Monday, February 27, 2012

Pathologic: The ending, according to another Bachelor

I evangelized Pathologic to several different friends as I was writing this blog. My friend Ben Hess went out and bought it immediately after our conversation, and wrote me a compelling letter detailing his experience in the game. 

I have, after long hours and a particular kind of focus possibly best described as a 'mania' this week, completed Pathologic. As the executors say, the twelve days are finished... it is all over. I don't think I won.

Upon seeing the executors' unholy beaks outside the doors of some of my Adherents, I knew that the outcome would not be good. In fact, I had forgotten (in those months in absentia from the game) how to view letters I had received. This led to days seven and eight being a muddle of wandering and base survival. I sold my soul for food and healing, and only completed the main quests. I believe the disease appeared in Rubin first, then to Kapella after Big Vlad's suicide, then to Lara, Alexander, and finally Ospina. In short, I cashed in big time on my friends' willingness to die for me. I was able to manage, however, reasonably well without a gun for much of the game. Food became my undoing, and I wound up selling clothes and weapons in fear of starving to death well-armed and armored. Sleeping around (not like THAT) in whichever house was nearest became the norm, and my sense of security dwindled without a place to call "headquarters". After Eve's (apparent) suicide, I didn't have a reason to go to her house. Reading and following your blog left me more and more convinced that I would probably achieve a different ending (though I only read entries for day I had already completed), and this was further exacerbated by the side quests I was unable to complete as heroically as you... An unarmed doctor can only do so much against renegade soldiers, and so my Bachelor became more than willing to escape with his own life an leave riotous citizens to the unjust firing squads.

Apart from the desperate journey of scratching a living from the inhabitants of the town from hell, my own personal struggle with the disease and the larger questions of the town came to a head in a very different way from yours. Around day 10, I had decided that it was a sin to destroy the Polyhedron. Accident or no, it was plague-free. That, to me, became my guiding light in my quest. I was like a surgeon or a sculptor, excising the diseased flesh at will. Take out the tumors, and cut around it.... just to be sure. I carved the town to the bone. The Haruspicus confronted me with his solution on day 11, and I could not conceive of it. The thought of existing alongside the disease, eliminating its effects and the architectural (and so much more!) wonder on the other side of the river was weirdly repulsive to me. Not that I don't think it could work, but it was a panacea to a broken system; a further humanistic advance to fix more problems of humanity. It made the disease (and by extension its dark cause) okay. Or maybe not. Whatever the exact ultimate spiritual meaning of the butcher's suggestion, I rejected it in favor of a fresh start. I sided with Maria. 

Even taking into account the dark history of the Kain family, I was sure there should be no town here. Rebuild on the other side the river. Burn it all. Cut the flesh, graft on the new, and start over. In other words, I was perfectly unwilling to let the inhabitants live with the sins of their past and continue above the pathological and spiritual legacy of the Cult of Bulls. I wanted this place to be a dead shrine to a dead past; a silent stone monument to humanity's sins. I wanted to give the survivors a fresh start, and to maybe... just maybe do things differently. Salvation, in my mind, would come from new creation; from Armageddon and rebirth. Perhaps what this town needed was to spring from the Polyhedron, rather than the Polyhedron being birthed by the town. Sociologically, I didn't want to fix a broken system. But whatever feeble justification, I think my primary motivation was fatigue. 

The Kains were experienced in this sort of thing; the legacy of Simon lives on in George and Victor, and that of Nina lives on in Maria. This family, in many ways is the town as much as the buildings and inhabitants. But they represent the Western part as separate as possible from the Abbatoir and the Apiary. They are a new beginning for the town, as Vlad the Younger is different from boos Vlad. (Victor pointed out in one conversation on day 12 that boos meant "bull-like", and that he was, in many respects, representative of the old ways). This town, I thought, deserved the chance to make new and exciting mistakes, I guess. 

But, ultimately, if I chose utopia then I didn't choose it for myself. My Bachelor will not live in his creation; he doesn't deserve it. Though I went through twelve days in hell without killing a man in cold blood (only self-defense), the blood of every man, woman, and child in the infected zone is on my hands; not to mention the children expelled from the Polyhedron to accommodate the adult "survivors". I have killed the bull and kept the horns only.... I'm a poacher. But my trophy is at least alive. I have spared a few, and that's enough, I guess to sate my conscience. Cut away the flesh. And I assured Maria and everyone that I would leave with the soldiers at dawn. My decision, but not my life. And maybe refusing to live in the utopia I helped create is the proper atonement. After all, in the end I am only a doctor from the city. The plague is gone, and maybe that's enough to live with. 

Duke, this was by far the most difficult game I have ever played. Not only practically, with the clunky mechanics and extreme risk of death by stabbing or fire, but in every way. I have wrestled with the cryptic speeches, trying to figure the angles of each family and each Adherent while (for some reason) trying to keep them alive. I have been awestruck at the betrayals, traps, and pitfalls from those I trusted. I have found out things about myself that would have been happily underground if not for this game. I guess in the end, I was not the Bachelor... It was just me all along. In the end, thank you for showing this to me. I have been to a place that I cannot fully return from, and I have given this game (it feels a little lacking to call it a 'game', now) a part of myself in exchange for it giving me... something. Insight, maybe. Self-awareness... discovery? I can't name it at all, yet. But I'm more and more convinced that, even though my ending cutscene was accompanied by oddly distressing music, it wasn't really and totally wrong. I feel, here at the end of all things, that I have a story to tell. Like the Bachelor, I may have created a utopia, but it is not mine... I don't deserve it because of the blood on my hands. What I do have is a story to tell... and my Bachelor will live on in the Capital, perhaps to write an account of the town to which he performed the ultimate amputation. 

- Benjamin


  1. I apologise for blipping in with a comment out of the blue, but I just wanted to thank you both for all of the time and effort you put into publishing this blog. The work you've done to present both stories really shows, and it's been a fantastic ride following along with your experiences. I've really enjoyed lurking here, and your insights on such a chilling, marvelous game have always made me think long and hard about my own time spent with it. So cool.

    I also would like to thank you for providing a link to Rory's Devotress playthrough, which I am now eagerly following as well. So thank you for that as well...!

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Greenleek! It's great to hear that this blog was worthwhile for people other than just Duke and me. Playing Pathologic and writing about it was tremendously rewarding in its own right, but it also tended to fill up our exhaustion meters pretty quickly. It's always nice knowing that other people found it valuable.

    I'm eagerly reading along with Rory's Devotress playthrough as well. Also, stay tuned to this blog for the next installment in Duke's and my crosstalk about the themes of Pathologic. Not to overstate my case, but we may have inadvertently solved the problem of evil during our conversation.

    It should be interesting, in any event. There's still a ton of stuff to unpack and explore with this game.


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