Getting Over It With Bennet Foddy: A Somewhat Belated Commentary

Yes, I’m sure that anyone who cares has probably already seen a million rage reaction compilations on YouTube, but this isn’t about that.

Rather, it’s about how different my experience has been so far, since I decided to try the copy I got in a Humble Bundle, and the observations that stem from that.

For people who aren’t familiar with it, Getting Over It With Bennet Foddy is a game where you have to climb a mountain while being hamstrung by odd controls, and there are plenty of opportunities to lose a lot of progress to a single mistake along the way.

While you’re doing it, you hear periodic narrated commentary from the game designer. Now, what everyone probably remembers best in reaction videos is the bits of commentary which are pretty obviously designed to troll players who are prone to raging. Calm encouragements purpose-built to invoke responses such as “I’d like to see you try!” and useless advice such as a reminder that you’ve already done this once, so just do the same thing again.

However, sprinkled among those, as rewards for reaching new progress milestones, are bits of philosophical commentary on the nature of Internet culture which I find surprisingly engaging… but I’m getting ahead of myself…

My first encounter with this game was when it showed up on my subscription to James & Mike Mondays… It looked like the kind of game I’d hate, but I was curious enough that I decided to watch a few other videos before I put it out of mind as just another “not in GOG.com’s guaranteed DRM-free catalogue. Not something I care about.”

That was in March of 2018. Around the beginning of June, 2019, I remembered that’d I’d obtained a copy in a Humble Bundle and decided to try it out of curiosity.

Now, the first thing that’s very important to understand is the mindset I went into this with. I’m not a competitive person, I’m not the “spend a ton of effort training to get that perfect play-through” type, and I strive to not let myself get riled up. When I started playing this, it was purely a matter of curiosity. I just planned to see how my abilities compared to the YouTubers I’d watched, try it until the novelty wore off, and then set it aside to play something more worthwhile.

The first thing I noticed was that, the first few times Bennet tried to make me rage, I actually laughed out loud. The second, that I was doing better than the youtubers I’d watched. The game seems to reward patience and methodical, carefully measured use of the mouse… something which probably doesn’t make for good LPing when made into a habit.

At the same time, as you progress farther, you’re introduced to more and more obstacles which require fast reactions. It reminds me of VVVVVV in that VVVVVV is exhilarating if you’re well-rested but frustrating if you’re not and it all comes down to whether you can walk the tightrope of having to move quickly, but without haste. (In VVVVVV, there are areas which seem tuned so that they must be traversed at a very specific speed that sits just in between the two speeds your tired mind prefers to gravitate to.)

In fact, when I really get into it, there’s a meditative quality to it. The more I play it, and the more I think about the blend of philosophical insight and trollish comments, the more I get the impression that the game is specifically designed to test the player in a more philosophical sense than usual… to “separate the boys from the zen”, per se… that it’s not a game meant to make people rage, but, rather, that getting up the mountain is secondary, and the primary challenge is one of mental discipline.

That would also fit with the dual meaning of the title. To win the game, you must achieve a state of emotional distance from it… you must “get over it”.

(Though, from the commentary, I also get the impression that it’s intended to be an homage to the design principles that went into arcade games and the early console games they inspired.)

In that sense, I don’t see it as a game that you’re supposed to try to beat but, rather, an exercise which you do a little of every day and then, when you finally find yourself on top of the mountain, it takes you by surprise. (While I won’t look up a spoiler, it does leave me curious about what note the game ends on. Does it acknowledge that potential to find yourself feeling lost and adrift after “arriving at the horizon, to find that nothing is beyond it”?)

For that reason, I think the “I’ll understand if you have to take a break” early on is actually a subtle hint that, like classic point-and-click adventure games, a wise player is supposed to play it in short stints. (In the case of a point-and-click, to sleep on the answers to puzzles. In the case of a game like this, because you need to maintain the patience and tranquility necessary to play well… and everyone starts to get sloppy and impatient sooner or later.)

That said, the game’s not perfect. Whether it’s a bug, a bad interaction with my system, or Bennet deciding to go a little too far, I’ve noticed that the game’s mouse sensitivity seems to be variable… or at least purposefully counter-intuitive.

Sometimes, I have to move the mouse a lot to get a small amount of motion when the cursor is close to the centre of the character model but, on other occasions, I find it difficult not to flail around when I’m using almost no mouse movement at all. Given that it seems to stay consistent for long periods of time, for all I know, it’s just some kind of input translation bug related to my running the Linux version fullscreened to 1920×1080 on a three-monitor desktop that’s 4480px wide. (It wouldn’t be the first time a game hadn’t been properly tested on multi-head Linux systems.)

I seriously hope that it’s not intentional, as a way to turn your ability to form muscle memory against you, because intentionally programming it so that, I sometimes see the hammer whip around faster than anticipated at just the right time to knock me out of position while, other times, I see it lag just in time to make me miss… that would be a step too far. I don’t mind the difficulty and subtle trolling, but a game’s mechanics should be fair.

In the end, I don’t know whether the game will hold my interest long enough to reach the end, given the stable of other games I can turn to when I just want a moment of “focused calm” with no hurry to “beat the whole game” (Like Hexcells, Sudoku, Tetris, Dr. Mario, and Shisen-sho), but I certainly feel richer for having played it.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Getting Over It With Bennet Foddy: A Somewhat Belated Commentary by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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