Well, here we are again. There’s been a lot of talk lately about parasocial relationships, the type that we unilaterally form with artists, social media figures, writers, but I like to think that isn’t how you feel about me as a writer. I think that in the reading of this deconstruction there’s an unspoken overlap on some level going on, a trade of understanding. But we’ll get to that, for now let’s take that proverbial last strike of the hammer into Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy.
Part 1: “Trash is disposable, but maybe it doesn’t have to be approachable”
Something that’s of specific note about Getting Over It is the ubiquity of apparently store-bought assets from which the game is built. One could term the game a much-maligned “asset flip” in spirit, a term I think both poorly leveraged and unfairly pejorative.
Shortly before the release of the game there had been an ongoing discussion of these “asset-flips”, games built from purchased unity store assets, hastily assembled, and pushed out the door. Of course much of this discourse revolved around how despicable the practice was, how implicitly deceptive it could be, and how this ‘wasn’t what unity store assets are for’. In the minds of some, unity store assets are there to be place-holder art only, something to shunt into the game during the dev cycle to be replaced by more appropriate art down the line.
I fundamentally disagree with the interpretation of the asset-flip as anti-artistic travesty. Art can express itself through myriad approaches, this is the core of genres, styles, and eventually traditions. In this way I see the asset-flip as a nascent genre, one that is, absolutely, filled with poor quality and poorly thought out games, but not one that is inherently detestable or without quality. Found art is an established style, as is collage, and there is a case to be made that in video games asset-flips we find our collage, our mash-up, our found art. You take elements from disparate sources that weren’t designed to fit together and refashion them into a coherent piece. I’d argue that every style and genre is full of more examples of poorly executed art than masterpieces, look up Sonic fan-art on Deviantart if you need proof of this. Those works don’t detract from the legitimacy of digital illustration as a medium despite their ubiquity, and the pieces being technically poor, messy, and ill-composed isn’t inherently bad in itself, all artists learn over time through trial and error; I too cringe at the thought of much of my early work, but this is part of the process, the contextual history of my art taken as a whole.
Asset-flips were never given time to breathe, and I think the negative connotations of the act of asset-flipping scares away a lot of artistic exploration that could be done with the genre and all but guarantees that it will continue to be filled with poorly-executed pieces, because asset-flips as a whole are seen to be intrinsically poor form. But asset-flips hail from a long implicit history established throughout other forms of media, the soundcloud mash-up, the remix, the collage, the youtube poop, and there are many stand-out artistic pieces among these established genres, in fact entire careers have been built upon them.
At the time, Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy was amazingly well received, but this point wasn’t adequately explored in my opinion. It was seen as a thing-in-itself, a stand-out piece that was in many ways creative and unique, but it was rarely touched on that it was a legitimization of asset-flip as genre. In part because of this the entire approach to artistic expression through this genre continues to go mostly unexplored with intentionality, and that is a damn shame. There is so much room to express and explore in ways that games haven’t yet done through the lens of asset-flips, and I find myself wanting more. I want the youtube poop of video games, the sublime unreality of the mash-up, I crave that exploration of snippets of artistic creation divorced from original context, reused, recycled, reinterpreted, and reforged into a wholly new piece of media made up of the memories of expression past.
What’s particularly astounding in many ways is that Getting Over It acts at once as a legitimization of an entirely new genre and a deconstruction of it before it’s even had the opportunity to be wholly constructed. Bennett Foddy says midway through the game “…the objects in the stores are trash. I don’t mean they look bad or they’re badly made, although a lot of them are. I mean they’re trash in the way that food becomes trash as soon as you put it in the sink. Things are made to be consumed in a certain context, and once the moment is gone they transform into garbage. In the context of technology those moments pass by in seconds … when everything around us is cultural trash, trash becomes the new medium, the lingua franca of the digital age. You can build culture out of trash, but only trash culture. B-games, B-movies, B-music, B-philosophy. Maybe this is what this digital culture is, a monstrous mountain of trash, the ash-heap of creativity’s fountain. A landfill with everything we ever thought of in it.”
