yeso What did you think about the “difficulty?”
I more or less followed your advice with my own slight modifications.
I stuck with the default difficulty for as long as I could bare it, which involved some maddening, frustrating, and, yes, even tedious points where I had to just throw Artemy’s protesting near-corpse at the scenarios I had backed myself into. It was often frustrating, but not in a way that felt unintentional, or, more importantly, unengaging, from a narrative and gameplay perspective.
I learned the limits of how I could stretch resources and how best to acquire needed ones, which led to some truly satisfying moments of either overcoming gameplay challenges but also just leaning into the narrative of being a doctor in the middle of an epidemic of a plague with a 0% survival rate. I prevented what I could prevent and saved who I saved. And that’s all there is to it.
That being said. I also eventually learned to let go of trying to get results I wanted, saved as often as I could, tried much more purposefully to accept the results of what I had done, tried to do, and failed to do. I’m sure I missed a lot of story content, but, I saw what most of what I felt was what I wanted to see.
…but then, on top of that, there were also three points where I fiddled with the Difficulty sliders in a meaningful way.
One point I think was somewhere in the middle days when I just had backed myself into a corner where I just could not figure out how to get out of the predicament I had placed myself in to continue progression without either starving to death or getting food but also the plague. It took me a little bit to really fully understand how the death loop worked (including how it was often beneficial to save even if you were in a rough place) so that was on me. So… I fiddled with some sliders to make it out and keep progressing, mostly by, well, getting the plague. And then that proved to be problematic vis-a-vis progression, so, I made the difficult decision to use a schmowder I had found (one of only two I would find throughout the game) and traded like half my inventory for and was saving for a rainy day (not that specific rainy day, just the expression). That felt like a good payment for breaking the rules of engagement.
The second time was when I was faced with fighting the 4 odongh in the abattoir. I was 200% determined to do it at the point where I was at, and I knew it was the shape I wanted the story to take, and could have probably done it dozens of times and with a combination of persistence and luck I would have been able to do it without tweaking the difficulty. But also I have a platinum trophy in Sekiro so I don’t gotta prove my Gamer Competence to no one, not even Pathologic 2, so after maybe a dozen attempts, a few where I got close and I think at least one where I just starved to death looking for the last odongh (if you did not struggle (or even encounter it if it’s somehow possible to not do??) with that section they have random and WEIRD spawn points in there lmao), I just put my thumb on the Combat scale just to get it over with.
The third was more or less taking your advice, once I’d felt I’d Gotten The Point Of It, and loved what the intense difficulty had done for the delivery of the narrative and atmosphere and feeling of playing the game (including a surreal moment where upon being woken suddenly In Real Life I had a bizarre half asleep thought that I needed to concoct an intricate recipe in order to create a tincture to cure my real life dogs), and I just wanted to scrape together what little victories I had managed to secure in the midst of everything and experience the ending, I put all the difficulty sliders to Cinematic Mode and just finished the game that way. It was a good decision and I don’t regret it one bit.
All in all I think the game’s techniques to establish a certain frame of mind and emotional experience in the player is wildly successful, and at the same time, the difficulty sliders also ensure that the time and emotional investment that one may make into the game will not go to waste if you get stuck or get too frustrated. Judging based on what I imagine they will preserve from the original game that gets discussed in hbomerguy’s video, this is, somehow, simultaneously totally against and totally in favor of the game’s overall point, which is quite a thing to be able to say.
There is, again, yet more to say about the ideological and cultural conflict at the forefront of this story, here, when it comes to difficulty from a game mechanic perspective and how it shapes the narrative and the experience the player ends up having. According to his indigenous philosophy Artemy is simultaneously a toenail clipping of Mother Boddho as well as a part of that cohesive whole. More on that in a sec but according to the Town philosophy, much like a lot of real world settler colonial, European derived philosophy, places certain forms of demands on both individuals and communities. In many ways how Eurocentric philosophy views the separation-cohesion of individual and community is a kind of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too expectation being placed on most people by the ruling class. If you are of the non-ruling classes there is almost no real way you can win when caught up in this dichotomy. As an individual you are liable for everything bad that happens to you. As an individual it is your greatest duty to simultaneously ensure your own success while also not being a burden to the community. Any way individuals rely on community is fundamentally exploitative, or dishonorable, a sign of weakness, or just frankly distasteful and shameful. And somehow at the same time it’s still seen as necessary for individuals to Of course, if you are of the ruling classes, your individuality is perceived as virtual godhood, you justify the existence of the community around you by how it serves you. Overall the individual and the community are constantly placed in conflict with each other, it’s individual vs. community, community vs. individual, individual vs. individual, and community vs. community. Because, and don’t ask me to cite my sources, ensuring that these tensions cannot ever resolve and cannot resolve and this is just the nature of existence are part of what perpetuates the material conditions required to perpetuate the capitalist mode of production. The two tumours artificially grafted on to the sacred site must keep producing canned meat, because, if they don’t, you are a bad person, and if you, as an individual, rebel, it is your fault when you are killed as a result of your (individualistic) opposition to the social order.
