Pain Pals


Carmen Papalia




L-shaped couch, Table and chairs, iPad, Video, Shelves, Care package installation, concept art, PC with game concepts

Project description

Carmen Papalia’s Pain Pals is an incubator for project development, creative practices and community resources that both center care and approach pain as a generative experience. Papalia's contribution here consists of objects and outcomes from a research and development process for a tabletop roleplaying game version of Pain Pals where players can self-define and set the terms around a solitary or social interaction. With Pain Pals Papalia offers the roleplaying game format as a technology that those in his community can use to remake their social worlds by cultivating new forms of connection. Motivated by the artist’s exploration of his own chronic pain condition and the radical potential for new understandings of self, place and community that it has brought, Pain Pals provides a space where players can connect around experiences of pain: body pain, emotional pain, psychic pain. Inspired by the neighborhood comic shop—one of gaming’s native environments and an imaginative retreat from existing social orders—the installation invites visitors to take comfort, spend time with process artifacts from community-engaged research, and entertain the possibilities of a pain-informed world.

Pain Pals is a portal to a pain-informed culture, a place where care, compassion and direct mutual aid are natural resources. In Pain Pals, the care system is rightly in the hands of those who have survived and learned to live well together. The Medical Industrial Complex has been overthrown by the bad crips, the uncompliant patients who are intimately familiar with its failures and pressure points.

Enter a world of care collectives, where travellers who are low on spoons can get their spoons replenished. When you arrive you might meet a mess of crips who are co-working on a giant bed or a team of sick kids that are making art and indulging in what brings them comfort. Wherever you end up, remember to soak in the thermal pools of Disability Justice and live on your own terms.

The artist thanks the Canada Council for the Arts for generously supporting Pain Pals.


A dining table with four low white stools is positioned in front of a large wall-mounted screen.Floating black shelves with an assortment of self-care items bear a variety of items, including stuffed animals, snacks, pamphlets, heating pads, lotion, compression socks, Vitamin C packets, comic books. Against the gallery’s back wall is an L-shaped upholstered dark gray couch and a cozy robe. An iPad is mounted on a stand with headphones.
PC Laptop with character gallery creator. The gallery has a blue background and the top part of a globe. Includes a button to add character and view characters. At the bottom reads "Pal Pals Alpha Build v1.1.0 -- All rights reserved"
PC laptop with character creator pain passport pulled up. Displayed is a visitor created pain Passport with keysmash for all fields. On the left is a tan colored mannequin.
Shelf with various items including, comic books, folded green tshirt, checkered tissue box, cup, lotions, tinctures, amongst others.
Monitor in the center showcasing an X-ray image of a female body on a zoom call. At the bottom of the monitor hangs a pair of headphones that connect to the monitor. To the right are two wall text blurbs.
Floating black shelves with an assortment of self-care items bear a variety of items, including stuffed animals, snacks, pamphlets, heating pads, lotion, compression socks, Vitamin C packets, comic books. A monitor displaying a zoom call with someone sharing a screen; underneath is a pair of headphones.

Pain Series

Carmen Papalia

Pain Series, 2022

Virtual live events

Here are 2 events from Pain Series, a series of dialogues with prominent artists and cultural organizers with pain. Organized as part of his work for the CripTech Incubator fellowship and co-produced with the Berkeley Disability Lab, Pain Series events were intimate gatherings where Papalia held an exchange with a guest around the intersections of their pain conditions. Featured is Pain Series 3 with the late Disability Justice organizer and Access Artist Rebel Fayola Rose and Pain Series 5 with Taiwanese-American Interdisciplinary Media artist Yo-Yo Lin.

The artist would like to acknowledge the support of Karen Nakamura, The Berkeley Disability Lab, Kyoko Nagahashi, Holly Helmuth-Malone, Oliver Puffer, Ari Schmulbach, Ager Perez Casanovas and past Pain Series guests Joselia Hughes, Sharona Franklin and Moira Williams.

Pain Series 3 - Rebel Fayola Rose

The following media is presented as a YouTube player embedded in Able Player.

Pain Series 5 - Yo-Yo Lin

The following media is presented as a YouTube player embedded in Able Player.

What Would You Put in a Care Package to Yourself for When You’re in a Pain Flare?

Carmen Papalia

What Would You Put in a Care Package to Yourself for When You’re in a Pain Flare?, 2023

Heating pad, pillows, assorted beverages and snacks, assorted salves and creams, fidget toys, cold compresses, clean socks and underwear, assorted cannabis props, willow bark, audio, blankets, body and skin products, stuffies, medicines, breathing exercises.

The following assortment of items is a response to the question “what would you put in a care package to yourself for when you’re in a pain flare?” Originally intended for inclusion in the Pain Pals character creator, Papalia continues to use this prompt in discussions with friends and community members with pain as a means of knowledge sharing.

A special thanks to Sharona Franklin, Whitney Mashburn, Finnegan Shannon, Moira Williams, Lisa Marielle Cooper, J Rina Liddle, Leslie Sharpe, Susie Underwood, Sachiko Murakami, Graph Freen, Joan McNeil, Lisa Prentice, Nina Sky Robertson, Devon McKnight and Veronica Papalia.

Pain Pals Gameplay Concepts

Oliver Puffer, Ari Schmulbach

Pain Pals Gameplay Concepts, 2022–23

Digital art and sketches representing gameplay.

Presented on a PC are gameplay concepts for Pain Pals. Produced by Oliver Puffer (Software Developer) and Ari Schmulbach (Project Manager), the sketches enliven concepts that the Pain Pals team explored during Papalia’s CripTech Incubator fellowship. The Pain Pals game world was collectively envisioned by Papalia, Puffer, Schmulbach, Ager Perez Casanovas and Berkeley Disability Lab collaborators Abigail Lomibao, Lee Osborn, and Simon(e) van Saarloos.

Try PainPals Character Creator Concept

Untitled, Raven John

Raven John

Untitled, 2023

Displayed here is an interactive artwork by Raven John, a Two-Spirit Stolo artist who uses art as a form of “communication without words”. Taking the form of a videogame Head-Up Display, the piece imagines the details and objects of a character in Pain Pals. Gently slide the moveable overlay portions and magnetic items as you desire, to personalize the character and their inventory.

Artist interview

Access/Pain Pals