Back in February, I got the Humble Bundle monthly package. One of the benefits of buying this package is the ability to access a large list of games and download them. One of those games is Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, a game that I have been hearing about a lot during that time. So, I download the game and play it...then I let it rest until recently when I decided to finally finish the game. Now, I am climbing a new mountain; except this mountain I am trying to climb is the writing of this blog while trying to solidify my thoughts on the game. So join me if you would like as I talk about my thoughts on GOIWBF.
For those who don't know, Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy is a game made by Bennett Foddy (also famous for QWOP) in which you play as a man in a cauldron using a sledgehammer to climb a mountain. The game takes inspiration from an older game called Sexy Hiking, in which you essentially do the same thing in that game as well. While you are climbing in Getting Over It, Bennett Foddy gives commentary about various topics such as the inspirations to this game, frustration, current video game culture, and others. He also says quotes from various people and occasionally plays a song whenever you have a big setback.
When I first started this game, I thought it was just a funny meme game where the commentary was mainly going to be about frustration as the game mocks me on my failures. By the time I have finished, I found out I was wrong on my prediction. Through a man climbing a mountain in the most impracticable way imaginable, I found that this game is one of the most real games I have played in a while. So, what do I mean by that?
At around the beginning parts of the game, Bennett Foddy starts to talk about Sexy Hiking, a game similar to Getting Over It. He talks about how difficult the game is, which then leads to him talking about the first level. In the first level of this game, you start by trying to climb over a tree. Despite a simple objective, it is an obstacle that has proven to be too difficult for many. It is at this point when he says, "Most obstacles in video games are fake - you can be completely confident in your ability to get through them, once you have the correct method or the correct equipment, or just by spending enough time. In that sense, every pixellated obstacle in Sexy Hiking is real." Looking back at this quote, it got me thinking about video game obstacles. What is a real obstacle in a video game? What is an obstacle I have faced in a video game where the only way of conquering it is to simply bang your head against it over and over again until you eventually get it? A lot of obstacles in video games can be solved by lowering the difficulty, changing around equipment or skills, going a different path, or sometimes even luck. But few games have I ever been given one single path with no other option but to get past it with no option in difficulty or equipment. Just like Sexy Hiking, this game doesn't compromise with you. When you are presented with an obstacle in this game, you have no other option but to get past it, and the only thing that can help you is developing a method to get past it. That is one of the many things I love about this game. Everything you see in this game feels real, and every difficulty I faced in this game felt natural. This game isn't difficult in the sense that enemies have high health and damage or that you are constantly being threatened with death; its difficulty comes from the fact that climbing with a sledgehammer is hard. It's difficulty comes from the fact that climbing in general is hard, and that is what makes this game and its difficulty feel so real.
Directly after this quote, he says, "The obstacles in Sexy Hiking are unyielding, and that makes the game uniquely frustrating. But I'm not sure Jazzuo (the creator of Sexy Hiking) intended to make a frustrating game - the frustration is just essential to the act of climbing..." When I first heard this quote, I started to think about games that gives you various feelings. Are games that give you feelings like frustration or sadness designed to give you these emotions or are they just the outcome of your experience? Even though I have been writing blogs and reviews for over a year, I really got caught up in this basic question I feel like I should've had the answer for long ago. When it comes to this game, Foddy marketed it as a game meant to hurt people and something that will make you feel new kinds of frustrations you have never felt before, but I don't believe he made this frustrating game just to be frustrating. I believe he made this game as a homage to Jazzuo's game which in turn made it a difficult and frustrating game, and he uses this frustration to criticize modern video games. And this is where I want to get into the strongest feeling I have about this game: the fact that I got a feeling out of this game.
Later on into the game, Foddy says this quote that has stuck with me more than anything else in the game, "What's the feeling like? Are you stressed? I guess you don't hate if you got this far. Feeling frustrated, it's underrated." Feeling frustrated, it's underrated... After that, he gets to a part where an orange is resting on a table and he says, "An orange is a sweet juicy fruit locked inside a bitter peel. That's not how I feel about a challenge. I only want the bitterness. Its coffee, its grapefruit, its licorice." This quote is the thing that got me to not only finish and love the game, but to play it more and even write what I am writing in this blog. I begin to realize that the feelings I sometimes have while playing a game that are negative are still feelings in the end. Now believe it or not, this game didn't make me as frustrated as others (at least the first time around anyways), but I still had a feeling of subtle frustration for the game that made me lose interest in the game for a little while. But even though this feeling of frustration is a negative feeling, I actually love and cherish it now. But why?
