Thoughts on Getting Over It
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy is a very thought-provoking game and there are actually a bunch of different categories these thoughts fall into. First though, I'm going to go over a couple of small, miscellaneous points.
- It's surprisingly quite a funny game. I chuckled when I fell off the first mountain due to the absurdity of it.
- Related to this, placing the man in a cauldron works very well. It also keeps me from feeling that there are other actions that I should be able to take. I accept that I'm in a cauldron as the game starts with that premise, and as a result it is only logical that I can only move myself with the hammer.
- The side story of Sexy Hiking is a lot of what keeps me going through the game. It is the promise of reward that justifies the frustration.
- Like Robert Yang stated in his manifesto, much of the value of the game actually comes from the fact that it exists more than the actual playing of it.
- The game's name is key to the entire experience. The realization of common turns of phrase is something that there needs to be more of and that games do well. The importance of the name is going to come up a couple more times in this article.
- I only got a little past The Devil's Chimney and I've only skimmed a video about twice past that. This article assumes that the game doesn't substantially change what it has to say beyond that, which is quite possibly false.
The design of this game is fantastic. It's also surprisingly familiar. I've had the exact same feeling that this game engendered in a lot of platformer games before. Like them, getting better through repetition and rote learning is the bulk of the experience of the game. The framing is different though.
I'm constantly impressed by how eloquent the game design is. Game designs often work out to building a shared language between the game and the player and then using that language to say things. Getting Over It says a lot in an often elegant manner. Additionally, by tying itself to the concept of getting over things, it conveys ideas relevant to the human experience. It's quite the design achievement.
It's also surprisingly forgiving. There are outcroppings designed for you to hook onto when falling and there are areas that serve sort of like checkpoints in that they're difficult to fall out of. I found that to be a highly imaginative reconstruction of a standard game design pattern and the fact that later stages can take you back before that point is very thought-provoking.
Also of note here is how well the physics-based system underpinning this game works. Physics is a thing that people intuitively understand but find difficult to accurately predict. Additionally, slight differences in factors like angle and thrust can result in vastly differing results. Also, things like catching your hammer on a bit of an outcrop can be entirely unexpected by the player and can result in major movement.
I think that the real innovation of the game is in the fact that it is authored. It feels like a game made by an individual with something to say. Bennett Foddy's narration feels like Spike Lee acting in his own movies. Getting into a game in this way is still very fresh-feeling.
This is reinforced cleverly through the heavy use of trash in the mountain that you are trying to get over. That this trash is found objects on the internet punctuates the point nicely.
However, I do feel that The Beginner's Guide has already gone further down this path of authorship as an aesthetic. The unreliable narrator of that game was quite sharp and the invention of Coda did a lot to lift it. The core of the difference is that The Beginner's Guide is more personal and less reserved than Getting Over it. I really feel like a little more openness would have done a lot for the game.
This game feels to me as though it has pretensions to the profound. The quotes everywhere, the narration and the character himself all seem to me as though they are meant to evoke the feeling of a philosophical text. The act of compiling a bunch of relevant quotes doesn't necessarily imbue your work with their wisdom however. There's a reason that quote of the week apps feel a little tacky.
It's self-aware about this and calls itself B-philosophy at one point. Also, the statement about trash being found objects taken away from their parent context and repurposed holds true for the quotes as well, which makes this about trash as well as frustration. However, the game takes frustration as its aesthetic, not the repurposing of trash. While it does serve as a proof of idea of a game comprised of trash, it seems to me as though it wants to be deeper than that. After all, that statement is merely one of theoretical interest to other creators, and the game clearly aims for more than that.
The thing about the usage of trash is that while the original context may be lost, a new context is formed for it. Experiencing these quotes at the time when the game presents them to you does substantially change the experience of hearing the quote. Listening to it at a moment of frustration is substantially more meaningful than reading it at a random moment. This struggles a little because the game can only do so much to know whether you are frustrated or not. Also, while the context of the frustration of falling in the game is something, it's still not the complete context of the quote and cannot help but be less than conducive to a complete understanding.
So, let me talk a bit about what it says to me:
- Sometimes all your progress in getting over it can disappear.
