Until recently, Bennet Foddy was best known for QWOP, CLOP, and GRIP, three games about performing relatively simple actions with tremendous difficulty. The control schemes were the rub, you see. Running and climbing aren’t especially difficult things to do in most video games—but when you’ve got to, say, control each of a unicorn’s limbs individually, any attempt at progress can result in a surreal failure-farce the likes of which only games can provide (and that even games, when they do provide it, tend to provide unintentionally).
Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy is at once a refinement of this idea, a loving homage to experimental game design, and a meditation on the value of making and consuming obtuse, difficult, or otherwise indigestible works.
Getting Over It cribs its premise from a Game Maker oddity called Sexy Hiking, wherein a bedroom-eyed MS Paint dude has to drag his way up a mountain using a hammer. Our hero has legs, but they do him no good. He can’t walk or jump. It’s the hammer or it’s nothing. In Foddy’s rendition, your avatar can’t use his legs because they’re in a cauldron, clanking against the ground and sloshing with liquid: the protagonist’s own sweat, I couldn’t help but think.
It’s an unfathomably inefficient means of locomotion, and a ridiculous sight to behold. The expressive, one-to-one controls are as likely to send you flying in the wrong direction as to propel you in anything like the right one.
But also, it’s a genuinely intriguing central mechanic. It’s novel. It’s entertaining. It lends itself to escalating challenges, and in an admittedly self-abusive kind of way, it’s rewarding to get better at it. Watching it performed with skill makes me understand what other people get out of watching the Olympics.
Foddy chimes in via voiceover throughout your ordeal, rewarding your progress with musings on game design and (more often) consoling your failure with aphorisms about perseverance, or with soothing Vince Guaraldiesque jazz paino, or with recordings of old self-pitying Delta blues or Texas Swing. This isn’t merely a difficult video game, but a developer talking to a player about difficult video games. As with The Beginner’s Guide or Murder Dog IV: The Trial of Murder Dog, a metacommentary on what the game means (and how it means that, and to whom) is baked into the game itself.
This is a game for people who like their art to push back—and, Foddy argues, what such people enjoy is not just the thrill of overcoming adversity, but adversity itself. He waxes elegiac about how games used to ask more of their players, but stops short of suggesting that those old games were better for it, exactly, or that those who enjoy them have superior taste. No, some of us are simply weirdos, and there’s a camaraderie in that— and most people will never get it, nor should they have to, but at the same time, there are more of us than you might think.
And yes, in a sense we’re hearty folk, but we’re not above being pandered to. We’re being pandered to extravagantly, after all, by this very game.
When scaling the mountain in Getting Over It, it’s more than possible that you’ll near the top only to find yourself flung all the way back to the bottom, screwed in a way that vanishingly fews games will ever allow you to get screwed. (“I’ll always save your progress—even your mistakes,” Foddy threatens truthfully). For me at least, these horrific moments are too cruel and absurd to be taken seriously, and thus, too stupid to be demoralizing. I’m Sisyphus, in those moments. But I’m choosing to dive back in and be Sisyphus again, and just as importantly, I’m bonding with a legion of unseen fellow Sisyphuses.
So, speaking of Sisyphus.
Although Foddy’s text quotes Friedrich Nietzsche, and C.S. Lewis, and William Shakespeare (and Mary Pickford, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Ice T), I don’t think he ever gets around to Albert Camus: “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again,” and when tasked with starting over, “the absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing.”
Camus concludes that “the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Getting Over It argues that a happy Sisyphus is easy to imagine. You may even be one, and there are mountains that only weirdos like us will ever bother to climb.