Well, here we are again, I’m crossing my fingers that most of you made it this far, and I’m glad for each and every one of you who did. I have a lot left to say, and I hope you have a lot left to read, so without too much delay, let’s get right to the second section of our deep dive into Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy.
Part 1: “A quick fix for the fickle, some tricks for the clicks of the feckless”
Difficulty is a concept that is very nuanced in its construction, and there are a lot of discussions that have been had on the topic, how to create it, how to frame it, how to get the player to keep playing through it, and how to make it appear fair. If there’s one thing I can say about Getting Over It’s difficulty, it’s that the game is quintessentially fair. It sets your expectations and in almost every case meets them, it gives you its rules and in almost every case follows them, there is a mountain and it must be climbed, there are actions and there are consequences, if there are setbacks it’s because of something you’ve done. Barring one or two particular spots, the game never deceives you or arbitrarily sets you back in a way that doesn’t line up with its clearly established rule sets. There is simply a thing that must be done, and a way in which it must be done, and the rest is up to you, how much you fail is up to you, action begets reaction for better or worse, action is not taken upon you but is put forth by you and the outcome is decided by what you have done. This world is constructed, but in it you are the prime mover, the actor, not the acted upon.
This fairness, however, is a major facet of the difficulty. There’s no fudging a landing in the player’s favour to keep them engaged, no clear attempt to design with player comfort or enjoyment in mind. All that’s presented is a clear set of rules around action and consequence that are always followed to the letter, and that’s where much of the difficulty springs forth. The game is less of a sport created with the player’s enjoyment of the game in mind, and more what it clearly sets about to be, a challenge. It’s your friend pointing at a gap between two ledges and saying “I dare you to jump that”. The stakes are clear and the rules are apparent, you know how this works and what needs to be done, it’s in rising to the act and following through that the challenge centers its difficulty, not in parsing obscure systems and rules to figure out how this can go.
At the start of the game there’s a tree, one of the simpler obstacles of the game and a call-back to its spiritual predecessor, Sexy Hiking. Once you’ve made it past the tree you’re familiar with the core rules of the world, you move the hammer, the hammer moves the man, action and consequence for better or worse. And these established concepts aren’t subverted by sudden changes or hidden mechanics, they simply are, and you simply must. There’s a purity in that, a framework laid bare in a simultaneously accessible and inaccessible fashion. You know what you have to do and how to do it, but the difficulty is in the doing, not in the perceiving.
Part 2: “We have the same taste, you and I”
The rules are simple but the task is hard, the game isn’t in the winning but in the playing. The obstacle that demands to be overcome, once finally defeated, becomes just another trophy. This is where the quote for this part comes from, “We have the same taste, you and I. It’s not ambition, it’s ambition’s opposite. An obdurate mission to taste defeat. You’ll feel bad if you win.” And this is the crux of the conflict of the game’s difficulty. Not that the game itself is difficult, but that the game is compelling in the playing, not in the having been played. Once you beat the game you’ll probably never go back to it, you’ve overcome it so why would you? The challenge never changes, it never gets easier or harder, simpler or more complex, there is no RNG here, no replayability, simply something to beat and discard. In the consumption of the game it becomes refuse, it’s purpose is served served and now it exists as just another notch on your belt, and it doesn’t set out to be more than that.
The mountain is always the mountain, and once it is climbed, it is climbed, but it’s in the climb that we find meaning, not in the outcome. It’s an action for its own sake, an expenditure of energy without an expectation of return.
If someone presented the game to Georges Bataille, he might remark that in this way it overlaps one of the core facets of the spiritual experience.
The failures are the game. The meaning and the experience are defined by the failure, and the bitterness that comes with it. Success ends the experience, it’s a final release of the tension that has been building, and in that release there is finality. It’s the hero slaying the monster chasing them, the boxer landing the knockout blow, the inevitable conclusion of something that carries weight because it will conclude. But in these final moments, in that singular act of release there is also the realization of the experience coming to a close, and isn’t that, in itself, a tragedy? The narration even broaches this idea, “What’s the feeling like? Are you stressed? I guess you don’t hate it if you got this far.” Why are you playing if you hate it? Surely you must get something out of it, pitting yourself against this seemingly insurmountable challenge, shouldering failure after failure, is it then not a shame to see it come to an end? But the tension that is compelling can’t be maintained without an end, just like a string the tension can only be maintained between two points, beginning and end. If you knew the mountain was unbeatable, would you even play the game to begin with? Would it hold the same level of weight if eventually you came across a wall that simply could not be overcome? You play for the tension and you wait with baited breath for an ending you silently hope will never come.
