by Isaac Smith
(Disclaimer: I have never suffered from a disability and only know what I have seen, read, and been told by people who do. Please don’t deride me for discussing Getting Over It in this context, though please do educate me if I put forth any misconceptions about it.)
Bennett Foddy does not like making easy games. His first real claim to fame was the game QWOP, where you’re trying to run a race but you have to control the individual leg muscles of your runner. It’s brutal and I can’t recommend you play it. Getting Over It, his newest game, seems pretty similar on the surface. You’re a guy trapped from the waist down in a cauldron, whose only movement implement is a hammer, which you can swing, pull and push in different ways. You have to climb a mountain and get through a pretty ridiculous obstacle course to complete the game.
It is an exercise in frustration, and the calm, meandering tone of Bennett’s narration about failure and game design only makes it more infuriating. You can be stuck at one obstacle for so long, only to get over it and immediately fall four or five obstacles further back. Bennett chimes in with, “Ooh, you lost a lot of progress on that one.” Thanks. Jerk.
But presuming you’re persistent enough, you complete the game and get to hear the conclusion of Foddy’s rambling thoughts about culture and game design. Then you get deposited back at the beginning for another round. If you beat the game fifty times, you get a golden cauldron. It’s purely aesthetic, it doesn’t help you in any way.
The second time you go through the game, though, things are different. You get over many obstacles more quickly, and even if you fail and fall, the deep, resounding certainty that you’re able to beat it (after all, you did it once) carries you to the next level, and the next, until you’ve beaten it a second time. 48 left to go.
At this point, I decided to watch a speedrun of the game. The current world record, which can still be improved significantly, is 1:56. One minute and fifty-six seconds to go through this game. Here it is.
When I finished, it hit me. Foddy accidentally made a game about learning to live with a disability.
Games, as a rule, give you the tools you need to beat them. Getting Over It gives you a hammer. If you were pretty much any other video game character, this would be a trivial task. Heck, if he got out of the cauldron (or even dropped his hammer, as some have mentioned), many obstacles would be easier. But, like losing the use of a limb or having a permanent injury, you are only given what you’re given, and you have to figure out how to make your way in the world in spite of that.
Getting Over It also highlights how difficult that is. The frustration of having to do the same thing again and again, struggling more and more, only to come tumbling back down… it’s more than most people can bear. The resolve and patience you must have to complete this game is immense. It seems that even though you’re progressing through the game, you’re not really getting better, and it’s sheer luck that is getting you through. Even success can feel empty, and Foddy says as much. The point he made about this game’s design is that it’s meant to hurt.
But then you beat it. And you begin again. And those first obstacles? They fly by like they weren’t even there, because you have gotten better. You have improved. The third time you go through, it’s even easier. And the fourth, and so on. Once you get there, you’re going through this once impossible obstacle course with relative ease. Sure, you might not be able to do it in under two minutes like Mr. World Record, but you can do it because you’ve learned how to manipulate yourself and the world around you, with the meager tool you’ve been given.
On some level, playing this game really helped me understand both the frustration of having to overcome obstacles with a disability. To understand that it doesn’t really feel like it’s getting easier. To be able to clearly remember times when those obstacles wouldn’t have mattered (had I been, say, Samus or Mario). Getting Over It also helped me understand how people without fingers can learn to draw, or people without legs can become dancers. If your willpower is strong enough, you can begin to learn to navigate through the immense, unfair obstacles to get somewhere you really want to be. That’s a powerfully good message.
Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “But it’s a game. You can quit anytime, and people with disabilities are forced to deal with it. It’s not the same at all!” And you’re right! Sort of. It’s true that I can leave this game to go be Sonic or a cybernetically enhanced parkour master. But Getting Over It will remain incomplete, until I complete it. In this way, it also helps me empathize a lot with the people who haven’t overcome their disabilities. We see people all the time who have given in to despair. To end up in a wheelchair when they feasibly could have walked again, or to end up addicted to opiates because they can’t fight through the pain any more. In the tiny microcosm of Getting Over It, the summit is there, and the mountain is there between us and our goal, whether we decide to get over it or not. But is the summit worth the frustration and failure of attempting to ascend the mountain?
If you’re not absolutely sure of that, you quit. And in that small way, I understood a little bit better all the people who’ve given up on getting over their disabilities. A lot of times, we vilify those people for being weak. If I ragequit and uninstall this game, what does that say about me? Would I have the courage and stubbornness to try, day after day, to wiggle my toes after an accident that left me paralyzed? Would I be able to deal with not being able to, day after day, in the hope that I might one day walk again? I don’t know, but Getting Over It made me think about it.
I know that Bennett Foddy didn’t mean for his game to provoke this kind of thought. He just wanted to make another silly, punishing slog-fest that seems ridiculous in its difficulty. Maybe that’s all he did. But now that I’ve seen this game and felt its frustration in my bones, I can’t help but see it as a stark allegory about the struggle handicapped people face every day. In the end, though, its real message is not about the mountain that you’ve been given… it’s about Getting Over It.