If you’re curious as to what recovering from an addiction feels like, I recommend playing “Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy,” or at the very least, watching a playthrough of the game. I understand how absurd it might sound to some of my readers when I claim that watching someone else play a computer game has significantly helped my pursuit of sobriety, but stay with me. Many of the lessons I’ve learned are applicable to achieving any difficult task, or reaching any distant goal, or getting over any “it.”
The game is simple enough. The main character is a shirtless, bald, sledgehammer-wielding man whose lower half of his body hides within a black cauldron. No directions are offered at the start. There’s no tutorial for how to control the character. Curiosity leads the player to explore controls for oneself. By moving the cursor on the screen, the player controls where the head of the sledgehammer goes. Players eventually learn how to swing the hammer to move the man in the cauldron and progress forward until they encounter a tree. By careful manipulation of the cursor, one can lift the man up into and eventually over the tree, overcoming the game’s first obstacle and queuing the in-game commentary by creator Bennett Foddy.
Throughout the rest of the game, as the player continues to meticulously climb more and more obstacles, Bennett offers his own thoughts on why he created the game, where the concept came from, the significance of “b-games,” and gratuitously difficult video games. Foddy’s rambles become more contemplative—existential, even—as the player continues to climb. Upon reaching a new height, Bennett’s voice will ring once again, picking up from where he left off.
In theory, this game might not sound so difficult. All one has to do is climb a mountain and listen to some commentary. I promise you, this game is not easy. The controls, while simple, are incredibly wonky. One slight mistake, one slip of the hand, has the potential to launch the player off the side of a sheer cliff face, plummeting man, cauldron, and hammer all the way back down to the beginning of the game. Hours worth of climbing can be lost in a matter of seconds. In other games, the player might have the option of force-quitting the game and reopening it to a previous save-file before they had fallen. “Getting Over It” has no manual save-files; as Bennett warns the player early in the game, “Don’t worry, I’ll save your progress, always. Even your mistakes.” If the player manages to slip and fall, nothing can be done to undo the mistake.
On top of how infuriating falling already is, Foddy will add his own remarks on how damaging the fall must be on the payer’s psyche. Further falls will be met with quotes from famous poets, authors, and other public figures on failure and suffering. Occasionally, great falls will trigger songs from the early twentieth-century—folk songs with taunting titles like “Whoops a Doodle” and “Poor Me Blues” or “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad.” I am not kidding when I say it’s possible to fall literally all the way back to the start of the game, even after hours of climbing. In fact, falling that far isn’t just possible. It’s not even just likely. Falling back down to the beginning is inevitable. It’s not a terrible mistake the player will make only once. Most players on their first play through will unavoidably fling themselves back to beginning over and over and over again.
Does that sound like a fun game? It might to some. Whether or not one finds it fun, the game is overwhelmingly stressful. That’s kind of the point, too. Foddy remarks in his trailer for the game:
“Why did I make this? This horrible hike up an impossible mountain. I could have made something that you would have liked. A game that was empowering, that would save your progress and inch you steadily forward. Since success is delicious, that would have been wise. Instead, I must confess: this isn’t nice. It tastes of bitterness. It’s capricious, it sets setbacks for the ambitious. It lacks lenience, it’s bracing, it’s inhumane. But not everyone’s the same. I created this game for a certain kind of person…to hurt them.”
“Hurt them” it does well. Watching people play this game, much less playing it for oneself, is painful enough. The entire endeavor is a drama. Every inch gained or lost is a rollercoaster of emotion, completely dependent on the actions of the player. Unlike other games, everything is in the player’s hands; this game doesn’t play itself. Very few mistakes can be blamed on the game. If a player falls, it’s solely on them. If a player reaches a new height, it’s by their own skill and effort and patience. Falls are heartbreaking, but success is where the real stress is found. Even the joy and excitement of reaching a new highest point is tainted by knowing that one bad move, one minuscule mistake can send the player all the way down to as low as he or she has ever been. In fact, the higher one climbs, the greater the dread of failure becomes; the more tangible hope is and the more visible progress is, the more fear eats away at the player.
Indulge me as I take a brief aside. Addiction’s a bitch. I’ve struggled to describe the process of fighting, falling, recouping, starting over, losing hope, finding new motivation, confessing, venting, and everything else that comes with combatting an addiction for years. Despite my efforts, none of my rambling could ever communicate my feelings better than that crude three-word sentence. Even then I failed to communicate much. I find the term ‘bitch’ vague and repulsive, but it was the best I could manage. My infrequent use of the term added to its weight. My hatred for the word communicated (to myself, at least, if not others) how deeply I despised warring against addiction. Since I could find no analogous experience to express my feelings, “It’s a bitch” had to suffice—that is, until recently.