This trash isn’t inherently worthless, it’s simply consumed and transformed in the consuming, discarded as refuse, never to be thought of again. In this way Getting Over It is a recycling of the trash left behind by game development. The game itself is constructed of pieces made for a reason, used, and then forgotten, presented here divorced of their original context but used to create a new context. The game is a collage of magazine clippings from different publications, years, articles, bereft of the context in which these pieces existed, but reassembled for a new one. Every piece lacks its cultural history, but in this their history is deeply felt, not by its presence but by the negation of it. The game is a collection of negatives whose existence implies that of the pictures.
What finds itself explored isn’t the finished product, the one good final frame, but the process, and the process is something that sorely deserves to be expressed just as much as the thing the process creates. I can’t tell you where the bucket is from, I wouldn’t know what the stairs were used for, but in their existence and their framing are the echoes of countless hours of creativity, dozens of projects finished, unfinished, and everything in between. And although their projects are long since completed or discarded, the process remains, and it calls out to be seen, to be heard. It is in itself cultural context divorced from the object of the context, the output severed from the input, and the input placed on its own pedestal, presented to the viewer to be seen and appreciated for what it is.
This is what asset-flips could be, and what I hope they become. I’m tired of seeing them approached from the perspective of malignance, a stain on the ‘good name’ of indie culture. The process too deserves to be felt in a real and present way, the facets of the trash of the process recontextualized and reinvigorated for a new artistic vision.
There is value in this. I can’t be the only one who thinks so. I desperately hope I’m not alone. This must be explored, it simply insists to be. And I don’t want to lose all of what could come from this at the hand of mealy-mouthed youtubers handwringing about the stark immorality of the genre, at the vicious edge of respectability and the ‘proper way’ of doing things in the eyes of an indie culture that has chosen to discard an entire avenue of expression as somehow less valuable than establishment approaches. Trash culture is culture none-the-less.
Getting Over It could not exist without asset flips, and I wouldn’t want the world to have been deprived of this experience. Who is anyone to try to take that away?
Part 2: “Have you ever thought about who you are in this?
A lot of games implicitly ask this question really, whether it’s Inside’s main character shutting down if you unplug him in the hidden scene, or the near-overdone distancing of player from character with framing devices to facilitate that separation, it’s a very well-explored concept. Due to the framing device of the narration, however, there’s the opportunity for Bennett Foddy to pose this question to you in the most overt sense, by simply asking. “Are you the man in the pot, Diogenes? Are you his hand? Are you the top of his hammer? I think not, where your hand moves the hammer may not follow, nor the man, nor the man’s hand. I’m this, you are his WILL. His intent. The embodied resolve in his uphill ascent.”
More than just the question there’s the statement in this, and it’s the statement of the author’s intent, you are meant to be his will. And it’s a fitting role. Our controls in video games rarely match the outcome 1:1, intent rarely follows through perfectly in implementation; mechanics interlace with action in sometimes unpredictable ways, and even the breadth of mechanics we commonly have access to make us less the actor, more the puppeteer. We are necessarily separated from the action by the nature of the medium, but if there’s one realm in which we find the player ever-present, it’s in that of choosing to continue, choosing to load a save, restart a game, play again, keep playing, keep pushing. In this the player is will, because that’s what’s being tested at the core of every decision and every action, the will of the player to take them.
Something my father told me, and something I think one adult figure or another in our lives has told most of us at some point, finds relevance here. “You only lose when you give up.” Not out of some misguided idea of bootstrapping, just persevere and one day you will get what you want, the systems we live under don’t bear this out, but that the game is to play, not to win. And this is what Getting Over It is, with everything else stripped away, the game isn’t beating the mountain, it’s the ascent, and what’s being challenged isn’t our knowledge, our skill, our technical aptitude for a set of rules, after all, as we said earlier the rules are simple and well defined, unyieldingly so. The game isn’t to be mastered or beaten, it is to be played. In this we pit our will to continue against the emotions brought about by defeat after defeat.
