in a South American favela (shantytown), Bardoin points out that the environment is depicted in a positive way. “Normally in such a setting, you would have an American soldier killing brown people who are usually drug dealers. However, we wanted to show the beautiful and magical side of the favela – and offer a different point-of-view.
“Video games are a relatively new medium. Films are able to show different POVs and tell personal stories. We are trying to push this approach forward and show that you are able to tell personal and emotional stories in games. Plus, we want our games to be culturally relevant.”
Initially, the hook-up between the gamers and Rezolution was strictly a business venture. The gamers were looking for new ways of expressing themselves and Rezolution was interested in making a Native American game. But the more the two parties talked, the more they realized they shared similar values and priorities.
“The video-game industry is a hit-driven business. If you don’t produce a hit, companies tend to fold. We saw the opportunity of doing things differently. Since this industry is high risk, most companies don’t take chances on games. They tend to do things that are known to be commercially viable. They will make sequels and always do the same thing,” said Bardoin.
“When we spoke to the Rezolution people they told us that organizations, like the Canadian government, are willing to finance projects that may be risky and not commercially successful, but are culturally interesting. And as a film company that is what Rezolution have been doing for the past 10 years.”
Blending the experience of a profit-driven gaming industry with the culturally motivated and publicly funded direction of Rezolution has been a good fit at Minority.
“This is a new convergence – the meeting of film people with gaming people. We’re on the forefront of new kind of entertainment, a new kind of storytelling,” says Catherine Bainbridge, Minority’s Chief Business Development Officer.
“The market for interactive experience is really opening up and people are searching for different experiences. And we want to provide them with new and innovative entertainment.”
Minority’s next project is called Silent Enemy, and it will offer an Aboriginal video-game experience. It focuses on survival in the James Bay wilderness, and tells the story of a young Aboriginal boy who lives with his grandparents, and learns to be a hunter in order to take care of them. The silent enemy in this context is a reference to hunger.
The original concept for this new game comes from Ernest Webb, Minority’s Chief Spiritual Officer. “It is loosely based on the story of my grandfather,” he states.
As a longtime gamer, Webb says he never thought he’d be involved in developing games.
“When you’re a kid on the rez watching TV, you never think that one day you’ll be producing TV shows. It’s the same with video games. It’s one of those serendipitous things.
“When we started the Nation, I had no idea how to run a magazine. When we started making films, I had no idea how to do things. It’s always been done with blind faith – and it’s worked,” laughs Webb.
For more info and to view the videos: www.weareminority.com