Before the quote previously stated, Foddy said this, "When games were new, they wanted a lot from you, daunting you, taunting you, resetting you and delaying you. Players played stoically. Now everyone's turned off by that. They want to burn through it quickly, a quick fix for the fickle. Some tricks for the clicks of the feckless." When I heard "feeling frustrated, it's underrated," I started to think about the countless amount of games I have played that have taken my time but has given me nothing in terms of any emotions or feelings. In my eyes now, new games (not all new games) feel dumbed down to mindless gameplay that will give you many ways to easily pass any obstacles in your way. It's goal is to appeal to everyone, even the most casual of gamers, and in turn it offers something that is fun but isn't challenging. If you fail, it will only set you back a tiny bit or not even set you back at all, and if it's too difficult then you can just set the difficulty lower. Games don't want to challenge you because to many, even me, frustration ensues and that leads to people leaving their game. But this game has me seeing this feeling of frustration or this difficulty as the life of the game. If a game doesn't challenge you or push you, then what are you going to get out of your experience with the game other than some time wasted (excluding narrative games)?
Now the one thing that is great about frustration or difficulty is that getting past it is a great feeling. Sometimes my feeling of getting past frustration is more of a 'finally' type feeling than joy, but still getting past frustration or difficulty can leave me with a good feeling in my chest. Cuphead got me feeling joy every time I see 'knockout' roll across the screen and I can remember my heart pounding when I was the last standing in CoD: Ghosts' extinction mode and I survived when I was younger. The feeling after frustration is great, but I don't want this blog to be about that. Because the quote that got me to write this blog wasn't me thinking about the feeling after frustration, it was the frustration itself. Just like Bennett Foddy said; he doesn't want the sweet juicy fruit, he wants the bitter peel. Now where I differ from Foddy is that I do want that fruit, but where I realized I am similar with him is that I also want the peel. In an age of mindless games, the feeling of frustration made me love this game. It made the game feel real to me.
Now, their is some bias in my train of thought because I like to rock climb. I am by no means a big rock climber, but I do climb regularly and I really enjoy climbing. But when I really started to climb, I learned about how difficult climbing is. Once you get past the basic rock climbing most know, you get to rock climbing that has difficulty rankings and start to throw crazy obstacles in your way. Climbing for me went from an easy climb to a crazy difficult obstacle. Their were paths in rock climbing that I was constantly stuck on and I would get frustrated at myself for not being able to get past it. But these feelings were real, and my frustration would make me want to go back and keep trying until I get it or get too tired and come back another time and try again. The challenge was what made rock climbing so fun and the frustration fueled me to keep going. When I first thought about the parallels of rock climbing and this game, I just thought about how your goal is to climb a mountain, kind of like rock climbing. But looking at my experiences with rock climbing and this game, I realized just how alike the two are. The challenge and the frustration of failure makes rock climbing and makes this game better. And since I climbed alone, no one was there to belay me and hold me place when I got tired, and nothing is holding anybody in bouldering, so whenever I failed I started back at square one, something that can happen to me in this game (and it did). My new-found experience with my love of frustration was something that has actually been sitting there for awhile, but it was this game that opened my eyes to that thought process in video games, and that is why I love this game. You don't even have to be a rock climber to experience this too.
When I did finish this game, I was wiped mentally. Just like in rock climbing, I reached the top and I needed a breather. That is where I got the most interesting end-game gift I have ever been given: a chatroom. It was a simple little chatroom that can only be accessed if you beat the game, and when you leave you can't go back in until you beat the game again. Anyways, when I first entered the chat, I was greeted by someone who also just beat the game recently, but this wasn't this person's first time. That was when I was introduced to the idea of playing the game again. I couldn't possibly imagine the idea of playing again, as for it took me eight hours to complete the game... so I played the game and beat it two or three more times and each time took around twenty-five to forty-five minutes. The fact that it took me a small fraction of the amount of time to complete the game was crazy to me. While I did find completing the game that much faster to be crazy cool to me, I realized that I might lose that feeling of frustration and challenge I cherished my first time around. But every time I play the game now, I find myself even more frustrated, but the frustration comes from trying to complete the game as fast as possible instead of just trying to complete the game. Every time I play this game now, the messages I got from this game didn't weaken, they strengthened. Just like in rock climbing, when you complete one challenge, a new one that is more difficult will present itself, and that is exactly what happened here. Not only did this game convey a strong message to me, it backed it up and continues to back it up every time I play, and that is what I love about this game.
Every time you have a big setback, either a quote by Foddy or someone famous will be read, or a song will play. The song played the most (and is played at the end) is Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad by Cliff Carlisle. One of the first few lines in the song is "I'm goin' down the road feelin' bad, and I ain't gonna be treated this a-way." This to me is the experience I have with new games. I go through the game feeling frustrated, and I don't want to be treated this way. But that is not this game. This song plays whenever you fail, almost mocking you because you are being treated this way. But by the end when the song plays for one last time while the credits rolled, being treated this way was what made the game great. It made me feel bad, but it made me feel something, and that is what makes this game real. It didn't treat me like I am some mindless zombie playing simple games because I can't handle frustration, it offered a game that as a result of its difficulty gave me frustration but didn't make things easier because it was too tough. It's a game that told me that feeling frustrated is underrated, and showed me just how underrated it was. While I still enjoy the fruit, Bennett Foddy told me just how great the peel can be too, and even a peel by itself is better than nothing at all.