When people play games, they usually do it for an escape. Escape from a tough assignment, from needing to interact with people, or even from everyday life. As such, there are some expectations for games. We expect games to give us the flow necessary to forget our real life cares, even for a little bit. We expect games to have controls that are intuitive and seamless. We expect something fulfilling to come from our successes that can propel us forward through our real life challenges.
“Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy” denies the player these expectations. Playing through it for the first time, it feels like everything is stacked against you. Like it sets you up for failure. This makes it really easy to hate the game. However, thanks to the difficulty, “Getting Over It” provides an excellent commentary on living with a handicap and how to approach the struggles that come with having such a handicap.
Important note before I begin: When I say “handicap”, I want to stress that I am referring to mental illness. I have experience with mental illness and so use that experience to make the necessary comparisons. Though I have no experience living with a physical handicap, I use the term to allow inclusion of its similarities.
There are three elements of the game that are important to this discussion: the controls, the inspiration behind the game, and the philosophical commentary. The controls are the focal point of this argument, but important points are brought up with understanding the inspiration and taking a look at Foddy’s commentary.
The controls, to put it frankly, are awkward. It seems simple enough, as you only need to move the character forward by making circle motions with your mouse. But the sensitivity of the mouse, at default, is fairly low. Adjusting the sensitivity may help at the beginning, but can become as much of a hindrance as if you never changed it in the first place. One feature of the control settings that does seem to consistently provide some ease to the game is called “trackpad tuning”. “In my testing I determined that it is much easier to make very fine movements with a trackpad,” Foddy says in reply to a forum post asking about the feature (Source). “…I added an acceleration curve to make it less responsive to tiny movements on a mouse.”
Mouse acceleration is the number one culprit to the difficulty within the game. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the difference between this speedrunner, who uses trackpad tuning, and this speedrunner, who keeps it disabled. It’s the one thing players often blame when they don’t perform to their expectations.
What is mouse acceleration? If you were to sneeze or get startled at some point during your playthrough, the jerk of your hand in reaction to that moves your character in ways you wish it hadn’t. Sometimes it can be enough to throw you all the way back to the beginning. The only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to move the mouse slowly. All the time. However, with the help of trackpad tuning, those slip ups don’t cost you as much of your progress as they had before. “It’s fine if you prefer the trackpad tuning,” Foddy says, “…nearly all my testers preferred the mouse tuning.”
This raises the question: why not add the acceleration curve as the default within the game? If he is fine with everyone using the tuning to make it easier, why not just outright make the game easier in the first place?
“[This is] a game I made for a certain kind of person,” Foddy says for the game’s summary. “To hurt them.”
Foddy wants the game to be maddening. He wants it to enrage the player and be difficult to control. Just like his infamous “QWOP”, “[its] maddening difficulty is meant both as a critique of its predecessors as well as a tool to evoke emotion in the player.” (Source) Providing the trackpad tuning doesn’t exactly detract from the emotion he wishes to evoke. Even with trackpad tuning, the game can be rage-inducing. Without it, however, there is an added level of emotion. Without it, the player must be more deliberate with their motions. They have to be more careful with how they hold the mouse, how they move the mouse, and even how they let go of the mouse. So while the main emotion is not lost with the tuning, the added care that comes with playing on the default settings can resonate deeper and make winning all the more rewarding.
Foddy uses inspiration for many of his games. “QWOP” was based off a classic favorite of his, “Track and Field”. As Foddy says within the game’s commentary, “[‘Getting Over It’] is a homage to a free game that came out in 2002, titled ‘Sexy Hiking’.” Looking at the inspiration behind a game, the similarities and the differences, can give great insights into what stuck with Foddy, and in turn, what he wishes to stick with us. There is only one huge similarity between “Sexy Hiking” and “Getting Over It,” and that’s the hammer. You have to use the same motions to overcome the obstacles, and they’re just as awkward to use then as they are now.
The most notable difference, besides the audiovisual quality that comes from fifteen years of technological improvement, are the legs. While the character in “Sexy Hiking” has legs, the character in “Getting Over It” doesn’t. It’s just a man’s torso sticking out of a black cauldron.
By taking away the legs, Foddy creates greater difficulty. The only way you can position yourself favorably to progress is through the mouse controls. There’s no opportunity to move an inch to the left or right as simply as in “Sexy Hiking”. It’s a deliberate design choice to add to the struggle, even though it’s obvious by giving “Sexy Hiking” a quick playthrough that the benefit would be similar to the trackpad tuning: potentially useful, but not exactly a cheat to make the game easier.
While progressing through the game, Foddy offers up a philosophical commentary, explicitly discussing the struggle that he simulates through the game. “No amount of progress is guaranteed; some cliffs are too sheer and to slippery,” Foddy says. “And the player is constantly, unremittingly in danger of falling and losing everything.” The commentary continues in a similar vein as the player progresses further and further, though it does tie in the topic of disposable culture and how he believes it has affected the evolution of games:
For years now people have been predicting that games would soon be made of prefabricated objects, bought in a store and assembled into a world. For the most part, that hasn’t happened, because 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.
Foddy goes on to say that by the new culture becoming a disposable culture, the media we as a society partake in becomes just as disposable, just as ephemeral. And when change is so sudden, some developers are desperate for their game to be successful. What happens at that point, however, is that the game ends up becoming forgettable. When developers create just for attention, instead of the message they wish to spread, they’ll transform into garbage.
The struggle to make a memorable game, a game worth prolonged attention, is thus mirrored in the game. It’s an uphill battle in the midst of constant change, wondering how long it will take for everyone to forget you and if your work is meaningful enough to be remembered. (If you’re curious about the rest of Foddy’s commentary, you can play the game. Or watch this video. But you should definitely play the game.)
Living in a World of Handicaps
With struggle the focal point of the game, the next question becomes how deeply Foddy means to relate it to our everyday lives. Many have made arguments in favor of it being just a general struggle, the feeling of meeting an obstacle and trying to hurdle over it. And for the general population, it’s a fair analysis. Everyone knows what it’s like to fail, what it’s like to keep attack a problem and finding no solution for ages. The stronger argument, both through the evidence and through the emotional power, lies with the struggle of living with a handicap.
Like the character you play, you start off with a disadvantage that very few share with you. As a result of that disadvantage, you have to find alternative ways to overcome the simplest obstacles. Every day is an awkward stumble to the goals you set, and just the slightest misstep can set you back greatly, if not at the very beginning of your problem. For me, depression resonates in this message very strongly. With depression, being happy or content is awkward. Even finding the motivation to wake up and get out of bed can become awkward. And as the world moves faster, it is very easy to feel like you get left behind due to your handicap.
Sometimes, as with the trackpad tuning, there are secret solutions that don’t solve the problem but instead make it just a touch easier. Medication, light boxes, sleeping with no artificial light, exercise. The list can go on and on, and with that comes the effort of trying to find the one that works best for you. Sometimes, one solution isn’t enough. Sometimes that solution works for a little bit, but then becomes an obstacle itself as time moves forward. So you end up progressing slower through life than those around you. But with persistence and pacing, you can get over anything.
Foddy isn’t trying to show the world how to think. He isn’t trying to save the world from its descent into toxic perfectionism. What he does intend to teach, besides the pain of struggling, is that we should never give up. Just because we can’t tackle the game in one sitting doesn’t mean we’ll never be able to win. Just because we have a depressive episode doesn’t mean we’re set up to fail for the rest of our lives. So long as we allow ourselves a break from the frustration, and so long as we pick it right back up, success is right there waiting to reward us. It just requires a patience that games once taught; a patience Foddy seeks to reintroduce back into games.