Pathos Didn't Work

Why I think Pathos is bad.

So, kind reader, I played Pathos earlier today. I sincerely regret having done so. I thoroughly, thoroughly disliked the experience. The game was made in only 48 hours, I am aware, but guess what? I don't give a shit. There's an easy solution to that whole 48 hour thing. Spend more time on it. Maybe it was for a contest? Maybe they were just challenging themselves to see what they could do in that time? I don't know, but again, I don't care. It's either bad, or incomplete. Or both.

I get what they were trying to do here. At least, I believe I do. They were trying to challenge the preconceptions of your actions in a game. Trying to get you to realise "oh wow, I should have just closed the game and walked away, but instead I kept going, and did horrible things to a little boy just to progress in the game! I guess I'm a bad person. That sure was interesting."

It didn't work. As soon as your little boy sees the light under his desk, my immediate reaction was to leave the room, to go and find the mother. Alas! They were too lazy to put such an option in, or even a reason as to why I couldn't do so. Maybe some text from the little boy that says "I don't want to wake her." Something within the frame of the game that tells me I can't do that, without breaking my suspension of disbelief.

You may recall some things I wrote about Gothic not so long ago. I got the shit beaten out of me by a pack of dudes, which challenged a preconception I had about the game's world, while also teaching me some lessons; trusting people may very well bite me in the ass, don't assume something without a good reason, and the society here is a bad one.

Like I said, this worked because it's a reflection of the game. Theme and mechanics came together. In Pathos, it has no thematic explanation. Mechanically, I can't walk left. Thematically, because the designer said no. Right there, my assumption is "wow, this guy was pretty lazy." Again, I understand the time constraint, but again, I don't think that's a valid excuse. If you want to make something good, you spend time on it. That's sort of how it works.

Then the game tells me to "force him (the little boy) forwards." This is similar to The Path; it tells you to do something, but really, you shouldn't be doing it. Which is an interesting concept. It's good that it has an interesting concept. What's not good, is that I have no choice in the matter. Like before, where I wanted to fetch the boy's mother. Nope, sorry, can't do that.

Possibly the intention here was meta - they perhaps thought my recourse is exiting the game. Interesting, but again, I'm calling bullshit. I think that's lazy. My recourse should be within the game. That's like saying you always have a choice to walk out of a cinema half way through, or decide to not read the last chapter of a book, because Dumbledore dies. Guess what? Dumbelor still fucking dies.

My experience is within the game, wholly. Interactions outside of the game, within the physical world can sometimes be an interesting aside - like what the wii tried, and ultimately failed, to do. You're physically using the controller, but mentally it's not a big white dildo with LEDs on the end. It's a lightsaber, a gun, a sword and shield or any number of things. However, that's still linked to the game. Exiting the game before it's finished is like turning your NES off just before Mario falls down a hole.

It's lazy. If you take me out of the game, then you've done exactly that, taken me out of the game. It's no longer part of my game experience. If the phone rings while I'm in the middle of a raid, that doesn't suddenly become part of the raid content. Exiting Pathos before you do these things to the boy isn't representative of anything. That's representative of closing your eyes when the girl gets slashed across the face in a bad horror movie.

Then, there's the description of the game, which is glorious.

"You’ll discover something about his world and about yourself by the end of the game."

That's a direct quote there. They actually had the gall to tell me that this game is so brilliant that it's going to teach me about myself, and be a defining experience for me. The pretentiousness here is astounding. You can't make a universally appealing, enlightening game. You can't make a game that is objectively going to teach every single person about themselves. Art doesn't speak to everybody. I was moved by Majora's Mask, as you already know. You may not have been. Which is fine. Both of our takes on the game, positive, negative, or ambivalent, are equally valid. You may have thought every single word I wrote was rubbish, you may have thought it was just a game about block puzzles and hitting dudes with swords. Clearly, I would disagree with you, but that doesn't invalidate your point.

I think games can be art. I would personally consider Majora's Mask art, as well as Grim Fandango. You might consider Doom II art. Maybe Doom II made you learn something about yourself. If it did, that's brilliant. I am glad that it did. It's a good thing when people find something that speaks to them. I adore Starry Night. Every time I look at it, I get a feeling of joy, and beauty. Maybe you think it's hideous.

To say "this game is going to teach you about yourself" is ridiculous. It's pretentious, close minded, ignorant and down right factually incorrect. The game may teach you about yourself. It may be a magical, fantastic experience for you, a defining moment in your life, but it won't be for everyobdy, and it cannot be for everybody.

This game is a step in the wrong direction in regards to games being art. It's part of the problem, not part of the solution. Games like this are why people scoff and think about vapid, shallow, stupid hipsters when they hear the words "indie game."

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