QWOP: The World's Worst, And Only, Athlete


QWOP is an unreasonably difficult track and field simulator in which you're doing a really good job if you can run 10 meters without falling down. Herein, we peek into the universe of the funniest sports video game of all time.

QWOP is a web-based Flash game created in 2008 by programmer Bennett Foddy. In this game you control a track athlete named QWOP -- who is competing against nobody -- by individually moving his thigh and calf muscles (you use the Q, W, O, and P keys to do so, hence the name). 

This game, which is now also a popular iPhone app, is noteworthy on account of how frustrating, infuriating, and impossible it is. You will have to play for an endless amount of time before you can run more than three steps in the right direction. Without question, it is the most difficult, and funniest, sports video game ever made. Don't believe me? By all means, play it yourself.

What follows is a dispatch from the QWOP universe.



* * *



When I was six years old, my father took me to the Stadium. We parked and walked a few downtown blocks, and all of a sudden we were walking past a turnstile and up a series of concrete ramps, which, as measured by my tiny legs, were endless. It looked like the parking garage next to my father's business, only there were people everywhere. He held my hand as we fought our way through the crowds to a food stand. As we waited for his beer and my hot dog, I looked around, my eyes catching occasional glimpses through the dense throng of people. This is a stadium? What's the point? What do you do here?

My father studied his ticket, and after a few more moments of seemingly aimless shuffling through the sea of people, it all opened at once: a bright, open space, an inverted cathedral of a hundred thousand people. I had never seen anything a tenth as glorious. I felt dizzy.

We found our seats. After a few minutes of gawking at the grandstands and the scoreboards and the massive, captivating vacancy of land they encircled, I finally noticed him.

My father pointed. "That's QWOP." 

"Who's QWOP?"

"He is an athlete."

"What's an athlete?"

"An athlete stays between the two white lines and runs as fast as he can."

I squinted. "But there are a bunch of lines."

My question caught him in the middle of a gulp of beer; I imagine he thought I was done. He set his cup on the armrest. "Those are there in case there are any other athletes."

"There are other athletes?"

"No. Only him."

"Is he good?"

My father grimly turned his gaze to the track. "He is the only athlete in the world."


But he's not... good! He can barely use his legs! He's always falling down! Nevermind why he's the only athlete, how is he an athlete at all? There were so many critiques I could formulate, but I was unable to verbalize them at that age. I could only muster a one-word question: "why?"

My father didn't hear me. QWOP leaned forward, clumsily jerked his knee ahead of him, and landed on his foot. The crowd roared. My father set down his drink to stand and applaud. He lifted me so that I could see him. "There he goes!"

QWOP swung his other leg behind him in the air, and appeared to semi-intentionally hop on one leg. He had traveled 2.3 meters. My father cheered. A woman in front of me threw her hat in the air. The crowd was deafening; I heard nothing and everything.


* * *


25 years later, they still painted the other lanes on the track, just in case. But he was still the only athlete in the world. 


QWOP was even more popular than he was when I was a child. The walls of the stadium were draped with banners bearing his name. He was no better at running -- in fact, after nearly three decades of attempting to run, his world distance record was only 15 meters -- but if you are the world's only athlete, you are the world's greatest athlete.

In my own estimation, I had achieved so much more in those years. I grew up. There was my first kiss, and my first car, and my first house. There were my college adventures and my wife and children. The newspaper business, of course, was beginning to blossom into the industrial powerhouse it is today. I took a job with The Track & Field, the sporting world's premier newspaper.

I was greedy. I was ambitious. I was going to make a name for myself, and I was going to do it by destroying the very man I grew up admiring.


"QWOP FALLS OVER." That was the story that really put me on the map.

THE STADIUM -- Saturday, before an estimated crowd of 110,000, QWOP tried to run. He fell over though.

- The Track & Field

QWOP fell over. He fell over a lot. That's what happens when you can't run correctly, you know. You fall down. People packed the stadium daily just to see QWOP, lying to themselves. Telling themselves that since QWOP was the world's only athlete, he just had to be something special. When the hard truth was thrown at their doorstep the next morning, they didn't quite know how to handle it.

But I wasn't done.


THE STADIUM --  QWOP is a super huge disgrace on account of him falling down all the time and never being able to run ever.

- The Track & Field

I got tons of nasty letters in my mailbox for this one, but I also started to see a trickle of letters from people who were shaken up by my story. Was it true? Was QWOP really a huge disgrace? Was it okay for the world's only athlete to be an awful athlete?

Circulation skyrocketed at The Track & Field. Every vendor was sold out by morning rush. I couldn't stop. I had to bring him down.


THE STADIUM -- Wednesday evening, QWOP was horrible and the worst. He is bad. He fell down again.

- The Track & Field

I had eaten of the fruit of cynicism, of pragmatism, of the truth. It tasted like nothing else. The world never answered the questions I had when I was six years old, and now I was going to let the world have it. 


It's time that we stop using government money to fund QWOP. It isn't the role of the government to use our tax money to fund a guy who is supposed to be able to run good but is actually horribly sucky.

- The Track & Field

My vitriol would suffer no bounds. I had brought the truth to the people, and they would not stand for QWOP any longer. One night, he tried to run and fell after three meters, and the floodgates were let loose.


We were advised to remain in the press box until the riot was quelled and all the fires were put out. We were finally permitted to leave through the public concourses. The concrete walls echoed with every clap of my shoes. I  thought of that day with my father. I took a wrong turn, then another. I passed a doorway, then stopped and peeked through it.

QWOP sat alone in the room, watching film of himself.

With every stumble, he bent over his desk and took notes, then looked up, searching for the next in an endless string of flaws in his running, and wrote some more. I didn't understand how someone so experienced, so dedicated to his craft, could fail so terribly at it.

It took the fight out of me.


THE STADIUM --  Thursday evening, QWOP went out there and ran and just really burned the house down. He ran an unbelievable 0.08 meters. He is really great. Just really, really great.

Things are now as they always were. QWOP, by virtue of being the only person to go out there and try to run, remains the greatest athlete in the world, and the worst.

God he's so horrible.

Music in videos: "Moses? I Amn't" by Mogwai, "Reprise" by Doves

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