Enthusiastic honks for Untitled Goose Game.
A honking and hollering good time.
I will always remember my first humbling encounter with a malicious goose.
Being a chaos-loving five-year-old myself, I loved to go to Regina’s display ponds by the Conexus and taunt the birds with the food I brought until they chased me around, begging for scraps. But we all must be punished for our hubris, and one day I simply went too far. I laughed and mock-hissed in the face of one particular Canada goose for the last time before it reared up and bit my tiny finger – that was when I first internalized the attitude that I think every Reginian holds at heart: geese are assholes.
On that day in my youth, I think I might have deserved it a little bit. But we all know that there’s no shortage of evidence supporting the goose’s status as a troublemaker, particularly in this city where around Wascana you can see them crossing the street unbothered as if they own the place. The way the goose is utterly separate from the order and law of the human world is both a source of urban frustration and a strange kind of refreshing natural wonder.
But what if I told you that, as a citizen of Regina at the mercy of geese every summer, you didn’t have to spend your whole life viewing this eternal battle from only one side? That you could not only be victim to, but actively partake in, the chaos of the goose? That you could even revel in the hedonism of goosery?
Well, it is possible. Australian game company House House unleashed that incredible power last week when their Untitled Goose Game hit the Nintendo Switch eShop. The game is also available on home computers and, according to the company’s website, will be coming out on Steam in the near future. The amazing thing about this game – besides, like, everything else – is that the concept started as a joke thread in House House’s group chat. “Let’s make a game about this,” somebody said, and posted a picture of a goose with no context. People played along with the concept until it actually became a game. It begs the question: how good could art be if we started taking our joke ideas more seriously? Making this one a reality was definitely not a mistake.
The premise of this game is simple, and stated outright: “it is a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose.” You cause as many problems as possible in this town – by stealing items from townspeople, creating a mess in their places of business, and honking incessantly – until you have reduced it to a veritable ruin. The goose is a white one, common to Australia and different than the grey-and-black variety we are used to fearing, but nonetheless the subject of the game hits close to home for Saskatchewan residents. And when you press Y, the honk (voiced proudly by a real goose introduced in the credits) certainly sounds familiar.
Do I recommend the goose game? Possibly more strongly than I have ever recommended a game before. The world’s reception for this masterpiece honestly speaks for itself, though; it came out on the same day as the new addition to Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series, and people were so wild for that goose that it was almost like they didn’t care. In fact, the goose game topped Link’s Awakening on the eShop charts, according to Tacey Rychter at the NY Times – and the goose game cost less than half as much, to boot. Social media became instantly flooded with goose memes, gameplay videos, and tweets. Searching the phrase “I want to be the goose” in twitter yields probably hundreds of results of users proclaiming such, including additional demands to be the goose in further games or to have the goose added as a fighter in Super Smash Brothers.
Why does everyone love it so much? The running theory seems to be that it allows us to be cruel and mischievous in a way that we frankly can’t be as humans, even in video games. One review of the game by Carl Kinsella, titled “I was a good person until I played the goose game,” proclaims as much, and details his descent into sadism as the game progresses. House House say themselves in an interview with the NY Times that “it’s cathartic to be a goose,” but in fact the game was developed with an understanding that people tend to have a “difficult relationship” or a kind of “social awkwardness” around geese wherever they live. So is this game a bold new take on the age-old artistic exploration of man versus nature? Arguably, I say, it is the best take yet, or at least the most entertaining. And it kind of makes you want to be on nature’s side.
There are reasons to buy the game, pricing at around 20 dollars, even beyond the sheer entertainment value, nice art style, and interactive music. The controls and text of the game both have some considerations for accessibility; there is the option for controls to be toggled rather than held, which minimizes the amount of button pressing, and the cursive text can also be converted into a more readable print. It is also the only game I have ever seen that contains a land acknowledgment in the credits. The end of the credits, which are up on the website goose.game as well, read: “This game was made on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. We pay respects to their elders, past and present. Sovereignty was never ceded.” This active decision to localize the game on the lands where it was made really left a lasting impression and gave me a sense of the heart that House House put into this project.
I have completed the main route of the goose game myself, but I still return to it post-credits to complete extra missions and just bask in the glory of being the goose. I encourage everyone to do the same – I think that this is the kind of game we all need, and is a sincere dip into the spirit of gaming as an artistic and experiential medium.