The creator of a game about eternal punishment and frustration is tired of playtesting it


The thing everybody forgets about Sisyphus is that he was an absolutely awful bastard who deserved everything he got. Prior to being the guy who has to push a boulder up a hill for all eternity, Sisyphus was a crafty Ephyran tyrant who used to murder his guests for kicks, and who once fathered children with his own niece in a bid to depose his own brother. Charming! The Ancient Greek gods were outraged both by the king’s violation of the norms of hospitality, and by his general insistence on being too clever by half – and I feel a similar way reading the Xitter feed of Bashir “ManliestDev” Kashalo, who is making a game in which you play as Sisyphus after his eventual demotion to Hell’s chief rock-pusher.


Kashalo has come to “hate” playtesting the game, jovially titled Pushing It! With Sisyphus, whose Steam page promises “levels of frustration not previously thought possible”. He’s just really sick of that boulder. Waiter! Please fetch me the world’s smallest violin, grind it to a paste and gently spoonfeed it to the developer who is weary of the game he consciously and deliberately decided to make about the experience of infinite failure. I’m sure no other video game developers can relate.


Kashalo is, of course, not being serious and neither am I. I think Pushing It! With Sisyphus looks hilarious. I also think it’s hilarious that it’s not even the only Sisyphus sim on the store. The others include 2D precision platformer SISYPHUS, in which Sisyphus is a low-key ninja with the power of time manipulation, and The Game Of Sisyphus, perhaps the most polished of the currently available Sisyph ’em ups, which, when I discovered it, had a “mostly positive” rating on Steam.


You might think that “overwhelmingly positive” would be funnier, but the thing I love about “mostly positive”, without reading the individual reviews, is that it implies a level of good-humoured debate and some carefully considered reservations at the level of both premise and execution, because after all, one player’s eternal punishment is another player’s Diablo 4. Perhaps if the boulder had ray-tracing it would have squeaked into “overwhelmingly positive” territory.


And then there’s Capybara: The Story of Sisyphus, in which Sisyphus is a capybara roped to a barrel, and the goal is to have a bath on top of the mountain. This particular incarnation of Sisyphus has Wild West levels and what’s more, “if you suddenly fall off the mountain, there’s a small chance you’ll end up on the roof of a steampunk building!” I feel the spirit of the original myth has been lost, somewhat, but then again the capybara doesn’t appear to have been a mass-murderer and would-be fratricide in her previous life – she’s just “lazy”. Perhaps becoming a capybara roped to a barrel and in sore need of a wash was the Olympian punishment for sloth? In fairness, this isn’t worlds away from the average Aristophanes play.


What can we learn from this strange outbreak of Sisyphus games, which extend beyond explicit adaptations to widely influential Sisyphean works like Bennet Foddy’s Getting Over It, the recent Chained Together and whole genres, like the endless runner? I dunno, but there’s probably a wonky op-ed in how these games symbolise an entertainment form that has given itself over to cycles of indirectly monetised futility that wear the label of “progression system”. In the eyes of investors and CEOs, every game needs to be a mountain without a summit. I’ll say this for Sisyphus games, though: they make for brilliant streaming fodder. If you’ve got an hour to burn, you could do worse than watch one of Northernlion’s fully narrated, surprisingly chill videos about his experience of Stygian torment. Perhaps Bashir Kashalo would find the footage restful too, once he’s done digesting that violin.

By admin

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