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Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy is a game by the titular Bennett Foddy that was released in the far-gone year of 2017 to much contemporary critical acclaim and analysis. Why then revisit an already well-explored game years after its release? Personally I find it almost poignant to talk about the game as a memory, as an experience that has stuck with you that you find yourself reflecting on years down the road, much as one reflects on tough times, challenges overcome, or mistakes that they’ve made. We engage in this all the time in our lives, and what is art, if not something that seeks in an ephemeral but present way to be part of our life experience?

Now, this article is going to be a long one, it’s not titled Volume I without reason. This isn’t our normal fare, it’s dense and a slow burn, after all this game has a lot to say and I’ll be touching on far less than half of it, but I hope you’ll find it meaningful. So go get some water and settle in, I won’t judge if you can’t finish this in one sitting so don’t feel pressured to, if you need to take a break this article will still be here, and you can pick up right where you left off.

Part 1: “Feel free to go away and come back. I’ll be here.”

I knew this game was something special very quickly, and it cemented itself firmly as one of my favourite games throughout the rest of the experience. There’s two specific quotes by Bennett Foddy early on that really stuck with me and brought me to this realization. The first one I’ll get to in a moment, but the second one is the quote for which this volume is named, “I’ll understand if you have to take a break at any point, just find a safe place to stop and quit the game. Don’t worry, I’ll save your progress, always. Even your mistakes.” I remember hearing this line the first time I played the game and just being stopped in my tracks, Diogenes’ hammer slumping down as I found myself brought to a pause. I’d heard enough about the game already to understand the implications of this line, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

The first reaction to this promise is to question its honesty, after all we’re so used to subversion in popular culture that to not subvert expectations is, in itself, meta-subversion at this point, but the sincerity of the comment isn’t important, what’s important is what it’s saying between the lines. Most modern challenging games treat setbacks as portioned off events; you’re struggling not to complete a singular ongoing task, but clawing to the next checkpoint in a series of smaller atomized challenges. In doing this your mistakes are ostensibly forgotten, the 99 times you’ve failed are erased because what is remembered, what’s recorded, is the one time you succeeded, the time you made few enough mistakes to get through to the next checkpoint.

Getting Over It isn’t interested in a rapid succession of near-flawlessly completed blocks, it’s interested in failure, and in that it’s an exploration, in large part of the messy way in which we get through challenges. No one opens up a Mario game for the first time and immediately speedruns it to a world record, and to expect that of someone is absurd. It’s one of the reasons why I find speedrunning compelling, you can find clips on youtube of perfectly executed world record runs, often devoid of context or history much like the atomized checkpointing of so many video games. If you watch speedrunning live-streams, however, you’re immediately struck with the failures, the mistakes, the resetting, and the starting over that led to the one ideal run, the one time that they finally overcame the challenge as a holistic experience, one that’s at once tragic, beautiful, and cathartic.

It’s this sensation that followed me through the entire game, this feeling of failure not as a thing to be forgotten, but to be overcome, to push through time and again, with all that messy history and context of how you got there. This brings us full circle to the first quote that really stuck with me.

Part 2: “There’s no feeling more intense than starting over”

While it may seem simple, this line is a statement of intent, it’s telling the player outright one of the core emotions that the game is trying to convey. The steam page for the game also frames this, “A game I made for a certain kind of person, to hurt them”.  Getting Over It focuses on the pain and frustration of failure as an innately intense experience, and one that can only be achieved by attempting to beat the challenge.

Without your choice to play the game, and keep playing it, this pain cannot exist. The challenge hurts you not because it’s a hurt visited upon you unwillingly, but because, like an athlete striving for the peak of skill, you keep coming back, you keep pushing, you take the pain and the frustration and the crushing weight of defeat and you push that forward into small victories that can be set back with the smallest misstep. But you keep going. The game is a deep dive into, amongst other things, the choice to experience that pain in service of demolishing a challenge put forth that there is no obligation to beat, it’s this baffling but near-universal human drive that we’re here to flesh out, experience, and analyze.

Maybe the frustration gets too much, and a lot of people will let it fall by the wayside; the game itself is aware of this and doesn’t set forth any expectation that you will tackle its challenge until you’ve overcome, it tells you this directly, “If you’re not ready for that, like you’ve already had a bad day, then what you’re about to go through might be too much. Feel free to go away and come back. I’ll be here.” The challenge, like a mountain, calls out to be beaten but there is no expectation that you do so. No one expects the average person to tackle a climb up Mount Everest, or to even attempt it, but it’s always there, always beckoning to those that ache for the challenge, that ache for that unique pain and frustration, the catharsis and pleasure of overcoming the near-insurmountable.

Part 3: “Feeling frustrated, it’s underrated”

The idea of frustration pushed to its absolute breaking point is a concept that falls under the umbrella of the Limit-Experience as put forth by Georges Bataille, that is one which pushes us to the limit of the human experience where our barriers start to break down. Intense pain bordering pleasure is an example of this, another would be the monk that flagellates himself into a mystic experience by taking himself to that threshold of unfathomable pain and endurance. Getting Over It exemplifies this, it pushes frustration to the limit time and again, driving one to the point of breaking down and presenting the choice to push forth in spite of that, to drive the experience as far as they can, eventually blurring the lines between enjoyment and complete aggravation. Limit-experiences are some of the most stark and memorable experiences possible, and the game not only promises to remember every action you take, but also demands to be remembered.

Every small success is met with a massive failure, pushing further and further each time, learning how everything works, coming to understand the present realness of the game’s geometry, of the hammer, of the pot, and of the man. The very reality of these objects shaped not by their existence in code but by their emotional impact, in the weight presented by them to the self, searing their edges and emotions into you in a unique way that is real in the experience. The narrative itself discusses this concept; the thing is the thing, it is unyielding and unrelenting, it has its rules and it will not compromise, it’s up to you to overcome it because it’s not going to be softened out for you, and in that sense it becomes as real as anything else, the depth of the emotion tethered to something as simple as an angled surface, or a hammer as true in the remembering as a memory of any other lived event.

In this way we give a weight to memories not through a rote memorization of action and consequence, of form and function, but of emotion tied to these concepts, their realness defined not by the form in itself but by our interaction with the form and its interaction with us. The memories that hold the most meaning to us, that feel most real, are often times and events that effect us greatly, and it’s that kind of experience the game sets itself up to be, and it sticks the landing

Memory and realness, both of your interactions with the game, and its impact on you are ever-present concepts that Getting Over It not only attempts to explore, but wants you to reflect on in post. Or, if you have the presence of mind in the midst of the limit-experience that is mind-numbing frustration, during your time with the game.

Join us next time for Volume II where we explore difficulty and tribulation as a way to create a shared experience that breaks down the barriers between the self and the other, the player and the developer. Until then, keep climbing.

Mx. Medea is a writer, artist, and editor who spends most of their time drawing things with squares and buried under a small pile of endless paper copy. When not working they can be found playing everything from interesting indie fare to oldschool games. You can find them, their art, and their opinions @Mx_Medea on Twitter.