The extreme discomfort with the contradiction between individual and community present in Western worldviews and the social turbulence that often causes is quite a fascinating topic but that’s quite a diversion. It’s the worldview seemingly often found in indigenous cultures, and which somehow ended up in glorious heaps into Pathologic 2, that understands that the contradiction between the concept of individuality and communality is resolved.
Except, actually, I’m joking. That contradiction is not resolved. Rather, that contradiction is embraced, leaned into, exemplified. That contradiction is not one to be feared, or smoothed out, or something which creates tension or should create conflict. That contradiction is one of the most incredible and precious things about the human experience. The individual is the most important unit of society because individuality and uniqueness is infinite, which is incredible. The community is the most important unit of society because community creates something greater than the sum of its parts. The individual has a duty to serve community because without community the individual is meaningless. The community has a duty to serve the individual because otherwise what is the point of community to begin with? These statements are directly contradictory, but they are all wholly true. Sometimes contradiction can’t be avoided, and a slavish commitment to creating one monolithic continuum of understanding about something is just not going to be able to encompass the complexity of social existence, even if you’re an adherent to some of the more agile western modes of thought that at least let you switch between regarding contradictory things along a linear model of time to be able to make an overall good point. Seems a whole lot easier to accept that, simply, lots of things just make more sense if you allow contradictions rather than seek to resolve them.
So, why I think this was relevant to Artemy’s struggles in the Town against the plague. Well, I think a large part of what ends up making Artemy’s life so difficult is that the community is demanding that an individual solve its community sized problems, with an individual’s resources. And a lot of the game’s Difficulty is precisely that. Food production, water infrastructure, the production of glass, tools, clothing, medicine, mass production of a literal medical miracle, these are all things that are impossible to an individual. But of course, the Town has imposed some kind of monetary model which implies, well, idk, at least state capitalism I guess. But at any rate the Town has faith in the idea that abstracting the act of communal trade and collective care using the distribution of little disks of metal must fully allow the individual to abstractly command their fair share of the community by how these little metal disks are exchanged between different levels of society. But at the point where the price of food increases by an order of magnitude or two, not even in response to, but in preparation for, a whole lot of people to need food, I think that tension I was discussing earlier starts to thrash around and put barriers up for Artemy (for everyone, but also, for this individual with an individual’s power who is pressured or at least feels an obligation to solve community level problems). Again, I have to admit maybe the rarity of my sort of perspective here, but one thing I kept feeling quite keenly while playing was just how much I, an individual, needed things just to subsist, and how, as imposed by the social order, difficult food was to obtain. And, especially, how difficult food was to obtain especially when going through the Town’s preferred method of exchange for the community’s food via currency, and how much easier it was, often, to obtain food through a more equal and direct method of resource distribution as managed by the community but actualized through individual judgement. Ironically as much as abstracting exchange through currency is more “convenient,” it achieves this by astroturfing the actual human needs represented in exchange between people. Nobody “needs” money except if the need for money is imposed, but shit, if I really need some morphine, I know some kids who really need some rusty scissors. In my head that was what was implied by the barter system in the game being so obviously so much more engaging gameplay wise than the shops. It’s a method of resource acquisition that is much closer to that idea that the contradiction between individual and community is not one to be resolved but embraced, that cold impersonal exchange between an individual “consumer” and an imposed structure of what is ultimately a false community, represented by shops and money (which itself is really just about enriching specific individuals somewhere at the expense of everyone else involved), vs. actual individuals meeting with individual needs in mind, something needed is exchanged for something not needed on both ends of the exchange (let’s imagine that everyone else has an inventory too and what you see available for trade is what they don’t necessarily need, and not the only things they at that moment possess), and as such, overall, the distribution of resources on a communal level is marginally more in line with the needs of the whole community.
Like… I almost gotta wonder who the hell wrote and directed these aspects of the game because it really does often feel like at least through gameplay you are compelled to think and act more in line with what is more often associated with traditional indigenous knowledge systems, which, while not universal or monolithic, seem to transcend both time and space and end up present and vital in a lot of more land based, communally minded cultures and worldviews. Modes of thought with history you count in millenia rather than centuries. Like. Who the hell worked on this game.