An Impossible Boy: Pathos

Bit Battalion send word that their new browser game, Pathos, is ready to play. That said, it’s more of a story with a few clicks from us than a game. It’s short and dark, and worth a few minutes. Not, perhaps, as inventive as a few other games we’ve seen doing this kind of thing, but there are some fun ideas in there, and it was made in just 48 hours. Not bad work. Go take a look.


  1. daphne says:

    As interactive as One Chance, but not as interesting (but then, One Chance’s single-play gimmick was its only notable feature anyhow).
    You’ll discover something about his world and about yourself by the end of the game. Well, I certainly did not. Maybe I just lack the imagination.

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      SeanybabeS says:

      At least you had options in One Chance. Your only option in this game seemed to be, a) Do what you’re told to progress or b) Close browser. I certainly can’t say I learnt anything about myself.

    • SpinalJack says:

      Your reaction to the game says something about you. Whether or not that’s something you didn’t already know is a different story.

      Imagine the Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment, would you hesitate to electrocute a man to death if told to do so with enough authority?

      Whether you felt bad/enjoyed/apathetic about hurting the boy in the game or immediately tried to do the opposite of what you were instructed to do is all part of the game/social experiment.

      P.S. I’m not saying it was a fun game or anything, it was a a bit on the short side to form any lasting impression

    • Consumatopia says:

      This game is actually more interesting if you interpret this game as a criticism of the “only way to win is not to play” genre rather than an instance of it. In what sense can we say that “you” are the one pushing events forward when the only other option is to halt the program? Am I also responsible for every death in every movie I’ve watched because I could have stopped the movie from playing? Should I be blamed for my evil deeds in a deterministic world? If, all possible worlds exist, doesn’t that mean possible evil is just as bad as actual evil, and therefore it makes no difference whether I force the kid along or some other player (or the developer themselves in testing) forces the kid along? If you knew the “victim” in the Milgram experiment was faking the electric shocks, would there be anything morally wrong with continuing the experiment just to see what happens?

    • Sarkhan Lol says:

      I don’t personally believe my willingness to move a black rectangle towards an unestablished, whiny lego-man because I had no other alternative other than to abandon the author’s work completely says anything about me beyond ‘is dumb enough to play this sort of thing through to its conclusion’. The Milgram analogy might have worked if the original Milgram experiment had Orson Welles in the next room bellowing “SOB” “SOB SOB” “WHERE IS MY MOTHER, I WANT HER” “SNIFFLE” “IT HURTS” every time I upped the voltage, in that disgusted tone of voice he generally reserved for advertising agencies. I’m not expecting miracles from a 48 hour flash game, here, but these sort of ‘deep’ flash games rely heavily on their writing and presentation, and this had all the pathos of an episode of Thundercats.

    • Smoof says:

      I really enjoyed it. The “game” to me feels like it’s asking a question of us as gamers; that is, we is this character within this world compelled to do what he does? We play games and we’re in control of the characters; the motivation behind their movement is us, not any scheme of themselves. Developers write a story almost in order to give us, the player, some context as to why we’re motivating the character. Would Gordon Freeman have fought his way out of Black Mesa had we not been there, compelling him to do so?

      Sorry if that’s convoluted.

    • kregg says:

      @SpinalJack I don’t want to electrocute the guy because the scientist said so. I want to electrocute him because he stole all my puff pastries.

      What a shame.

  2. Longrat says:

    It’s a shame they didn’t actually let me move the monster back all the way, although I did see click click click click click at the bottom, so I wonder what that’s supposed to mean.

    • Bhazor says:

      Yeah it is pretty weird you can’t do anything but chase him. There seems to be no alternatte endings or options. Just chase or stop playing.
      I guess the idea is that gamers will do horrible things in a game, like killing a sobbing child say, not because of any sadistic or sociopathic aspects of their personality. Instead they will kill the child just to see how the game will end, just because the game tells them to.

      The alternative is to leave. Just close the tab. End the game.

      Something which is never made to be an option in a game.

      I quite like this idea, it made me think of some of the choices I’ve made in Mask of the Betrayer or Planescape not as part of roleplay but just to see how it would affect the game. I remember trying to sell Anna to the pillar of skulls just to see what she would say and whether the game would let me kill such a central character. Its an idea that has been done before* but I think it bares repeating.


    • Lambchops says:

      I took it as something along the lines of “Look at you clicking the button,. You are impossible boy. Go to bed and stop being a disappointment to your mother or a monster might eat you up.” Possibly because I thought a frivolous interpretation was all this really merited.

