Pathologic 2 Discussion (SPOILER HECK ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK)

I probably got some sort of longform post in me about the game but I am too smooth brain rn and I think I will be thinking about this game for a while. So I wanted to get this thread cookin' first so I could hear what other people thought about the game.

Like many I became aware of the game due to hbomberguy's review of Pathologic HD Classic which I watched a while ago, long enough that I forgot most of the pertinent details by the time I played 2 myself. But I remembered enough to feel that I knew roughly what I was getting into.

It was an incredible experience. In the sense that it was crushing, miserable, depressing, dark, uncomfortable, frustrating... but obviously all on purpose, in the way that makes it quite the accomplishment in immersive narrative entertainment. The bits of jank (surely reduced from the original) are allowable. A lot of the music is great and the sound design is fantastic.

I have big huge feelings about indigeneity in particular with how it was so central to the personal conflict that Our Hero goes through. How Burakh feels simultaneously a responsibility and a resentment. How he feels torn between two sides of this far more intense and deep set cultural conflict, even though, really, he's only on one side. The feeling of exclusion he gets from the steppe people is not a sign of acceptance by the town people, it's just the internal contradictions within the steppe people. Speaking from my own life, people like him who think they have a foot in both worlds, well, they simply don't actually have a place in one world in the way they think they do. As much as people you have more in common with materially resent you for seeming to occupy it, and that's a bummer, your presence in the town is by invitation only and that invitation is conditional on an obedient self erasure. It's more equivalent to how the more thoroughly steppe people also get to conditionally have a presence in the town--only if you behave. No one who comes from two cultures in this sort of arrangement (abstracted but also distilled settler-colonialism) will find that they only have a place in the town if they accept their place in the steppe is symbolic, non-material, not something that reaches the core of who you are. You can occupy two cultural worlds but you better not think you can act like you're from the steppe except for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and don't go around thinking or talking or... god forbid... _acting_ like them.

More later

Like…. damn, gamers, I did not expect to have my ass handed to me in that specific way by a Russian game. But then again, those contradictions are also highly present in Russia too. It‘s led me to have some very interesting conversations with some hardline LARPy Marxist Leninists I’ll tell you that much

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@Gaagaagiins#17853 your presence in the town is by invitation only and that invitation is conditional on an obedient self erasure

and only because your father enmeshed himself in the bourgeoisie, permitted because he was useful to them, just as Burakh is useful during the game as the closest thing to a "doctor" the town has during the plague ||your father purposefully started||

part of the challenge/fun discussing this game in detail is how flexible it is wrt the specific chain of narrative events each player is going to see. So would be interested to hear what moments you witnessed and what actions you took responding to the settler-colonial themes you found engaging.

How did you handle Big+Little Vlad attempting to "atone" in the abattoir?

Did you buy the bull?

How did you respond to the caravan from the steppe and their pleas

that is if you came across these things in your playthrough

Of course, I can only share what my perception of these events were. Burakh might describe things differently.

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@yeso#17865 How did you handle Big+Little Vlad attempting to “atone” in the abattoir?

Went to go tell Big Vlad to go submit himself to indigenous justice. More or less told him it was the easy way or the hard way and going yourself was somehow the easy way.

Only after that did I remember there were two Vlad Olgimsky's. So I went to see Jr. At first, I felt sympathetic and somewhat regretful. But, seeing him in the pit made me more readily accept that he probably wasn't exaggerating about the depth and breadth of his involvement. So I took my folks and we got outta there leaving him with his performative guilt. Presumably he stayed there.

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@yeso#17865 Did you buy the bull?

Noukher is real and strong and he's my friend

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@yeso#17865 How did you respond to the caravan from the steppe and their pleas

The what???

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@yeso#17865 part of the challenge/fun discussing this game in detail is how flexible it is wrt the specific chain of narrative events each player is going to see. So would be interested to hear what moments you witnessed and what actions you took responding to the settler-colonial themes you found engaging.

I can't think of any other examples because again smooth braine but an interesting little trick that I am coming to respect a lot more these days in non-linear games is how even a broadly similar set of events can be experienced in so many different ways even just by letting players unknowingly or intuitively sequence the events themselves.

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@yeso#17865 How did you respond to the caravan from the steppe and their pleas

Oh! Wait, right, the gang of steppe cryptids that show up on Day 11, right? Well, I did say I got the Good Ending.

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@Gaagaagiins#17869 performative guilt

yes quite correct, he's willing to give himself up to likely execution but only deep into a plague that seems to be killing everyone anyway. Assuming that his death will "mean something" more than those of the anonymous corpses all over town, and/or that it will mean anything to the steppe community+proletarians other than "finally that asshole is dead"

one of the example I think of the really good writing in the game combining with what I'd guess you'd call environmental storytelling and the "game systems" to produce an effect. I had the same read on little Vlad and his remorse and decision are presented through his unembellished words, it's all the other stuff surrounding it that charges the event with the further meaning.

