Pathologic opens with its three playable characters arguing on a stage. They present themselves and their cause, slander the others, then wait in darkened silence while the player chooses which to play as. Shortly after choosing, the player is visited by an otherworldly masked duo. These beings are terribly out of place, but somehow hold an unquestioned presence. They refer to the player as an actor, and inform them of the rules of the play (that is, the mechanics of the game). A theater is the very heart of this town, and is central to the game’s themes. Pathologic has a meta-awareness, that there’s a player, an actor, wandering around inside of it. It remains one of the least player-friendly experiences I’ve had.
Videogame spaces can be infinite. Within, a player can move in any direction, in countless combinations. At its core, a videogame is a sort of abstracted ruleset, a limitation on how the player can experience. The specifics of these rules, and what must be done to progress within them is a constant communication with the player. This information can take the form of an elemental weakness of an enemy, the bounds and contents of a room, or an esoteric clue to a puzzle. Some players are bound to misinterpret, or plainly miss information altogether. A videogame’s abstractions will lead some players following along in step, and others stuck. The simplest, most obvious solutions to one player can come off as the most contrived to another. This is not a failing of the player, this is not a failing of the game. In fact, this is not a failing at all. This is inevitable.