      As others have said it’s a half decent effort for 48 hours but not particularly interesting compared to other shortform games of its ilk.

  3. sonofsanta says:

    I think that barely falls under the definition of “game”. It’s just an animated short that annoyed me by making me move occassionally. Often enough to irritate me, not enough to interest me.

    And it’s difficult to discover something about yourself when you’re just doing the only thing possible to move the story forward.

    I hate to be so down on it, but there just wasn’t much redeeming about it. Crap writing. Rubbish attempt at a cliff hanger. More concerned with trying to be a bit arty than being a game. Normally I’m all for short form experimentation but that was just too far from being an actual game to warrant the attention.

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      Agree, I was starting to hate that little cry baby by the end of it, not my fault he’s a fatty and has no cardio :3
      Preferred One Chance more, and that zombie game was quite fun too.

  4. Tim Smith says:

    I thought it was cool. And I liked One Chance for more than just it’s mechanic.

  5. Collic says:

    It had a couple of clever ideas, but yes, not much of a game there. Still, it was made in 48 hours, and it was worth spending a few minutes on. I liked it.

  6. patricij says:

    I had enough of the crybaby half-way through…and when I got the chance to control the monster, I was overjoyed…WHY DOES IT ENDS SO SOON?!!! WHY?!!

    • Bret says:

      I decided to play it Paragon. Walked away, gave the kid a chance to run.

      Not my fault the little wiener would prefer to be fangoriously devoured.

  7. goblinking says:

    I liked how it played with me being actually me on this side of the screen. Kind of what Pathologic did. Or maybe I’m just imagining things.

  8. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    This, now this I’d call a shallow excuse for something which could have been a decent and small game with a thought behind it. This isn’t something I’d call a game. And it’s severely limited in that there seems to be no choice whatsoever. I’d say this is pretentious in that it doesn’t (in itself) deliver what it probably was made to. Well, one can figure it out, but it’s not delivered particularly well. It mostly seems to copy better attempts through form.. hence it’s more style than substance.

  9. Oak says:

    You see, gentlemen, it is we who are the real monsters.

  10. Strabo says:

    That was utterly without merit.

  11. Cinnamon says:

    An experiment with playing as the super ego of the character maybe? Better gameplay could make it clearer if that’s the case but the themes of you making the boy do what the parent wants and then emasculating him in a dream hints at it.

  12. Handsome Dead says:

    Now THIS is art!

    Also, can you really call it a game when interactivity added absolutely nothing to the experience?

    You can’t turn the Void or Nier into a film without losing out on some of the weight of the experience, you could turn this into an animated short and it would still be just as fucking terrible.

    • SpinalJack says:

      The difference being that YOU’RE the one who is forcing this boy to go on even if you don’t have the option to do something else. It’s the difference between watching a video and pulling the trigger.

      Again, I’m not saying the game had loads of interactivity but if it were a flash animation then the viewer/player would be distanced from the subject and the experience would be completely different even if the theme remained unchanged.

      (But really the theme was forcing the player to hurt a small boy so it would have changed)

    • Nevard says:

      The thing is Jack, that isn’t a difference at all.
      The game wouldn’t lose any amount of choice by just being a video.
      In the game you have two options, keep going or close the game.
      In a video you have two options, keep going or close the video.
      Why even pretend to be a game in the first place if there are no choices?
      You would still be “hurting” the boy by choosing not to close the video, that’s as stupid as the so-called choice the game gives you is, it would lose no meaning or content if there was no interactivity.

      This is an animated video which just has very annoying scene transitions. It’s not a game.

    • Aninhumer says:

      There is a difference, in that when you watch a video you switch off and become a passive observer.
      Here you’re actively choosing to continue at every point.

      Nonetheless I didn’t think it was especially deep, and it could certainly have done with a less annoying character.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Like I said above, this game is a lot more interesting as a meditation on the distinction between linear games and videos than it is as some sort of cheap “says something about you” morality trip.

      Handsome Jack, Nevard, and I don’t see a significant difference between linear games and videos. SpinalJack and Aninhumer believe there is such a difference. Does that mean that we must take different sides in trolley problems?

  13. Maykael says:

    I kinda liked it, but I played it in a dark room with headphones. As a raw experience it was okay, rather intense at the end. For 48 hours it was good.:)

  14. Nogo says:

    Anyone read Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea? The final part reminded me of that and I was genuinely trying to drive a cathartic moment rather than a malicious one.

