A lot of people detest spoilers. When you’re in no hurry to watch a certain movie, but you know you have to go see it because if anybody tells you how it ends you’re not gonna to be able to enjoy it. Or when a new season of a show you like just came out on Netflix, and you have to tread carefully on social media. Bear in mind that you can save this video, buy the game, try it out for as long as you want and then come back if you feel like it. My accent’s not gonna get any better, but I’ll still be here.
Excellent, thanks for sticking with me. The game you are watching is called Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy. Its author, Bennett Foddy, appears several times in the game as a voice narrating different aspects of the work. Sometimes he talks about his creative decisions, sometimes about digital culture, sometimes he reads a famous quote about failure and perseverance when the player makes a mistake and loses minutes or hours of progress, which happens quite a lot.
In a metaphorical sense, criticism always analyzes a videogame as a text, that is to say, as a system of expressive devices arranged in such a way as to convey something. But this game is also literally a text, since a huge part of the experience are Foddy’s interventions speaking directly to the player. Curiously enough, a lot of people who know about this game think it contains absolutely no words. Perhaps it’s because the game is so popular on YouTube and its most letsplay-friendly elements are its bizarre aesthetic or the letsplayer’s over-the-top screams of exasperation.
This incomplete yet popular picture of Getting Over It as a wordless game relates it to other hard, skill-driven, attention-based games like Dark Souls or Super Meat Boy, while for me it has always had more to do with other games narrated by their authors, like Davey Wreden’s The Beginner’s Guide or Joni Kittaka’s Secrets Agent, where the work is mostly about the work itself, the medium it belongs to and the cultural conjuncture it’s located at.
Criticism traditionally attempts to ignore what the author might think their work conveys. The author has already done their part, namely creating the work. Now it’s the work’s turn to convey something or not. A game narrated like this posits an extra problem, because an integral part of the work is the author’s explicit opinion. I can ignore what the author Bennett Foddy says in interviews and such, but I’m bound to consider what the character Bennett Foddy says in the dialogues he has in the game.
On the one hand, what the narrator in Getting Over It does is generate warmth. The game is filled with bizarre objects, inhuman or unsettlingly near-human, static yet threatening, and it’s easy for the player to feel too alienated to become emotionally engaged in the mission of the man in the pot (whose name, by the way, is revealed near the game’s ending in one of my favorite moments). Between the player and this strange world, then, is a bridge that is the relaxing voice of this man with an Australian accent, who tells us we can stop the game whenever we don’t feel entirely up to it, who after certain victories thanks us for having become so involved, and who makes it clear that we’re establishing an important relationship with him. If we didn’t have Foddy’s voice, or if we had it but it didn’t irradiate the warmth it does, the only emotion to evoke would be the frustration of falling down and losing progress. I suspect, unfortunately, that for a lot of people this game is effectively that and nothing more. I hope, naively, to convince some people of the contrary.
On the other hand, the narrator contextualizes the mission of the game, the reason why we’re trying so hard. This isn’t particularly new: most videogame narrative is considered contextualization, an easy trick for the player to feel her actions moment to moment have some meaning or importance. What’s special about Getting Over It is that Foddy doesn’t try to convince us that our odyssey has meaning, but on the contrary he’s there to dissipate any suspicion that it might. If we suspect the objects are telling us a story we can’t really understand, Foddy’s there to assure us they only represent the arbitrariness of the multiple elements that converge in digital spaces. If we hope that some of these obstacles lead to a reward that makes it all worth it, Foddy’s there to explain that to him the value is in there not being a reward.
I’m so happy that you’ve come this far. There are a couple of loose considerations left and then we should be wrapping up.
A couple of years ago a friend of mine, Santiago, you may know him from Matajuegos too, was making a game about a boat that included famous quotes that the player could choose in order to determine her ideological profile. One day I joked that the game should ignore the player’s actions and just return a random high percentage of fascist alignment. Some months later I took that joke and made it into a game called Cobar that really doesn’t last much longer than the 60 seconds required to execute the joke. Since then I’ve made quite a few games with the same creative premise: I’ll take an indie Argentinian game, usually made by someone close to me, and I’ll make a parody game as a homage. Getting Over It, according to Foddy’s narration, was born of a very similar premise, based on Jazzuo’s 2002 game Sexy Hiking. I have to admit, the way Getting Over It moves me is due at least in part to this affinity in artistic pursuit.
Foddy narrates that making games feels like sculpting in quick-set cement. In the process of modeling the figure and testing what looks good, the material hardens and begins to resist change. At this point you can’t change the game world without breaking it into pieces and starting from scratch. When I’m making parody games I feel I’m doing just that, beginning to create with the broken pieces of something that had already been put together. It’s what Foddy did with Sexy Hiking, conceptually, and to some degree what he did digitally as he built a mountain out of hundreds of 3D models downloaded from all over the place. In my experience, this does not feel like starting from scratch. It feels as if every piece of cement retained a spark of the affection the original creator gave her creation.
Trusty hammer, dearest friend,
let us climb to victory.
Through these models in 3D
we’ve done nothing but ascend.
It was hard, reaching the end,
but what all that challenge brought
is this truth that now I’ve got:
Nowhere in the whole of art
there’s been ever so much heart
inside such a modest pot.
Perhaps out of stoic enlightenment, perhaps out of choice-supportive bias, but when you try to hook yourself on the same bucket with a meter-long hammer for the fourteenth time knowing full well that there is absolutely no reward on the other side, you begin to understand that true gratification is in the act of climbing itself, and in the capacity we have, mother of all creative endeavor, to take an arbitrary task and imbue it with profound meaning using nothing more than our force of will.
I dedicate this video-essay to Mauro, Fran, Nacho, Fede, and Pablo, my climbing partners, and to Iliana, who loves winning so much that she finished the game an hour before me, someone who loves to lose.