Deciding Whether To Restart A Video Game Is My Latest Debilitating Crisis

Sometimes, life presents you with a choice that you just know is going to Change Everything. It’s in these moments that we must take decisive action, plunge headlong into the abyssal unknown with nothing but resolute self-belief to shield us from the grasping black.

Anyway, it’s with this in mind that I tell you I’ve spent the past 72 hours racked with indecision over whether or not to restart a video game I’m three hours into.

The game in question is Pathologic 2, a self-described “narrative thriller” that’s a sorta-sequel, sorta-remake of the 2004 cult classic surrealist survival horror game Pathologic. Pathologic 2 is really fascinating! You play as a surgeon who’s returned home to help out his father, who is also a surgeon, in a plague-ridden town.

Then you find out he’s been killed and everybody thinks you did it. Also, reality is fracturing, filling the world with giant bulls and creepy bird people and spindly black reflections that speak the innermost truths of the people they’re attached to. It’s a setting equal parts unrelentingly grim and gleefully bizarre.

It also does some extremely unique things with death and time, which brings me back to my restart dilemma. If you get beaten to a bloody pulp or starve to death in Pathologic 2, you don’t usually die. Instead, you wake up somewhere else, and everything around you is a little bit weirder. On top of that, time advances, eliminating various options and objectives.

The game is rarely meant to feel satisfying: Even when you’re using your time wisely, you’re often presented with conflicting or inscrutable options that leave you responsible for somebody’s untimely fate no matter what you do. It is a game where failure is undeniably frustrating, yet it also leads to some of the most interesting outcomes and story beats.

But jeez have I ever bungled Pathologic 2's first few hours, which do not hold your hand even a tiny bit. The game does this, in part, to achieve an effect; my character is stressed and disoriented, thrust into a supernatural no-win situation he can barely even comprehend, let alone handle.

It makes sense that the player should feel this way, too. But even then, it feels like I’ve made more mistakes than I needed to. I tried to save a kid from dying of poison, only to get my face smashed in by random street toughs and rise from my premature grave too late to go be a competent doctor.

Even if I’d made it, though, I’m not sure I could’ve helped. I have no medical supplies, and my reputation with the person running the pharmacy is so bad that he won’t even sell me a used Band-Aid. I also have no food and only a small amount of money.

I’m trying to raise my station by doing favours for my character’s old friend who’s now a cocky crimelord, but I keep getting punched into comas of various lengths by the townspeople, the majority of whom hate my gurgling guts.

This isn’t to say I’ve given up. I actually feel like I’m on the verge of figuring things out. Perhaps, then, my rough start will lead to a more satisfying personal narrative in the long run, especially given that Pathologic 2 is built around the idea that you will fail frequently.

But at the same time, it’s the start of the game, and you want to put your best foot forward, right? I can see now how I could’ve avoided much of the misfortune I walked into like somebody with no depth perception slamming face-first into a door frame. Other, more traditional games have taught me that doing so will lead to unequivocally better outcomes, even if they’re just (relatively) small things like a minor character surviving or me having more supplies for when things get really rough later on. Pathologic 2 seems to scoff at this notion, but I don’t actually know what I’ll get or miss out on for my troubles.

Then there’s the time conundrum. Play a game for one hour and realise you’re harboring a gnawing feeling of regret? Restart! I mean, why not? One hour is barely any time at all. Play a game for two hours and sense the tendrils of dissatisfaction weaving their way into the most uncomfortable tunnels of your brain cave? Restart! Sure, two hours is more than one, but it’s not a ton in the grand scheme of things. I mean, two hours is the time limit on getting a Steam refund. No big deal.

But play a game for three hours and feel the bitter bile of disappointment rising in your throat? Well, shit. Three hours is forever. Are you sure you want to flush one eternity down the toilet? Just like that? I cannot, in good conscience, recommend it. Think of the lives you could’ve lived, the friends you could’ve made, the thing that’s been on your to-do list for months that you finally could’ve gotten around to if you just had exactly three spare hours.

But now you ruined that, you rube, you numbskull, you pitiable fool.

Plus, if I restart, will I even have the strength of will to make it back to where I was before? Or will this function as the quiet nail in the coffin for my time with the game? Will I select it in my Steam library and then think, “Ugh, I don’t feel like doing a bunch of stuff over again today”? This isn’t helped by the fact that there are other very pressing temptations currently sitting on my hard drive, like Void Bastards and Outer Wilds. I’m beginning to think that I’ve checkmated myself.

This is not, let me emphasise, a real problem. It’s an entirely manufactured issue created by a caveperson brain that, despite technology’s unrelenting march, has scarcely evolved one minute past the point in time when every little decision actually carried life or death consequences. It is a dumb problem to have, but it’s nonetheless what I’m dealing with.

Ah, screw it, maybe I’ll just toss all these anxiety-inducing new games by the wayside and sink 100 hours into The Witcher 3 again.


    I am bad for this with RPGs, especially those that allow a custom character/class. Hours in and I am like "oh maybe X class would be better/more fun etc" and start over.

    Really it just ends with getting sick of redoing the first few hours over and over again as you mentioned.

    Sometimes you just gotta stick with the mistakes, the grass isn't always greener.

    I restarted Divinity Original Sin Enhanced Edition after 6 hours. This was not just my game, but also my partner's game. I was doing so poorly with every combat with my character that i felt the absolute dire need to restart the whole game.

    Thankfully, made better choices the next time around on what type of character i play as. Well, hope so...... Otherwise we have wasted another 70 hours of gameplay!

    The only time I ever restart a game is if I played it for a while then got distracted, and didn't go back to it again for months. By the time I do get back round to playing it, I'd load my save file and think "now what the hell what I supposed to be doing" or "I can't remember what's happened". Only then will I say you know what screw it, I'll start again, just so I know what on earth is going on.

    At the end of the day. this example is 3 hours. That's not a huge amount of time in the grand scheme of things. That's the same amount of time you spent watching Avengers End Game. If you feel like you really screwed up the start of the game that badly then yeah sure, restart. It will probably only take you half the time it took to reach that same point the second time anyway. If not, then press on.

      ...if I played it for a while then got distracted, and didn't go back to it again for months.
      This has been with every game for a while now!
      I struggle to find the time to game so come back after a while and have promptly forgotten everything.
      The only exception is Diablo III. Probably why I still come back to it.

    I restarted Mass Effect 3 once after around 10 hours because I didn't like the way it made my custom Fem-Shep look from ME1 and ME2. I think it was the lips? Or the makeup was too dark? Something. Anyway, yeah. Every time I saw her in a cutscene or dialogue part I just winced. Couldn't handle it and had to start again.

      Second this, especially with Andromeda something about the lighting effects could make your character all kinds of fucked up, and you could only tell after you remove your helmet a few hours in.

        Exactly what happened to me, my character looked completely different and I didn't like it. But I was 2-3 hours in and I really didn't want to spend that time doing it over. Definitely regret playing the whole game as that character and having to look at his stupid face!

    Pffft restarted Red Dead half way through, roughly 35hrs worth. Totally worth it.

      Why not? If you want to restart 3, or 30 hours in, sure - why not. You bought the game essentially because you wanted to experience the gameplay, and absorb the story, any notional desire to "finish" it or burn through any list of objectives , which is as natural as the desire one would have when reading a book, to want to finish it and experience the "complete" artwork/piece. If you enjoyed the start so much, and want to experience it again - in effect prolonging the experience (and in a game, experiencing that enjoyable hand/eye/brain sensation that is gameplay) - that's a natural, valid and justifiable option.

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