Part 3: “It feels like we’re closer now. Composer and Climber. Designer and User.”
Games are art, and one of the many facets of art is that it tries to convey something, a form, an idea, an emotion. Getting Over It shines out as a masterful success at trying to convey emotions. It explores and instills frustration, agitation, in some cases anger, despair, grief, tension, apprehension, relief, and catharsis. It sets itself to the monumental task of achieving this artistic vision and does so with a monumental task in parallel delivered in game form. Far too often discourse about games breaks down to “fun”, “engaging”, “immersive”, “enjoyable”, but these aren’t the only emotions that art can or should convey. We focus too much on the aspect of game and not enough on the aspect of art.
A game can be unenjoyable, unfun, not immersive, and yet still be valid as an artistic piece, and sometimes even more compelling than games that excel at the oft focused-on facets of engagement. This is why I find Getting Over It refreshing in its approach, it isn’t here to be fun, that’s not the point, it’s here to make you feel, and you will feel. What you do with those emotions, whether it be turning off the game, or steeling yourself for another ascent, is up to you. And that’s a near-universal experience to tap into. Who hasn’t started a task, learning something, doing something, making something, that turned out to be a far greater endeavor than first imagined and come to that crossroads of either letting the goal fall by the wayside or focusing and pushing on in the face of the now apparent climb ahead? The evocation of this human moment is what Getting Over It achieves with elegance in its simplicity.
There’s also a sense of closeness achieved through this interaction, the artist wishes to convey, and you participate in the feeling. Video games present a much-explored intermingling of creator and active viewer through not simply conveying a narrative, but making you an active participant in the experience. The gameplay-as-narrative approach is all too present here, the climb is set before you, how you tackle it, and how you fail at it is up to your actions as the player. Watching a man climb a mountain evokes a very different set of emotions than climbing it yourself, and presenting the act as a central and present aspect of the narrative leads to its own interpretations and meanings. The interplay of creator and player leads to a unique experience curated by the co-mingling.
“It feels like we’re closer now” is not simply a profound-sounding line thrown in for narrative flair, it’s a statement of this very effect. Game development is hard. It is, in its own way, a climb toward a goal fraught with failures, set-backs, and from time to time starting overs. As the player is told early on, “Starting over is harder than starting up”, and this becomes a shared experience between the developer and the participant; if not the same in its form, the same in its emotion. Getting Over It blurs this line by putting you through something that both you and its developer can relate on, a shared emotionally impactful series of moments, the utter lows of failing, the tension of the doing, and the sublime elation of the succeeding, and in this the two become closer as people, you have this moment in time, this tribulation, as a focal point that you can return to and engage in a mutual reflection upon. The physical world is that of the profane, and while you don’t necessarily relate in that sense, you relate in the world of the sacred, that of non-material experience, the realm of expenditure for expenditure’s sake. Much as the artist creates to create, you have ascended to ascend. Just like the developer, you as the player, have engaged in an act for its own sake, one that has meaning precisely because of its lack of meaning beyond its execution, and in that moment there is a oneness to be experienced between normally disparate entities.
While I played this game, the thought that stuck out in my mind was “This is what I want games to be”, not in form, or function, but in the pure artistic conveyance of emotion and blurring of lines through overlapping human experience; that fuzzying of the lines between the self and the other, and to at once enter the artist’s world and to have my eyes opened up to new ways of seeing not only that world, but the world around me. I truly hope that this is something you want too, because it’s a feeling I can’t describe, but one that I hope you experience in a way that maybe brings our worlds closer together in some small way.
You’ve reached another plateau, so take a breath, reflect on making it this far, and hopefully join us next time for the final stretch as we continue to explore Getting Over It in Volume III.
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.