- Being calm in frustrating situations can keep bad things from getting worse.
- You can sometimes keep a fall from being absolute. Sometimes you can catch yourself mid-fall.
- Sometimes your attempts to get better will push you further behind.
- Sometimes the best way to get over it is to risk falling all the way behind.
- Some things will look like they will help you get over it, but instead they just get you stuck and you then have to undo your work to get there and try something else.
- You can develop techniques that make it easier to surmount certain obstacles.
Reducing a work to a set of statements like this is an inaccurate at best way of measuring the profundity of the work, but it does help me highlight my criticism. I don't think that the game has anything really meaningful to say on the nature of Getting Over It. I don't think that a game built with the intention of hurting the people that the author targets is particularly meaningful. While I think that a game that focuses on frustration (and in particular the frustration of getting over something) can be meaningful, I don't think this game is because I don't think it has anything to say about it. I feel like highlighting the existence of this frustration is a really good start and actually does qualify for meaningful in itself, but the game needs to say something more about it to be profound. I needed a statement that is eye-opening from it and I didn't get one.
This is unfortunately much harsher than I would like. I want to emphasize here how much I respect this game. I think that it has pushed forward the boundaries of video games and I truly admire how brave it is. Playing this game has made me a better game designer and I'm thankful for anything that pushes me to examine my foundational tenets of game design. A game this ready to send you all the way back to the bottom of the hill is astounding.
Closely related to this is my belief that we as an industry give our established rules of thumb far too much credit. Much of a game like Getting Over It is in the repudiation of the rules around things like checkpointing that are often taken for granted. I fear that as a result much of the value of the game is only apparent to people already inundated in the current set of game design ideals and that this value is brittle as a result.
Also of note here is that the commentary on trash and digital detritus and Sexy Hiking are all fascinating, but feel a little disconnected from the game itself. My experience with the game is weighted towards the process of climbing with the hammer and the physics, not the trash.
Finally, I want to point out that one of the key emotions evoked by this game is the feeling of relief when you either avoid falling or catch yourself before falling all the way back down.
It might just be me, but Getting Over It feels very overtly masculine. The game basically has you try to get over it by scaling an arbitrary mountain with no help but that of your extremely well-defined muscles while lugging around the unnecessary impediment of a cauldron. This seems a pretty comprehensive statement on toxic masculinity to me. First of all, there are definitely easier ways to scale this mountain, and secondly does this mountain really need scaling in the first place? The implied self-importance of struggling with getting over it yourself is also very familiar.
I really like this staircase next to The Devil's Chimney as part of this statement in how it emphasizes that the way you climb is sub-optimal. I also like how well the assorted junk comprising the mountain works as part of this statement. It's very well realized.
All of this is quite familiar to me. I am a person who makes a mountain to climb when I have something to get over. It's more than possible that I'm reading something into this game that most would find a stretch as a result, but I'm glad to have something that I can do this exercise with. If this were the aim though, I would once again like it to do more than state existence though.
I wrote a small parody of this here - https://whynotgames.itch.io/getting-over-it-without-bennett-foddy
Am I Going To Be Excited About The Next One?
This question still puzzles me. Imagine a game that explores a different flavor of frustration, such as the capriciousness of RNG. Is that a game that I'm going to be excited to play?
Honestly, the thought makes me feel tired more than energized. Hurting people doesn't feel like value to me if the pain lacks a point. Is there value in another game intended to make a similar statement?
It's possible that I'm just the wrong person. I've outgrown many of the reactions I had to frustration when younger. I've become good about quitting when I feel like my frustration is going to harm me and in disengaging with games that I once would have felt needed conquering. It's possible that I'm just unable to actually play the game as a result much like how I can't really read Catcher In The Rye at my age.
Another hypothesis is that this is space jazz again and I'm just not educated enough to engage with it. I absolutely love John Coltrane, but I don't know enough to appreciate his more arcane albums. Possibly, this is the case with Getting Over It as well and when I return to it in a few years as a more developed gamer, I'll be able to connect better with it.
If this is the case, then I'm going to flip my earlier statement and claim excitement about future games like this. As I've stated earlier in this article, this game does expand the space we have to play in. How can that ever not be exciting?