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Game of the Year #4: Pathologic 2

You went in with 10 years knowledge on the subject, read those Rock Paper Shotgun Articles, consummate played-by-proxy nerd. And if you come in feeling like that, you’ve got a clean head start in the first few days of Pathologic 2: The Pandemic Simulation RPG (And Meta Commentary On Gaming (And The Nature of Fiction (And Perhaps Humanity Itself?)) and proto survival sim elements). Like it’s turbulent and your health meters drain quick, but you get the jist. Water is short so you learn where the water drums are. Break borrow and steal. Deus Ex house-scavenging on a time limit. That is a genre of game you can wrap your mind around. On day two the plague begins, infected district is cordoned off on the map (which you know–because you have read Rock Paper Shotgun–is shaped, and named, like a cow’s various parts, pre-butchering. metaphor!!) and your little virtual desire paths shift to compensate. A timed meeting with a medical colleague on the other side of the city now includes a 5 minute detour. Your nightly visit to harvest herbal curatives from an abandoned village in the steppe slides back into a midnight run, and then an early morning visit as the tasks consume you. Treat these people or we’ll withhold your (paltry) salary. But also, heal your friend or his whole district succumbs. But also, buy a cloak to cover your face or you’ll succumb. But also, you can’t afford a cloak, which is why you’re stomping through this abandoned village in the dark trying to remember where the fucking weeds to pick up are because you can’t even afford a fucking cloak, much less real medicine!! Which is why you spend like a full quarter of every day making the trip here and back which is why there are now a half-dozen infected districts, all your friends are dead or dying, and the military has brought out the flamethrowers! The game has to be almost over, right? This fucking bull I scrounged up to buy on Day 1, when the world was simple and kind, is supposed to talk to me on the worst day of my life and you’re telling me that’s not right now, on Day 5 of the 13 total days in this game??

So it’s kind of like that. Pathologic 2 arrests my functions through mechanical overwhelm. You’re always on the knife’s edge of poverty, and the next trashcan is always going to be the one that has a sewing needle in it that you can combine with the cloth you also don’t have yet to make a pocket and expand an inventory you couldn’t possibly own enough to fill with anything but more trash.


In 2020, this sounds close enough any survival sim but Pathologic’s loop is so attenuated by long travel times and finely diced resources that you will never become comfortable. Here’s a Terraria where you mine every copper vein you see while everyone around you slowly dies, but not so slow that you can’t convince yourself you can save them, or if not them…. maybe the next one? Holy shit, this game is hard, yeah, but wow! Am I a doctor? Am I doing triage?

You build a base, and it’s never stocked because you’re living out of your coat pockets. Oh, haha, you think you’re a doctor? Well you can’t afford medicine, as stated, and your guess-work home remedies require infected organs harvested on the sly when you pray no one’s looking, because they will run you out of the neighborhood for it. Haha, remember? You spent the literally whole first day, the only infection-free day, skulking in alley ways because the whole town was ready to kick the shit out of you Rambo-style for being a wandering vagrant?

And you still got the temerity to call yourself a doctor? Bitch, you’re a fucking haruspex, and that much is clear in how a certain percentage of the population views you as moooore or less one step removed from the anthropomorphic nomad people who roam the plains (and who are, not coincidentally, being targeted by hate crimes as the plague sets in). Half of the tinctures you brew in your lab go into your belly to delay the onset of hunger or sleep for a few more hours. You crash on any couch you can find before the meter bottoms out. You spent less time diagnosing patients yesterday than you did scrounging through the garbage for enough refuse to trade for a fish from a midnight merchant called the Dead Item Seller who for some reason wants bloody bandages, and the fish didn’t even fill up your whole belly. Barely even 40%. And the day starts anew, another two cornerstones of the town are sick and dying but what else is new. Have to go watch the giant plague doctors put on a secret play in the town’s enormous baroque(????who cares???) theater we’ve converted into an emergency ward so don’t wake the patients, please, you quasi-metaphorical thespians! Oh, my uncle or some shit says there’s a hole in the center of the earth where all the blood goes down and THATS the problem?? 😰Well haha I don’t think anyone’s got enough Orange+ Tincture for a hole that big, Grandad!!🤣 Maybe better find another shaman trained in the ancient ways?? This one’s barely making rent.😬 Oh the RAT KING wants to talk to me now? Is he gonna HELP? is he gonna GIVE ME DRUGS OR A FUCKING COAT?🤬

Please, it’s 2020, 50% of the people reading this use horror movies as a safety valve to experience trauma and inure themselves to it. In that way, I feel I am among friends. Pathologic 2 is a mechanical expression of that release valve, maybe? A way to touch all those anxieties–Gotta Work, Gotta Rest, Gotta Eat, Gotta Talk To People, Gotta Do My Mindfullness Meditation, Gotta Be Responsible For Building My Own Boundaries In Personal Relationships And Also A 401K or an IRA If I Have The Time, You Know, On The Weekend, By The Way I Belong To A Class Of People The World Unilaterally Hates :)–so I think a good way to manage that…. for people like me…. who have brains who don’t manage things well without external motivation…. which, for them, has been historically linked to trauma…. is to play a video game where everyone looks at you like you’re sick while THEY’RE all dying of the fucking plague. Is that it? I don’t know. It’s 2020. So maybe that’s just it.



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