What a man in a cast iron cauldron climbing a mountain with a sledgehammer can teach us about life.
In the surrealist horror dark comedy philosophy experience that is Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, you are a nameless shirtless man stuck in a cast iron cauldron. Your only task is to climb a mountain with a sledgehammer.
You use the mouse to swing the hammer. Movement requires catching the hammer on rocks, rowing it like an oar across the ground, or using it as a pogo stick to launch yourself upward.
The game is abnormally difficult, and many people don't even make it past the first obstacle.
The game was launched a few months ago and it became popular on Twitch.TV and Youtube, two places where you can watch any number of millennial-aged persons yell at their computers in front of a live video feed.
The best part about this game, and perhaps the reason it got so popular to livestream, was because the further you climb up the mountain, the further you can fall back down. From any point in the game, you can fall all the way back to the beginning.
Livestreamers love over the top reactions, and there is ample opportunity, as can be seen in this best of compilation video:
I've been fascinated by this game for the last few months. Possibly because I may be a masochist and have been determined to beat the game and Get Over It, but also because of the included philosophical discussion on challenge and frustration.
As you play, Bennett Foddy himself reads you his essay about the themes of the game, including the frustration of falling over and over. This medium of game-as-essay-setting is pretty unique. If you had just found this essay online and read it, you might think it was interesting, but here you are experiencing a feeling of frustration as Bennett philosophizes about frustration in the background.
Sections of the essay are read as you reach certain checkpoints along the path. And at one point Bennett says this:
What's the feeling like? Are you stressed? I guess you don't hate it if you got this far. Feeling frustrated - it's underrated.
Feeling frustrated is underrated? What's that supposed to mean?
And then you come across an orange sitting on a table.
And Bennett says,
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.
A theme of my writings for a while has been not doing the first thing that comes to mind, possibly because it's an instinct that makes sense in primal jungles but not in modern life. It seems that most things needed for success require not doing the most comfortable thing:
Being healthy involves not eating only candy.
Exercise involves not just sitting all day.
Getting any kind of work done requires not spending all day watching Youtube.
And I'll be the first person to tell you that I've done all three of these things and I'm definitely not some amazing person who always does what is in my own best interest.
But as someone who does want to succeed and exercise and be healthy, figuring out a way to get myself to do things that are important but not urgent, important but not "laugh out loud hilarious fun" like cleaning the bathroom and cooking and all that, is a subject I am very interested in.
And I realized while playing this silly game about a man in a pot that maybe one way to tackle this problem is to actually start to enjoy the things that aren't pleasant for their own sake.
This isn't as weird of an idea as it may sound.
Do you drink coffee, beer, wine, or hard liquor? I can guarantee if you give any of those to a five year old child they'll make a sad face. But many adults thoroughly enjoy them. I know that I didn't use to like any of them and now I enjoy all of them to varying degrees.
People who get into exercise, whether distance running or weight lifting or cross fitting or yoga, have experienced the enjoyment that can come from the feeling of a good hard workout that leaves you sore and tired.
And so I wonder: could you come to actually enjoy the feeling of struggle in doing what you intellectually know is good for you but don't emotionally want to do? To feel frustrated, while not letting that frustration get to you? To, in the Buddhist sense, observe the thoughts and sensations in your body without acting upon them?
In a way, this is what mindfulness meditation is - practicing becoming aware of thoughts without reacting to them. If the mind wanders, to come to a realization that your mind has wandered, and to let it go. And in that sense, getting better at meditation does not involve never having thoughts, but becoming better at letting them go.
So maybe this game is a very roundabout way of Bennett Foddy trying to teach the world that "Mindfulness is helpful for success in life." Cultivating the ability to be frustrated without reacting like the Youtubers. The fact that so many people respond so violently to the game only proves his point.
And I do know that Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy is way easier to play if you aren't raging all the time. I finally Got Over It myself a few weeks ago, and felt like something profound had happened.
I first sent this article as a letter to my mailing list. New letters go out each week!
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