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Not Getting Over It

One of the recent fads to go through YouTube recently is Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, a game about a man sitting in a cauldron filled with his own sweat dragging himself up a mountain of societal detritus with nothing more than a huge staking hammer.
As can be expected from the creator of QWOP, the game is extremely hard to control, requiring great precision on behalf of the player's mouse skills in order to propel the man up the mountain.  It is known as a "rage game" because it is deliberately engineered to punish the player.

I think I figured out a significant chunk of the source of that rage.  Basically, by investing our time and energy into trying to figure out how to get the little man on the screen up the mountain, we come to care about it.  Even though there's nothing important waiting for us at the top of our trash mountain, even though it's a ridiculous little game about mountain climbing, we care about it because we are trying.

By wanting to win at this endeavor, we start to care about our progress.  That progress becomes precious to us, even though it's a silly little game.  After losing our progress several times, we start to dread the next loss; we can start to feel the anticipation for when we're about to accidentally shove ourselves off a surface and lose all of our progress.  What we feel is more than rage to have lost progress, but despair over how helpless we are to lose progress in something we care about.

Personally, I found Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy to be a relaxing experience, and was quite amused whenever I was returned to rock bottom.


This holiday season has been one of familiar despair for me.   I have been working very hard on my own little computer game.  It's nothing more than an ancient little tile-based RPG, albeit one with procedural elements, and I am excited to make it because I have a goal of trying to introduce higher purpose into virtual worlds.

The last few bizarro weekends were spent largely with my nose to the grindstone.  I worked very hard to get my ridiculous little game up, I had a milestone I strove hard towards it, accumulating a great deal of code bloat and terrible code coupling for my troubles.  My own awkwardness in scaling the mountain of my computer game is perpetually working against me.

It's a hard job, and every disruption of life is a setback.  Every week, I go to my (unrelated) part time job for three days.  It's a good idea: the job is not just a paycheck, but a chance to socialize, exercise, and give back to the community.  However, after returning from work, I am usually too tired to code, so I can't stay in touch with my project on my work days.  At the end of the work week, I come back to a code base that looks alien to my eyes because I had been away for so long.  Even left completely to my own devices (a rare circumstance) it usually takes me a full day of successful effort to get back into the swing of things.

So I was excited about having Christmas Eve off (in addition to the days I would have had off from my schedule anyway).  It is a godsend to have permission to have an additional day off, that's one less day away from my project.  I could have potentially five days off, back to back, to work hard at clawing my way up this pretentious but precious mountain of mine.

It was not to be.  I live with my mother, because rent is so expensive in my neck of the woods that I could not afford it even if I did my job full time.  Right before my little five day vacation started, I was informed she had arranged to have loud, disruptive company over for three whole days of my time off.  Instead of getting one extra day to work on my project, I would be getting three extra days of worse disruption than usual.
In actuality, thanks to inclement weather, it turned out to be more of a day and a half.  However, in the days that followed my learning the interruption was going to happen, I had succumbed to despair.  I was too distraught to work on my project, developed depression so acute as to cause physical pain, and even caught a cold.  Instead of letting it get that bad, I should have meditated or something: real angst is genuinely bad for you.

How could I have let that happen?  I think it's because my game development endeavors are basically the hardcore version of Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, where the unforgiving difficulty curve is not just like the obstacles preventing us from finding success in life, but rather literally that.  This anticipated interruption was that dreaded misplaced hammer that would shove me hard off the side of my mountainous endeavor and send me plunging.  Unprecedented progress towards the summit would be lost.  Maybe this little game development endeavor of mine was silly, but I had been striving against so long and hard that I could not help but care utterly about it.  So of course I as devastated.

For a creative, the problem only compounds.  It goes back to a favorite quote (or misquote) of mine from Seth Godin.  "Art is something we do when we are truly alive."  It is not a wholly optimistic quote, but rather a double-edge sword.  When circumstances of life prevent the creative from working on their precious art, what are they?  Hardly alive, really.  Denied creative fruition, I felt awful, invalidated.  Miserable wholly because I reached so far and cared so deeply, only to be sidetracked by life's circumstances, and fall.  Down, down, to the foot of the mountain of societal detritus we call modern life.  Like someone who might as well just lay around in a cauldron filled with their own sweat and tears all day.

It's probably not a coincidence that's how Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy starts.  When you have been brutally returned to rock bottom to stew in your cauldron, that's just how life is sometimes.  The harder you strive, the harder setbacks affect you.  You can either rot there or get over it.
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