The Quiet Meditation of Getting Over It
What the game ‘Getting Over It’ taught me about loss and setback.
Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy is a 2017 platformer game about a shirtless man in a cauldron climbing a mountain with a hammer. The goal of the game is to reach the top of the mountain.
After passing over this game in 2017, I just came back to it and started playing last week. I feel like this game has taught me something about how I deal with setbacks and loss, which is why I feel compelled to write about it.
What Makes This Game Unique
Getting Over It has a reputation of being highly skill-based, disdainfully unforgiving, and generally unpleasant to play. According to the developer, Bennett Foddy, here are some of the reasons you would want to play his game:
- Between 2 and ∞ hours of agonizing gameplay, depending. The median time to finish for my playtesters was 5 hours, but the mean was closer to ∞.
- Lose all your progress, over and over.
- Feel new types of frustration you didn’t know you were capable of.
This is the game trailer, where Bennett says he created this game “for a certain kind of person - to hurt them”:
This game is all about losing progress, and it is not uncommon for a new player to lose hours of progress by falling all the way down the mountain at the wrong spots. It makes for some crazy rage clips on YouTube (language warning):
Every time the player falls on the mountain and loses progress, Bennett Foddy narrates a philosophical tidbit over an iconically placid jazz arrangement. There are dozens of quotes from the game, but here are two that resonate with me a lot:
You cannot now believe that you will ever feel better. But this is not true. You are sure to be happy again.
Knowing this, truly believing it, will make you less miserable now.
— Abraham Lincoln
Having gone through rough periods in my life, I recognize that when I am feeling down, it’s sometimes hard for me to believe that I will be happy again. This is a trick that depression plays on your mind. But if I take care of myself and look for joy in the right places, it always finds its way back into my life, in time. Getting Over It spoon-feeds you these moments of feeling frustrated and down on yourself, and it’s up to you how you react to them.
Patience is the foundation of eternal peace.
Make anger your enemy. Harm comes to those who know only victory and do not know defeat.
Find fault with yourself and not with others. It is in falling short of your own goals that you will surpass those who exceed theirs.
— Tokugawa Ieyasu
In the context of the game, the quote “Find fault with yourself and not with others” is very apt because Getting Over It is a game of skill. This means that every in-game setback is the player’s fault, or at least could have been prevented by the player with more skillful gameplay. This is part of what can make the game so frustrating - there is no one else to blame but yourself.
The most successful players are able to realize this. They take every setback as a chance for improvement, an opportunity to practice their technique so that they are less likely to fall again the next time. The less successful players scream and smash their keyboards against the wall, then sit down to make the same climbing mistakes over and over again.
Even though Getting Over It does not save progress in a meaningful way, progress is saved metaphorically in your muscle memory, because the real progress in this game is not your height up the mountain, but the climbing technique that you’ve built and perfected session after session.
Because a slight misstep in Getting Over It can cause the player to lose minutes or hours of progress, the game demands intense concentration. Every swing of the climbing hammer must be planned and deliberate.
If a player loses progress, that often leads to frustration, frustration leads to carelessness, and carelessness leads to further loss of progress. Success in this game is to break that cycle. To maintain a patient climbing cadence, to not climb carelessly in trying to hastily make up for loss.
When I climb in Getting Over It, I climb with the acceptance that my work may have been for naught. When I fall in Getting Over It, I fall with the realization that the more effectively one can deal with loss, the more quickly one can return to a calm and effective mental state.
To me, falling in this game is somewhat cathartic. It gives me a pause to breathe in, reflect on the progress I’ve lost, exercise emotional control, and plan for how I might mitigate risk on my next go-around. With every fall, I remind myself that I can deal with the loss in a healthy way.
In this sense, Getting Over It provides a safe space to practice processing emotional loss. The benefits of this practice can extend outside the game.
Since my first climb last week, I’ve climbed Getting Over It’s mountain a total of ten times. While my first time took hours, my climbs now average below 20 minutes. My new goal is to achieve a sub-15-minute time.
After I achieve sub-15-minutes, I don’t plan to improve my time any further. Any further time reduction would require reflex and mechanical skill that is much harder to train, in addition to the analytical, dispassionate mindset toward the game that has gotten me this far.
Following is a video of my best run so far, just shy of 17 minutes (with narration turned off since I’ve heard it already):
If improvement from 2 hours down to 17 minutes sounds quick for one week, keep in mind that I haven’t been playing this game in a vacuum. I have seen a lot of videos of it over the years, and have even been taken tips from online tutorials. I take no more shame in this than I would in taking tips on real rock climbing from a real rock climber.
As a side note … I would have gotten my sub-15 time today, except I choked on that damn ice mountain at the very end. At the end of the day, I try to remind myself of Illya Bryzgalov’s words of wisdom.
In developing Getting Over It, Bennett Foddy set out to make a bitter, unforgiving game that punishes the player for their lack of patience and composure, and I would say that he succeeded on that front. Bennett’s quote from halfway through the game helps illustrate what he was going for:
An orange is 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.
Before you ask, personally I usually take my coffee unsweetened. I very much enjoy sipping an espresso shot with a wedge of lemon.
…okay, I do have the occasional mocha, too.
On the whole, though, I’ve noticed that if you acclimate to less sweetness in your foods, then when you do eat something sweet, it tastes so much sweeter. Due to the unforgiving nature of this game, it felt better to beat Getting Over It than it felt for me to beat any other game in recent memory.
In conclusion, Getting Over It reminds us that setback is a part of the human experience and provides a safe space to practice contending with it. In that respect it is useful not just as a game, but as an emotional teaching tool.
I’ve been reading some more articles about this game, and I couldn’t help but tack on this beautiful excerpt from Luc Lloyd:
Getting Over it with Bennett Foddy feels like an allegory for depression. A huge, chaotic mountain of trash: obtuse and difficult to climb. Any slight setback can send you spiraling all the way to step one. Then, it feels like you’ve lost everything.
Sometimes you fall to the foot of the mountain, both in the game, and in regards to depression. And when you do, you feel like you’ve lost all that progress. You’re back at step one, and it’s all undone. But that’s not quite true. Because there is one thing you keep, and that’s your experiences. You climb the mountain again, and it’s a little easier this time. And you might fall, or you might not. But what’s important is, you tried. And you learned. And you’re going to do better next time.