Bennett Foddy is the closest thing the indie game development scene has to an internet troll. His games, most famously the addictive track-and-field Flash title QWOP, are designed to frustrate and bamboozle unsuspecting players, turning what at first appears to be rudimentary gameplay tasks into grueling, yet compelling, ordeals. Foddy doesn't apologize to the countless game vloggers hurling invective at him on YouTube, however — to him, being made to feel like a bumbling idiot is one of the most rewarding game experiences a player can have.
At his talk yesterday during the Indie Games Summit at the 2012 Game Developers Conference, Foddy wasted no time admitting that he loves watching players squirm. Even further, he asserts that despite what some may say, players actually like being treated unfairly, or made to feel confused and humiliated, as long as it's part of the game. QWOP, for example, has been billed as "The Most Annoying Game Ever". But in reality, it is only frustrating because it simulates an activity (walking / running) that we expect to be easy. One of his newer works, GIRP, does the same with rock-climbing, turning a task which normally amounts to a single button press in most games into a nerve-wracking game of finger typing Twister that uses a set of keyboard controls analogous to the activity it recreates.
Foddy, who spends most days studying philosophy, makes games like these because he knows they create a unique and intoxicating kind of tension between game and creator. He shows a video of one GIRP player who, upon finally reaching the top of the wall, has the objective (a wrapped gift box) snatched up and carried away by a pesky seagull. Angry shouts and profound disbelief ensue.
"It's common to get teabagged by a 13 year old while playing Halo online," he says, "but I think it's reasonably rare for the game developer to teabag the player." Mere minutes since the conference's first sessions began, the Summit's moderator notes, Foddy has brought up "teabagging" in record time.
But for all the rage he relishes in provoking, there are some things Foddy will not do. Namely, force the player to sit through tutorials, cutscenes or any other kind of explanation that can't be communicated through gameplay alone. These to him are not the fun kind of frustrations, but flaws which represent a failure of game design. The trick is, Foddy's games are kept honest about how they are going to be difficult, so the resulting grief comes off less like a mugging and more like a buddy giving you a hard time. You can handle it, right?