The player had been through so much stress at that point, and if they played how I did (basically trying my best to find the cure and attend to the sick), by the time you get to that event, you just don't want to hear that what now reads as pathetic narcisissm

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@Gaagaagiins#17871 Well, I did say I got the Good Ending.

I was sort of amazed that the game has this ending, and supports it in a narrative/emotional sense to such a degree. I know it's far from perfect in terms of class/race/anti-colonialism, but was sort of shocked to the degree this is not a "liberal" game. For my money it's significantly more radical than disco elysium.

And again, I think the game's method of piling atmosphere and systems - specifically systems and atmosphere/space focused on _material_ _conditions_ rather than game/art postures and theatrics - helps this ending "make sense."

As I mentioned above, I busted my ass to save all the townspeople, even the rich ones out of a sort of Hippocratic oath duty (and again, could be read as you describe as an eagerness to please/pass the bourgeoisie out of ingrained social dynamics, out of a desire for security, status quo preservation, etc )...but I tell ya, I did not feel too bad seeing ||the fuckers wandering destitute out into the night||

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@Gaagaagiins#17871 the gang of steppe cryptids that show up on Day 11

yes this is what I meant. Was one of the most weirdly affecting videogame moments I think I've had. Although maybe it was "too much." I wonder about its function as a persuasive moment, especially after the KKK style atrocities right at the beginning of the game

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@Gaagaagiins#17869 Noukher is real

new chekov's gun = mysterious bull that will speak to you, but only "on the most terrifying day of your life"

that shit stayed lodged in the back of my mind the whole game lol

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@yeso#17903 Gaagaagiins Noukher is real


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new chekov’s gun = mysterious bull that will speak to you, but only “on the most terrifying day of your life”


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that shit stayed lodged in the back of my mind the whole game lol

The Wonder Bull was such a great little bit of flavor to the game. Doubly so if it doesn't really have any real effect on the story and is just its own self contained bit of background (that's my perception, I could be wrong, it doesn't seem to "do" anything other than give the achievement and come up in conversation with other NPCs occasionally). Seeing Noukher was one of the very few moments of levity throughout the whole game. Also nice knowing he was safe from the plague one way or another.

Gonna keep just headlocking and Metal Gear Solid style dragging the post back to this sort of thing but from my perspective Noukher was one of many little microcosms strewn throughout the game to embody Artemy's return to his roots. He starts out skeptical and somehow buys the bull practically out of condescension towards the seller for the man's insistence that the bull can talk. And he humours it as a private joke to himself but more at the expense of the silly steppe man who sold him a bull for 200 rubles (kopeks? PathologicBux?). But then as shit totally hits the fan and the bull disappears for a while, and Events Transpire, it's not hard to feel that Artemy is genuinely worried when the herb bride tells him the bull just went off but that he'll be back later, and that he feels relief when he sees the bull again. As more Events Transpire and Artemy (at least as I directed him anyway) starts really refamiliarizing and resetting his perspective back to his indigenous culture he seems less and less skeptical. He speaks more to the bull in his indigenous language, practically confiding in it like it's his only unconditional friend, and in one of the most brilliant moments of characterization in the whole game, half cracked from everything that's going on, sings it steppe songs, not even caring that the bull is obviously not speaking. Artemy seems to feel some sort of relevant connection or maybe even recognition, or at least, care. Anyone who loves their pet knows something feels right about speaking to them like they can understand you even if you know rationally they can't. Or, rather, they don't understand language but they do understand more than just that some sounds mean they will get things they like or want. There's communication there even if it isn't on the level of language. Why would a dog make sounds at you to express something if not for that?

Then by the time the bull is actually ready to give him some advice, Artemy (and at least for me the player too) takes it in stride. It made me laugh but not out of surprise, you know? Of course the bull speaks and of course the bull speaks the language of the steppe and of course the bull is going to give him solid advice. Amid the blur of everything else that's happening it's all perfectly logical, at least, it's as logical as anything else happening, right? I mean, his own Kin said so, why would one of the Kin lie to him?

well the indigenous vs colonial and attendant class conflicts and territorializing and reality-imposing weight of capital are at the fore - in fact it‘s an element that was less well developed in the original, and in 2 has been emphasized. And don’t know if you caught it, or what you choices were in the final conversations with Mark Imortell, but it‘s noteable that he’s disappointed with the decision to assert that the player is Artemy, or that Artemy is not another actor if you want to look at it that way

What did you think about the "difficulty?"

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@yeso#17998 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.

I gotta say this game really made me feel like an investment in an indigenous worldview practically granted me a greater understanding of what was going on sometimes if not an outright gameplay advantage. I can‘t remember exactly when, but there is a conversation with a Steppe man I ended up having at some point in Shekhen or around the time they are preparing to leave for Shekhen. And I think Artemy is angry about something or other but he’s also hoping to be able to lead/serve (another interesting contradiction!) the steppe community from there on out. And Artemy asks a question of the steppe man, who says he is but an individual, but also that we are all part of the same whole. Now that I think about it I think this is after Oyun relays his belief that Artemy will lead the steppe people but that they are more like beasts than human beings, they need to be commanded, not spoken with. And Artemy gets the feeling that this steppe man is not being direct or honest with him, that he is either lying or he is just being deferential to his new overlord.