This is the conflict, and it’s a quintessentially internal one. It’s your will versus your emotions, your capacity to start over set against your mistakes, boiled down, distilled, and made the game-in-itself. The core of the challenge is within ourselves; we chose to make the ascent knowing it was unforgiving and near-impenetrable, but the mountain isn’t what we’re fighting, it’s our emotions in the face of something unyielding and the desire to just give up that we’re pitting ourselves against. The mountain by contrast simply is, there’s nothing about its existence that makes us climb it, we put ourselves to that task, an internal challenge, a dare to ourselves. “See that thing? Climb it.”
The majority of games function like this in some capacity, but in Getting Over It the primary focus is this conflict in its entirety.
Part 3: “I dedicate this game to you, the one who came this far”
There’s a reaching out that’s ever-present in this game, not to be understood in a complete sense, for the artist to be read in whole like a book and thus be known, but to convey emotions and ideas that had their genesis in the mind of the artist, and in doing so overlap a single event between artist and player, and to bring the two closer in that one moment, sharing in this single experience. If there is any central thesis under the various sub-narratives of the piece, it is this.
There’s a drive as an artist, something that many of us share, a desire for the misunderstood not to be understood through conformity to something not its own, but to beckon others to join us outside of their own, if only for a moment, and to be understood if only in the experience. You don’t want the viewer to understand everything about you, to set about that task is impossible even if you tried. You want to craft something that is a part of you and invite them to see it on a meaningful level in this one facet of yourself.
Art isn’t a completed project, life in itself is the project and only in its inevitable completion can it be thoroughly analyzed and understood, therefore art as an expression of the self is never a vision of the finished piece. It is, instead, a vertical slice, a snapshot of the process of the art that is life. I wish to be understood, at a time, at a place, at an iteration of myself that can be adequately conveyed, and maybe you’ll see something in my process that mirrors yours, or perhaps in seeing my process you will come to mirror it through the experience of it. Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy is this type of piece. It’s the overlapping between your experience of the game with not only the ideas and emotions it conveys, but also the history of the author as process. This is the artist’s context, this is a small window into how the piece is made, with all of its joys and sorrows, a thing to be experienced not consumed, and in that to be drawn for a moment into the world of the author. It is the very act of recycling the junk of the process into a meaningful piece through sharing some of the emotions of the process as a whole.
This game was made for you for the author, in this way the creator is to you as you are to Diogenes, in a sense. He is at once the facilitator of your will upon the world, and you are explored in the exploration, not directly, after all, there is no window into your life as you play the game, but implicitly by taking you down the path the artist set out to have you tread. As you walk this road the artist is known in some small way by you, and you are known by him, after all, isn’t it his path that you walk? Having worn it down for you by treading through it a thousand times, and having you tread it after him a thousand times, there’s a parallelity. He knows what you have been through before you go through it, and once you are in fact through it in its entirety, your experience is mapped, because this road is mapped before you set down it.
It is a knowing of the artist in a way, and a knowing of those that follow after him in this. “Are you the man in the pot, Diogenes? Are you his hand? Are you the top of his hammer? I think not. Where your hand moves, the hammer may not follow, nor the man, nor the man’s hand. I’m this…” Bennett Foddy is beside you for the entire game, and you find player and developer offset only by time itself in this moment.
Conclusion: A Fractal of a Fractal of a Fractal…
You’re at the summit now. Are you exhausted too? If you made it all the way through to the end then you probably already know what this article is. This wasn’t all just a meta-commentary on the game itself, presenting a breakdown of it in the only appropriate fashion, as something that can only adequately convey one of the core thrusts of the piece by being needlessly lengthy, over-analytical, and obtuse (although this is certainly something that I wanted to convey). Nor is it some prolonged joke at your expense, or even a way to test your endurance to make sure you’re worthy of some secret knowledge.
Writing is hard. This is true in a way that’s difficult to convey to a reader adequately through a simple, succinct description of the act. Putting words to paper, well, that sounds easy, we put words to sounds every day of our lives, countless times. But you find yourself reading the same line you wrote ten, twenty, thirty times, it starts to lose meaning, you’ll ask yourself “what was I even trying to convey here?” and a lot of the time you’ll find that the answer eludes you. The line is highlighted, erased, started over. And, in the words of Bennett Foddy, “starting over is harder than starting up” and you’ll be starting over a lot, in fact you’ll never stop starting over. You’ll become a better writer over time of course, the restarts will become less frequent, entire pieces deleted become paragraphs, paragraphs become sentences, sentences become words, but you’ll inevitably still start over, even in the largest sense every so often. Being better is possible, being perfect isn’t. A finished work is a speedrun world record, a crystallized moment of success drifting untethered from the context of the process of that victory.
