Design Notes, Episode 7

Game designer Bennett Foddy on “Getting Over It” and the expressive power of frustration

In the trailer for the famously frustrating Getting Over It, game designer Bennett Foddy admits, “I could’ve made something you would’ve liked but instead it’s capricious … it’s bracing and inhumane.” In this episode of Design Notes—the show about creative work and what it teaches us—host Liam Spradlin speaks with designer, professor, and philosopher Bennett Foddy about using frustration as a design pattern, positioning games at the intersection of art and software, and who he had in mind when creating Getting Over It.

Listen to Design Notes, Episode 7 Google Play, iTunes, Pocket Casts, Spotify, Deezer, RSS

Watch highlights from episode 7 of Design Notes, featuring game designer Bennett Foddy


On the exploration of frustration “I want to express myself by drawing from the full palette of human experience. I want to explore frustration; maybe it’s richer and more interesting than people have given it credit for.”

On subverting common wisdom “It's very orthodox [now] for game designers to be concerned with software design. Frustration, confusion, any of the things that we’d construct as standing in the way of the function of a piece of software, are deemed bad in game design. So as a way of railing against that, I try to make games that do that overtly.”

On reinforcing humanity in game design “I remember when Jonathan Blow shipped The Witness, there was no field of view slider in the menu. And there was this colossal backlash in the community of players. Like raw anger. And I'm not completely unsympathetic to that anger, but I do have the idea that the more we can remind people that there are human beings behind video games, the less they’d feel that way.”

On art as a safe container “Art is a container to experience and express emotions that you don’t want affecting your everyday life. Most people want their day-to-day to be low-amplitude, and then when they’re in an environment for experiencing art, that’s when you can feel the high-amplitude emotions safely.”

Handy links for this episode:

  • Getting Over It, is available on Steam and iOS; watch the Getting Over It trailer

  • Fun fact: Before becoming a game designer, Foddy played bass in the Australian band Cut Copy

  • QWOP, one of Foddy's earlier games, maps the keys Q, W, O, and P to the muscle groups of an on-screen runner, challenging the player to run (or stumble) as far as possible

  • The Witness is a 3D puzzle game by Jonathan Blow, published in 2016

  • A low-fi indie game called Sexy Hiking was part of the inspiration for Getting Over It

  • The “magic circle” is a term coined by Dutch historian Johan Huizinga and represents the suspension of real-world rules and consequences during gameplay

  • Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum PC exposed Foddy to unusual and strictly keyboard-based controls at an early age

  • Download a PDF transcript of Design Notes, Episode 7

Coming soon: On the next episode of Design Notes, guest host Aaron Lammer speaks to DeepLocal CEO Nathan Martin about the work of an innovation studio, the influence of punk rock, and how to be authentic in process and product.

Have feedback for Design Notes? Send an email and let us know what you think!