biracial identity and culture in patho 2

Original source: helianthuspetal on tumblr

(Spoilers for both Pathologic Classic HD and Pathologic 2.)

I really, really dislike the idea that people who don’t like the two unsatisfying endings in Pathologic 2 are just “missing the point.” I know the whole point is “you can’t save everyone” but I feel there is just some nuance missed in how this issue is tackled in-game and how it is interpreted by others.

I think that there is merit in a "Future vs Past" type of scenario being tackled by a game like Pathologic but it becomes a HUGE issue when it is mixed with themes of indigenous genocide and colonization like there is in Pathologic 2's Haruspex route. There is more going on than choosing progress over tradition. It's more than Miracles vs Mundanity. It is deciding whether the settlers in Town-on-Gorkhon live or the indigenous population of Town-on-Gorkhon, and this is problematic for what I think are obvious reasons.

(I hate using the term problematic but thats just what it is! It’s complicated and not great and we should talk about it!!)

A big criticism of this idea is that there shouldn’t be a “nice” ending. There should be no neat little way to wrap things up because that’s just too convenient and it's not what the story is about. Personally, I find how things played out to be very jarring to say the least.

When Isidor passed the fate of the town onto Artemy, it was because HE wasn't able to join the two sides of the town himself. The way things are being set up for Artemy being “special.” it feels like he should be able to find SOME way of joining the town together. Everything is being built up in a way that feels like things should go differently. He should be able to bring the Kin and the settlers together but even then he still has to choose. It feels… anticlimactic. I fully expected him to find a way, and yet, he couldn’t. I don’t want to say he “failed” like Isidor did, because Artemy's quest wasn’t to join, it was to choose. It just seems very strange the way things were built up to that point to where he has to make a decision like this anyways.

I know the game is steeped in mysticism with how the plague originated and how the Kin are LITERALLY connected to the earth, but that kind of thing messes up the VERY real and VERY present themes of how the indigenous population are treated by white settlers. Real life indigenous activists have pushed for having their land returned to them as reparations. This does NOT necessarily mean that descendants of settlers who were born on the land need to leave, but they can learn to live alongside each other while respecting the customs and land of the original indigenous group… The game frames this as being an impossible thing and gives you the option of cultural genocide or basically just giving the kin their own ethnostate, which to my understanding is not an ideal. The fact that this is framed as two ethnic groups being completely incompatible is eerily comparable to fascist ideologies and is very uncomfortable. Please keep in mind that all this is coming from a North American perspective. I am only intimately familiar with these issues as they apply to this particular continent. I am also considering that the Kin were based at least in part on Native Americans according to the official game documents.

Another thing I want to connect to the idea of Artemy being special, as well as the importance of different cultures within the story, is Artemy being biracial. This is something very personal to me and has affected my enjoyment of the game, for better and for worse. One thing that is very central to the experience of being mixed is being pulled between two different identities. In my case, I am mixed black/white, and I was always treated as too black to fit in with white people and too white to fit in with black people. One thing I can praise the game for is Artemy’s acceptance by the Kin as being a part of them. The only time I can recall him not being “fully” one or the other is when he still has certain things he needs to learn regarding their traditions and beliefs after being out of town for so many years. Other than that, he is fully accepted by them, but experiences a lot of microaggressions thrown at him by the settlers and his own childhood friends.

Artemy’s struggle with his identity is a very, very, VERY big part of his journey within the game. Although I find it to be pretty excessive at times, he does have his moments or opportunities to say he doesn’t feel fully like he’s one of the Khatange. Him being out of town for several years solidifies this, with how he’s grown disillusioned with many beliefs he previously held while growing up in Town-on-Gorkhon. At the same time, the way he’s treated by characters like Rubin shows that he’s still considered an outsider to his own friends just based on his cultural background. It is a huge struggle that a lot of mixed-race people end up having to deal with.

However, this duality of identity doesn’t go away. It sticks with you whether you decide to identify more towards one aspect of your identity over the other. This is where the endings come in. Artemy’s identity as a mixed-race person perfectly represents the joining of both sides of the town, with his father being Khatange and his mother not. This really, REALLY seems to add on to the idea that he should find a way to join the town, but he doesn’t. The endings basically force artemy to pick ONE aspect of his identity over the other which is just… awful, heartbreaking, and dare I say offensive. Pathologic is a work of fiction, obviously, but I cannot stress enough how this is the most unrealistic choice one could have to make in a game that focuses on a character’s relation to their identity and culture. Forcing this kind of decision upon Artemy is just a repeat of “unmixing” regions and homogenizing them to “bring back peace” to said regions, similar to events that occurred after WWI and preceded WWII. It’s not something to be praised, it is something to be critical of. Something I would have expected the game to do, but instead it fell into this… fascist trap.

This is something I found was handled a lot better in Pathologic Classic HD because of how Artemy is characterized to just be… special. He does things that others aren't able to do. His relationship to the Termites involves him allowing the children to rule the town going forward. The town's familial triumvirate will be destroyed to make way for a new town setup, with new mistresses, and the kids serving different roles. To me, Artemy is bridging this gap. He is the one adult who sees that the town should pass things onto a new generation. I feel like this was a very effective example of choosing progress over tradition. There is also the fact that the panacea was always something people knew could be created, but the question was always “how”, and Artemy was the one who managed to do that too.

Obviously I don’t think this was intentional on the part of Ice-Pick Lodge but it still happened and it is something people should be considering more. I don’t see alot of pushback against the way Pathologic 2 took things in the end. The game not ending with a neat little bow tied on it is not a criticism I have seen made - it’s that the game handles its themes of race, identity and culture poorly.

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