Finished, overly designed video games never want to force a player to go backward. Maybe you’ll retread areas in a Metroid, but even in those situations, you are always progressing forward. Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy focuses on making players experience the emotions of losing an achievement that other games are desperate to avoid, and that’s what makes it special.
Getting Over It is about a man in a cauldron attempting to climb a mountain of garbage with a Yosemite hammer. All you control is the hammer, and you can swing it around by moving your mouse. This enables you to grab ledges and and other objects to climb higher and higher. But Bennett Foddy’s mountain is cruel, and — at any time — if you make a big enough mistake, you could tumble back all the way to the base of the mountain. And that is … frustrating.
But that is the point of Getting Over It. The “With Bennett Foddy” part of the title refers to the developer’s narration, which talks you through the experience. Foddy opens up by talking about the feeling of losing your homework after completing it the day before its due and how he made this game to help people confront those emotions. He will also give you quotes, songs, or words of encouragement as you reach new milestones or if you suddenly lose a lot of progress.
The narration and the gameplay combine to create something devious. Every time you fail or your stomach tenses up as you fall back to the start, the game acts like it is doing this for your own good. It almost makes me more angry with myself than with the clearly broken game.
Bennett Foddy is one of my favorite game designers. He’s the creator of the sprinting simulator QWOP that has you controlling a world-class athletes thighs and calf muscles in each leg independently with Q, W, O, and P on your keyboard. By giving you too much control, you instantly see the importance of disassociating the mechanics of the real world from gameplay through layers of abstraction. In a similar way, Getting Over It shows you the upside of polished game design — but it also reveals how easy it is for players to excuse a game and blame themselves.
I haven’t reached very high in Getting Over It yet, but I’m planning to get to the top of the mountain. I think I can do it, and I’m not gonna let this game stop me.