‘Pathologic is Genius, And Here’s Why’ is Genius, And Here’s Why

Image description: Various gaming controls scattered on a surface


What is Pathologic? Have I played it? Will I play it? Do I want to play it? Will I watch and rewatch a 130-minute YouTube video about it and decide it’s my favourite game of all time? The answer to at least one of these questions is: yes.

When sometime-video game reviewer and prominent ‘Breadtube’ internet-man Harris ‘Hbomberguy’ Brewis released his YouTube video ‘Pathologic is Genius, And Here’s Why’ in the final quarter of 2019, something in my brain seemed to have become unlocked. Finding myself watching an over-two-hour game review, in a Pret à Manger with my earphones in, at the lonely start of a year out before uni, I first started to wonder what I was doing with my life. But then: an epiphany.

I found myself unable to leave that Pret – a simple video game review captured my imagination, focused my brain, in a greater way than any designated form of media designed for such escapism. Unable to tear myself away from Brewis’ sultry and sardonic tones, the video breezed through its runtime, the nonstop editing filling the screen with an exceedingly-YouTube send of dry visual humour and specific cuts, running jokes, and a strangely captivating sound design. The aforementioned narration complements it perfectly, operating within a distinct world of informality to make me feel like I’m intimately chatting with a friend, and respectability to make me feel like I’m being taken care of on a lonely dark night… anyway, the point is that this video is pretty alright. Cut to two years later and it’s still always there waiting for me during an essay crisis procrastination session. I just think it’s neat. It scratches the itch, as they say. Delicious egg.

Will I watch and rewatch a 130-minute YouTube video about it and decide it’s my favourite game of all time?

To return to the initial question of this article: ‘What is Pathologic?’ Well, in the same manner as the YouTube video in question, I probably should have answered that in the opening paragraph but have instead waited until what can be designated as ‘PART I’ of this article to address it. Pathologic is a Russian video game from 2005 set in a chronologically ambiguous town deep in the Russian steppe. You play as three characters (‘The Bachelor’, ‘The Haruspex’, and ‘The Changeling’), each being various medical practitioners or a small child, as you find yourself embroiled in DEATH. By death, I am of course referring to the horrific plague that suddenly comes down upon the town, not the feeling you apparently seem to feel whilst playing it, nor the usual fate of the protagonists every time you attempt to complete anything, but I guess those could also apply.

As the game continues, you find yourself needing to manage continually depleting hunger, exhaustion, immunity and infection meters, whilst simultaneously worrying about running out of food, drink, medicine, and most of all, money. Just like real life! Every step you take that lets you think you’re on top of things, the game throws a curveball. Finally acquire enough money? Prices have gone up. Need food? Well, you have to give it away. Infected and don’t have medicine? Die. As the town starts to disintegrate and fall into quarantine disarray, both you and the character get more and more disillusioned, or in Brewis’ terms, “disempowered”, until a secret ending that is basically the ultimate gaming culmination of such a feeling.

‘But writer!’ you may be exclaiming (although we are mere non-distinct entities to each other), ‘if you’ve never played this game, how do you know so much about it?’ and more importantly ‘how do you know so much about how it makes you feel?’ Well dear reader, *that* is the genius of ‘Pathologic is Genius, And Here’s Why’. About two thirds of the way through, Hbomberguy says this:

 “It’s not fun. I can’t really recommend you play it. That’s why I’m sharing what I think is interesting about the experience – so you don’t have to play it yourself. I suffered so you didn’t have to.”

Whilst the phenomenon of watching long-form YouTube reviews about certain media without actually having ever experienced said media is not exactly a novel concept, especially given the prevalence of pure-personality-based channels on the site, ‘Pathologic is Genius, And Here’s Why’ stands out amongst the crowd in this respect. There are many other gaming YouTubers such Matthewmatosis and Joseph Anderson for whom I waste hours of my life listening to, but the genius of Brewis’ video is that it KNOWS this. In an act of pure love for the game, and yet through a complete understanding of the sheer difficulty and inaccessibility of it, he imbues the review of the game with the same sense one would feel whilst playing, in order to allow the viewer to feel as if they had played it without ever needing to even search it up on Steam. The video, in this way, becomes its own thing, its own experience. The enjoyment of watching it comes not just from appreciating someone’s analytic skills (although I very much do), but also from becoming invested in this world and story through the specifically detailed narration and editing. 

In an act of pure love for the game, and yet through a complete understanding of the sheer difficulty and inaccessibility of it, he imbues the review of the game with the same sense one would feel whilst playing.

The quote used at the beginning of this article comes from the video itself and is a perfect summation of everything Brewis does to achieve this. Not to over-analyse a joke and become everyone’s least favourite person, but “Daniil Dankovsky’s Fun Steppe Vacation was just the tutorial for Artemy Burakh’s Tormentous Nightmare” – from the irony of the first part considering the game’s constant dourness, to the comically extravagant intensity of the second part, mixed with the video’s accompanying bass drops and title-cards – acts as the ultimate explanation for my love for this review. Somehow operating on all levels, from pun-based humour, to genuine analysis, to personal response, to editing mastery, this moment represents perfectly how ‘Pathologic is Genius, And Here’s Why’ creates the feeling in the audience that the original ‘Pathologic’ game created for Brewis: the sudden shift in comedic tone from a previously analytic one, focused upon the “Tormentous Nightmare” element of the Haruspex’s playthrough, surprises the viewer to such a comical intensity, just as the game surprises the player in its jump in difficulty with such a stressful intensity. In this way, not only does Brewis create the same level of engaging subversion of genre that remains inherent within ‘Pathologic’ the game, but he also does it through comedy – allowing the viewer to feel such a feeling, whilst still making it fun. I’ve pretentiously ruined this joke but ah, I just love it. “I suffered so you didn’t have to,” and so on.

This article started out quite comedic then has somehow morphed into an embarrassingly sincere entity. I’m terribly sorry about that. Maybe, just as Hbomberguy did with his review, this article has become an encapsulation of everything that video made me feel transmitted unto a new audience. Maybe this piece’s move from superfluous word-filling to sickeningly analytic prose represents the exact same trajectory I felt during my initial reaction to this review. Maybe someone will one day make ‘‘‘Pathologic is Genius, And Here’s Why’ is Genius, And Here’s Why’ is Genius, And Here’s Why’. Maybe that person will be you. Or maybe I’m just a pretentious nerd who finds 3-hour game reviews fun and thinks she’s an incredibly witty and unmatched genius for talking about it yet doesn’t know how to write a normal conclusion. Maybe these very words I’m writing at the moment are just a symptom of 7th week English student delirium. I don’t know. Maybe you decide. You’re the one reading it after all.

Image credit: Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels