There is not much lore or an expansive backstory that catches you up to the point of beginning QWOP. You needn’t be up to speed on the progress of a book series or a retcon-filled MMO past. You are Qwop, the sole Olympic representative for a small nation that provides: severely underfunded training programs, little regard for the laws of motion, and almost disturbingly limber citizens.
You are to represent your homeland in the 20xx Olympic Games. Your goal is to complete running 100 meters. Neither your coaches nor the presiding judges are very keen on the exact event in which you are competing, so you should just be glad to travel 100 meters. Ideally, you want to stride confidently over the 100 meter mark, but how you get there is up to you. Many people have inched their way through the course on one knee while pushing forward centimeters at a time with the opposite foot.
The Importance of QWOP’s Visual Symbolism
Sorry, there is no symbolism or scathing social satire hidden in the visual aspect of QWOP. You are the ragdoll runner that tries his best to move forward; you do so with all the grace and elegance of 12 pieces of construction paper shuffling out of a dustpan and into the unknown annals of the dustbin. Aside from the 12 segments that make up your body, there are a series of horizontal stripes on the screen. Some gray to purple lines dither into a blue line that dithers into varying shades of green. These horizontal color zones are your background. The foreground is an orange zone with white stripes that dither, giving the illusion of distance. These horizontal stripes of color are all of the skybox eye candy that QWOP is going to give you. Your only indications of moving forward are the distance counter going up and a thin strip of what looks like cork-board passing directly under your feet. This was a game made by an amateur: he made something fun, but something was not very focused on detailed parallax backgrounds.
Gameplay: Gravity and Balance Need Not Apply
This is the fun part. As the eponymous Qwop runner, your only controls option during a game are the Q, W, O, and P keys. Without giving too much of a spoiler, it is safe to tell you that Q and P control your right thigh and calf, while W and O control your left thigh and calf. Using only limited control of 4 muscle groups, you try to move Qwop through his course. Any time that a part of Qwop’s body touches the ground which isn’t his legs or groin, the game is over and you must begin again. The premise is simple enough, but the fun of the game begins once you know that even knowing which keys do what; you still have little clue how you are going to move this ragdoll 100 meters without breaking something. For anyone who has been looking for an illustration for the term “frustratingly simple”, this game may provide what you are looking for. The challenge comes from imprecise controls and difficult (but achievable) success.
Success in QWOP doesn’t come only from being able to pass 100 meters. A counter in the game will remind you what your best distance has been so far in your current session, and for beginners even 10 meter can be a triumph. There is no built-in way to see how well or poorly you do against other players, so you can decide your own success. Every player’s previous score is the only metric that can be used to determine relative success. The game’s creator, Bennett Foddy, has even specifically mentioned the lack of a social leaderboard or par system. Foddy understands that success can either be flailing for 5 meters or exploiting the physics engine to inch along all 100 meters of the course: success in this game is as variable as the person who plays it.
Don’t go looking for an immersive gaming experience or an engrossing story to pass down for generations. Take a few minutes and give the game a try. QWOP is a flash game that most browsers will support. Try a few times to control that rag doll and see if it isn’t at least a little bit interesting. There are not any large downloads or subscriptions to spam mailing lists that stand between anyone with the internet and being able to play QWOP. The price is right (free), the accessibility is open, and there is no reason that you shouldn’t see how long you can make “Chariots of Fire” play as you flop and fumble your way across some of the most hilarious 100 meters that you have ever virtually travelled. QWOP is not a triple-a release, it is just a fun little flash game. If you liked this game you can also check Sports Heads Football Championship.