Pathologic: Video Games Don’t Have to Be Fun


In the Big Book of Video Game Truths — right next to “Everything was better when you were twelve” — lies a proclamation in big, bold letters: “Video games are supposed to be fun.”

And indeed, most games I play are fun. Diablo III distills ridiculousness into pure, unadulterated joy. Mother 3 occasionally breaks my heart, but it also makes me smile like nothing else can. And if I was capable of whistling, Deadly Premonition would have me blowing air all day.

But every once in a while, I’ll fall in love with a game that doesn’t make fun a part of its equation. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it; it’s just that it evokes feelings that are neither happy or mirthful. Some of my favorite games are miserable experiences that are soul-crushing from beginning to end.

So why do I like them so much?

pathologic opening

If I had to describe Pathologic in a word, it would be “suffering.” It frustrates as often as it fascinates, and its story is impossibly bleak. Every aspect of the game, from its soundtrack to its dialogue to its brutally difficult choices, works to stamp out hope and happiness.

But it’s that lack of joy that makes Pathologic so immersive. The game is set in a plague-stricken, quarantined town; nothing about that should feel entertaining. The more dreary the game feels, the more believable it becomes. If you stick with it long enough, you’ll forget you’re playing a game at all.

pathologic image

I’m not always looking for entertainment when I play a game. Sometimes, I’m looking for escapism, and sometimes, an unpleasant world is easier to get lost in. A fun game can make for a good distraction, but a game like Pathologic can make me forget that I wanted to be distracted in the first place.

There are days when I want nothing more than to relax with a good game. The hours I work are ridiculous, and it’s nice to end the day with some good old-fashioned fun.

But there are also days when laughter and smiles don’t come easy; days when my problems feel like they’re going to consume me. There are days when my emotions are overwhelming, and my life feels like one giant headache.

And on days like that, fun’s just not going to cut it.

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