Why Pathos is Pathetic by Sash

I released Pathos Yesterday, and already it has had more comments than any of my other games… combined. It seems like people either love or hate it, in some cases both. I thought it would be worth writing up my own thoughts on the game and taking an inside look at the issues that have been raised online.

If you haven’t played the game, the post has spoilers and will ruin it for you so play it here first.

The player has very little control over the character

This is a game design flaw that is hard to overlook. As a player your only role is to interact in subtle and infrequent ways with the boy. It puts you in an environment where you are forced to watch the events in a world play out – there is no skipping, and no catering for people with a short attention span. And the further and further on you get, the less and less control you have. By the very last scene you have to turn out lights to keep him moving. Paul over on IndieGames.com/blog said:

this was remarkably shoddy. It had a really nice visual style, but it was torture to play. “Why do I go on”. Who knows…

But here in is the point. When you realise that you are a predator, your lack of control over the boy is cast in a whole different light. You aren’t playing as the boy, you are simply trying to “force him onwards” (cliff scene). You’re manipulating him and as the game goes on his fear makes him less and less susceptible to this manipulation. Adam on my blog put it perfectly:

“The whole thing was about control, to me. I was constantly fighting the kid for control the whole game—he would stop every so often and I just wanted him to get on with it. And then suddenly at the end, I had all the control…until I didn’t, because I couldn’t let him go. And then I kind of regretted pushing him forward, and chasing him down, but it was too late… I had to keep going.”

You are forced into being “evil”

There is a trend in modern gaming to let you choose how “renegade” your character is – Pathos gives the finger to this trend and forces you, in surprisingly uncomfortable way, to be evil. This is initially indicative of criticism,

“There’s no weight to it, because there’s no choice, except play or don’t. You can’t decide to not follow the rules, as then nothing happens.”

But its not your choice that is important, it is your reaction to your lack of choice. As SpinalJack on Rock Paper Shotgun said:

“Your reaction to the game says something about you. Whether or not that’s something you didn’t already know is a different story.
Imagine the Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment, would you hesitate to electrocute a man to death if told to do so with enough authority?
Whether you felt bad/enjoyed/apathetic about hurting the boy in the game or immediately tried to do the opposite of what you were instructed to do is all part of the game/social experiment.”

Adam says:

“Sometimes art makes you uncomfortable. But sometimes you have to get uncomfortable to see something in a way you haven’t seen before.”

By forcing the player into uncomfortable action, I was asking a question. Why do we take a back seat with video game characters so blindly? Do we play, not because we empathise, but instead in the hopes that we will eventually have “fun”? DustbinK on my blog hit the nail on the head:

“It seems people don’t get that this is a “meta game” – it’s about you forcing yourself onto characters in video games without questioning whether they want you to make them do these things or not.”

Of course, there is always another option. You can always quit before the end – but really, how many people are willing to do that? And why not? Why would anybody want to play as a boy who is suffering? Consumatopia on Rock Paper Shotgun raises an interesting point:

“This game is actually more interesting if you interpret this game as a criticism of the “only way to win is not to play” genre rather than an instance of it. In what sense can we say that “you” are the one pushing events forward when the only other option is to halt the program? Am I also responsible for every death in every movie I’ve watched because I could have stopped the movie from playing?”

And why did I even bother making this a game?

The lack of control, both over the boy and over the direction of the game has definitely been an issues for a lot of people:

“This would have been better off as an animation. The bad design choices just distract from the message he’s trying to make.”

But there is one fundamental reason why it has to be interactive to pull its weight:

“The difference being that YOU’RE the one who is forcing this boy to go on even if you don’t have the option to do something else. It’s the difference between watching a video and pulling the trigger.”

So what DID you learn?

Also, I almost LOL’ed reading the author’s description “you will learn something about yourself”.

Yes, I am pretentious, I admit. But what I meant is that Pathos might just make you think about one of these issues.

As a video game, it is flawed. And it’s certainly not everyones cup of tea. But whether you hated it or loved it, or both, Pathos isn’t about having fun or being “cool”, it’s about making you think, and starting a conversation. Something which it has certainly achieved.

I’d just like to close with a comment from MisterX on IndieGames.com, which I think sums up the experience nicely:

At first I was also a little afraid of what was to come, like the boy. But, then, it becomes apparent that you are in control of him, and that he is actually afraid of *you*, suddenly erasing all suspense and turning it  into empathy for the little guy.

Comments were found here:


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