  15. hamster says:

    Um I kind of approached it as a game rather than a piece of narrative so it was just click click click for me. I tried to manipulate the shadow from walking away but apparently chasing after the kid was the only option. Not really sure what the whole point of the game was.

  16. drewski says:

    When the light came on in the room, I tried to get the kid to go get his Mum to help. No dice.
    Then I tried to make the kid go to bed and ignore the strange inexplicable light. No dice.
    Then I tried forcing him right with the lights…no dice.
    So I chased him with the monster kid. Only it finished, so as far as I’m concerned, the monster kid just turned out to be a boy wearing red tinted glasses, and he took the kid back to the room, where the strange thing he ran from turned out to be a tree leading back to his room.

    Happy endings!

    (I thought the game was crap, though.)

  17. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    Did someone make a joke involving the word pathetic yet?

  18. Olivaw says:

    The problem with games like these is that they’re all ripping off Bioshock but they don’t understand why they’re ripping it off.

    Hell, they all make the same mistake that Bioshock itself made past the three quarter mark.

    You don’t get to make a game that is a commentary on the player’s lack of choice and linearity and obedience to specified mission objectives without offering an alternative, hidden or not, to the specified objective.
    I can see how being forced to do something you find distasteful is something arty in game design, but if that’s the case, why allow me to turn around at all? Why allow me to go backwards in any fashion or have any interaction after a certain point?

    “oh but that’s how we can tell how people react when they play the game” is a fine excuse except the game doesn’t track that, doesn’t send or keep any data about any of it, so it’s all perfectly pointless. You either complete the game, or you do not. There are no other options and no way to influence anything. This is the only measure of interactivity presented, so the article is right in calling it “not a game.”

    It’s an interesting experiment, I suppose, but it requires a defter hand than this to be successful.

    Neat art style, though!

  19. Stephen Roberts says:

    It’s impressive that it was made in under two days (I’m assuming 48 hours does not mean 48 solid work hours, but a large part of two calendar days). But it is not a lot of things that the creators think it is, and they shouldn’t have attempted to create a position for this game that doesn’t exist or probably isn’t how the majority of players would feel after experiencing it. What I mean is this (quoted from the game page):

    Pathos is a slow, experimental game [idea/concept] that follows the story of a boy plunged into an unfamiliar world and trying to get back home.You’ll discover something about his world and about yourself by the end of the game.
    You can read up on the interesting reaction to this game people had here.
    It was made in 48 hours.

    I know these dicussion threads abhor the use of the word ‘pretentious’ but that is basically the dictionary definition of it. Claiming to be something you are not. Claiming to have a greater literary or critical weight than you actually possess.

    I think it’s fantastic that people are making these things and that it’s amazing that there are the tools and resources there to allow them to do so but just wish they could let their audience go ahead and decide what the damn thing is once it’s out there.

  20. Hoaxfish says:

    The whole thing felt incredibly forced. You know how a lot of games get criticised for being a series of cut-scenes rather than a game… this is that but with 2D south-park graphics.

  21. Flimgoblin says:

    The way I took it was that the boy was having some sort of dream sequence, and that the glowy red eyed creature was merely the impending end of the nightmare.

    Something to shock him awake, after he took the time in the dream to realise he was being “impossible”, send him back home to a (cliched) “listen to your mother” moral ending.

    So I didn’t get the feeling that I was being “evil” in forcing the boy forward, except maybe in a “this kid needs to face up to himself a little” way. The end was too abrupt to say what actually happened when you caught up with him – whether it was a gruesome ending or not…

  22. phlebas says:

    Monster? I was the hole-universe counterpart of the kid himself, and only wanted to be friends.

  23. faelnor says:

    The most unteractive game I’ve played in a while!

    • faelnor says:

      It’s fantastic in its way to distill in two minutes the brave question that Bioshock took ten hours to ask

    • faelnor says:

      aka ‘can you smell my fart from back there’

  24. Dagda says:

    It’s not a game. It’s an interactive story, one that’s absolutely justified in being so. If I was just watching this happen, it wouldn’t have been nearly so powerful. Sure, I wasn’t deciding what happened next- but I was participating in it, and the ambiguous nature of that participation has as much intriguing room for interpretation as any passage of literature.

  25. Evilpigeon says:

    As far as i can tell it lost any and all meaning by forcing you to obey the instructions. It’s very difficult to get me to care about a small, blocky character that I’ve known for a few seconds and to railroad me into a single path means that there no choice or element of unthinking obediance or deeper meaning so far as I can fathom. What is the point in making me aware that i am the controller and separate if i can’t change anything or even fail.