I remember that some of the dialogue responses presented to me clearly show Artemy getting incensed at the idea that he is once again being slapped in the face by the various ways in which the steppe way of knowing and being accepts these contradictions that he still hasn't himself totally accepted. The contradictions between individual and community, the contradiction of indigenous knowledge systems containing the breadth of knowledge and wisdom of the whole yet the individual never being able to truly be an authority on anything except their own experience, the feeling that the steppe man would say what he thinks Artemy wants to hear while simultaneously if it's not what he really honestly feels or thinks is true his statements to the contrary will be as clear as day. But at the same time I think that was the moment I really felt a lot of faith in the idea that, somehow, this game really Got It, and that, hey, Artemy really does Get It, that the steppe man can say two things that are directly contradictory and that's not something to get angry about because it doesn't fit in with the one dimensional thinking he picked up while away from the steppe. We really are just a fingernail. We really are part of a much greater whole. We really can just consider the idea that contradictory things are not only like fire and water, or that even if they are, you don't need to toss the water on to the fire and destroy both in the process. Fire and water can exist concurrently.

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@yeso#17900 As I mentioned above, I busted my ass to save all the townspeople, even the rich ones out of a sort of Hippocratic oath duty (and again, could be read as you describe as an eagerness to please/pass the bourgeoisie out of ingrained social dynamics, out of a desire for security, status quo preservation, etc )…but I tell ya, I did not feel too bad seeing the fuckers wandering destitute out into the night

This is always one of the most interesting contradictions within settler colonial thought to me, as well, which occurred to me while I was taking in the ending.

It's more than a little ironic to think that these people believe in the necessity and superiority of the town so strongly that they see this self imposed exile that no one asked them to do as some sort of ritualistic, tragic suicide.

They see... going out... to the _steppe..._ as equivalent to suicide...

For presumably centuries or at least decades you guys have fucking lived next to people who lived on the steppe for millenia before you got here and, granted I'll give it to you that the loss of the Town must be pretty hard to deal with, but you think the steppe is _death??_ Like bro did you know grass is alive?

If there's one contradictory mode of understanding indigenous knowledge systems have no time for, it's hierarchical thinking like this. The Superior Town people are so distraught at the loss of the Town they will commit ritualistic suicide by debasing themselves by going out on to the big bad mean steppe, which they perceive as equivalent to death.

But because the Town was so superior and so precious to lose it is equivalent to death. Okay. Like, nobody asked you to be like this. Literally at the starting line of the stupidest race to an unnecessarily early grave, they're passing within sight range of a community of people who know everything about how to live on the steppe just fine. Like steppe people will see you head out and be like wtf are those idiots doing. If we're going to accept that a less surreal time is in store for these people after the Town is destroyed most of those dumbasses will wake up in an odongh's yurt the next day with a little note next to their sleeping mat that gives them directions back to Shekhen tied to a little bundle of tan and few pieces of pemmican. Danny Danky especially will be like "wtf was I thinking, that was dumb as hell," slam down the food, and go back to the capital.

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@Gaagaagiins#18013 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

Right, and one thing the game commits to -I think with admirable honesty- is the material side of the struggle. It’s a rubber meeting the road sort of thing in which the tensions can no longer be ignored, and the readily assumed primacy of the settler town culture is unable to answer for the plague. And yes there is plenty of self-regard in big+little vlad's reaction to what happens at the terminary, but I think there’s some honesty, at least honesty in the sense of: we can’t lie to ourselves or others at this point, that we were willing to exploit these people and allow them to die

Have you had the occassion to look at the other ending? It’s just kind of pitiful and exhausting. The good/nocturnal ending (which of course is probably not the good ending by conventional standards unfortunately, though I think it’s clear with whom the game's sympathy lies) is sort of thrilling/terrifying while the bad/diurnal ending is just re-entrenchment, which is comforting I suppose in the way blinders calm horses

Would also just add wrt to difficulty: the stressors that the game burdens the player with are pretty intense, but they interface I think really well with the narrative, the minute to minute decisionmaking, to the themes and characters etc that the difficulty isn’t experienced like videogame difficulty. Everything is bound together experientially so that it’s difficult in the way maybe swimming against a strong current, or walking 10 blocks in a snowstorm. It’s a whole medium rather than a discrete game challenge, at least in my view. Probably helps that the writing and atmosphere is as super rich as it is

its not perfectly balanced though, so it’s nitpickable, but it works shockingly well for a small team low budget thing with the scope it has

@Gaagaagiins#18017 also just curious: what were your methods of survival? Did you work in the theater/hospital for money? Did you rob anyone? Loot any houses?

@yeso#18086 ftr my brain became too smooth for the past few days to engage in this thread but I am planning to, don't you worry

lol don't worry about it, I should probably stop borderline-bullying people into playing the game

@yeso#18508 or, perhaps, you should be ramping it up