All art is like this. The illustrator reworks lines, scraps works in progress, shelves sketches and ideas, the video creator edits and trims countless takes down into the ones that don’t detract from the whole, the performer puts on a show that’s the amalgamation of mastered moves practiced and failed a thousand times. Sometimes the process is out there for you to see, but do you seek it out? Some do, most don’t. Either through choice or lack of opportunity the process is hidden, obscured, that’s the magic of the piece, of the performance. Few people want to actually see how the magician does his tricks, it robs them of their mystique once and for all. “How did you do that?” well, you don’t want to know, not really. After all, isn’t hearing about the countless times I fell from the ledge that you saw me jump to a bit tedious? So we say “oh, it’s magic”, and in a sense it is, because magic is an illusion, the curtain we use to obscure our tricks, some misdirection with some flash, and an unveiling of the result with some panache. And that’s what you really want. But what if I want you to understand the process, to understand me as an artist? I can’t convey that experience to you by simply laying my process bare, and even if I did it isn’t particularly compelling. But what if I put you through the experience, or something like it? Would you understand me then?
And games, of course, are art. Assets are made, discarded, levels built, deleted, concepts created, restarted. Few players want to watch the process of development for the next big release, to be a fly on the wall might be compelling to some, but it’s numbing to most. And this is what Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy understands. It presents process as performance. The mechanics of the game, the interactivity itself allows a glimpse into the frame of that process through experience of a parallel process, one just as frustrating, tense, cathartic. It invites you to share in the dizzying highs of surmounting a challenge, the dizzying lows of starting over, and the bitter-sweet release of completion; the work is done, the game is won, the sun has set, the deadline’s met. And in that moment, in that experience, you share something with the developer, you both overcame. There’s no checkpoint to mar the experience, saving only the most perfect of a hundred takes and remembering only that, presenting only the outcome as a writer presents the finished piece of work. This game is context. For itself, for art, for the process. And that is what you get to share in.
This piece is long, and dense, and I expect a few readers to have taken a look at the length and let it fall by the wayside, but how many pieces have I let fall by the wayside? I can’t judge, I do it too, so do other artists, so do game developers.
Do you remember what I said at the start? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, and that’s ok because I’ll say it here. This isn’t a parasocial relationship, you do understand me, the me of the moment, the me in the writing. A fractal expression of a fractal expression of myself, not because I’ve laid myself bare, although there is an element of that in all art, but because we’ve shared the process, the tension. Me in the writing, you in the reading, neither is easy. Did you stare at a sentence here or there rereading it more than once to glean all you could from it? I did. Did you find yourself having to restart a paragraph because you lost your place? I did. The art isn’t a product, the art is an experience, and experiences are rarely passive things. It’s in your interaction with them that the full weight is brought to bear, the meaning met half way and completed in tandem. What is a painting if it goes unseen? Most art is a relational thing, it has meaning in part because it is seen. It’s interpreted, pondered, deconstructed, reconstructed, taken apart and tinkered with, all inside of the mind, in that way experiencing art and creating art are very similar acts.
You understand me a bit better because I provided the framework to be understood, and you did the work to understand. And in those beautifully meaningful parallel acts we’ve both found a common ground; ignoring everything else that we might never understand about one another, we have this moment. And this moment means the world to me. This is why I create, this is what keeps me going, the drive to be understood through the experience of understanding. This moment too must eventually come to an end, but let’s linger here a little bit longer. After all, while tension can only be maintained between a beginning and an end, that end is the release of tension, the untethering of the author from the viewer. Bennett Foddy summed it up beautifully, “You’ll feel bad if you win”, will you feel sad when this article is over? I will.
So I made this not for you, but for myself, and you read this not for me but for yourself, and in that contradiction we find connection.
But for you dear reader, I’ll leave with a final quote. “I dedicate this game to you, the one who came this far. I give it to you with all my love.”
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.