Addiction is like playing “Getting Over It.” This absurd realization hit me after watching a speedrunner by the name of GrandPooBear livestream his playthrough of the game on Twitch over the course of the last month or two. I’ll add links to the recordings of his playthrough on YouTube below for anyone who’s curious (be warned: his language is appropriate to the rage he feels while playing). Watching him climb and fall and start over and vent and rage and laugh and walk away and come back and finally beat the game was a wild journey. Bennett Foddy’s commentary throughout the whole game was brilliant, and though I loved his thoughts on gaming in general, his words spoke nowhere near as loud as the experience of watching Poo play and react. More still, I actually got to watch him play live and send comments to him, encouraging and talking and joking with him as he climbed. When he fell, everyone in chat was devastated with him. When he finally got past an obstacle that had been giving him trouble for hours, everyone celebrated with him. It was incredible.
It’s been a few weeks since he beat the game, and in my quiet times, I’ve reflected on how the game resonated with me. I’ve made a list of lessons “Getting Over It” has taught me. It’s not exhaustive, but I think it’s solid. If you’re considering playing the game for yourself, it’ll serve as good advice.
Climbing by yourself is torture. There’s no motivation to keep going after a failure. There’s no one to share your disappointment and frustration with when you fall. Play this game with your friends. Play it with an audience. Share the success and the failure. It’ll be way easier to keep climbing.
Surround yourself with an audience that wants you to succeed. Encouragement is better than taunting.
As long as you have enough supporters, don’t completely block out those that don’t believe in you. Prove the haters wrong. Show them you can do it. You might encourage cynical doubters to try climbing for themselves. You are evidence to the world that getting over it is possible.
Falling isn’t just unavoidable, it’s integral in learning how to climb.
The best way to learn how to climb is to just go for it and figure out how it works along the way.
Progress isn’t just climbing higher than you’ve ever gotten, it’s getting back to the highest point faster than before.
Never lose sight of the final goal. The game’s not won till (spoilers) you’ve left the world. Until then, keep climbing.
Sometimes, your curiosity will take you all the way back to the bottom, further back than you’ve ever fallen before. If that happens, don’t quit. Start over. Remember your progress. Remember how far you went before you fell. Know it’s possible to get back there. Keep climbing. With that being said…
Be incredibly careful with where you let your curiosity lead you. Know the risks. Weigh the possible outcomes. Keep your goal in mind. Don’t be afraid to test new solutions or practice more difficult climbing techniques.
Always consider the consequences of your actions. Certain strategies are riskier than others. A technique used in one context might not be safe or appropriate in another. On the flip side, certain scenarios demand bold, dangerous, risky techniques. Do what you have to do to keep climbing.
Focusing on climbing higher is not the same thing as focusing on not falling. The former allows for falling and for starting over. The former only allows one to stop playing after the game has been beaten. The latter means that any loss of altitude is a failure and a loss. The latter disregards any slipping as a lack of progress and not beneficial. A very slim percentage of this game is spent covering new territory. If you’re only considering the time spent covering new ground as progress, a vast majority of the game will be played with the mindset of “I’m a failure right now.” If, on the other hand, you treat each fall as an opportunity to climb a section again, to improve your skill at getting over that obstacle, and to better acquaint yourselves with the game’s mechanics, the only time one is actually failing is when one is falling. The moment you regain control, whether that be at the very beginning or only a few feet from where you slipped, you can start climbing again.
Does any of this actually matter? To me, totally. Watching GrandPooBear play with such focus and determination and yet stay lighthearted has had a huge impact on my mindset. As long as I’m trying to climb, I’m making progress. Bennett Foddy’s quote from earlier really is a statement about reality: “I’ll save your progress, always. Even your mistakes.” Implicit in Foddy’s message is that mistakes are a part of progress. Falling, though it’s a setback from achieving the ultimate goal, is still progress, so long as the goal remains. In my constant and never-ending war against addiction, remembering that keeps me from despair. Relapses and slips are, and will always be, heartbreaking. Foddy’s first words you hear ring true: “There’s no feeling more intense than starting over…Starting over is harder than starting up.” But relapsing can’t erase the progress that’s been saved. Each time I fall, I get to practice getting up again. Progress is slow and painful and not always visible, but it’s always real.
“Getting Over It” isn’t merely about getting over the literal obstacles in the game. It’s about getting over the frustration. It’s about getting over the mindset that falling is equal to losing, and that success and progress are synonymous. They’re related, but they’re not the same. It’s about getting over yourself and learning how to laugh and start over and forgive yourself and learn in the face of mistakes. It’s about getting over the teasing and taunting of those that mock your slips. If I might take this to ridiculous levels (if I haven’t already), this infuriating $8 computer game is about becoming the kind of person that’s capable of “getting over it.” It is for me, at least.
Much thanks to Bennett Foddy and GrandPooBear.
“Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy” on Steam
GrandPooBear on YouTube and Twitch
Part 1 of Poo’s playthrough