Before last week, I had dabbled in video games the way a vegan dabbles at a barbecue: finding a single cucumber here or a slice of grilled eggplant there that I might enjoy, but always leaving unsatisfied and hungry. I played Mario Kart as a child, and Dance Dance Revolution as a preteen. In high school, I played the Sims, and recently, I tried to enjoy City Skylines. But my attention span was short, my interest always waning, my willingness to be distracted by anything in order to put the controller down and never pick it up again, infinite. I created a narrative: video games just weren’t for me.
I have tried for years to love a video game. I understand the appeal. I too want to forget all of my anxieties and struggles by immersing myself in another world. I too want entertainment that forbids me (by nature of its controller) from looking at my phone while I do it and scrolling a real-time chronicle of democracy’s crumbling. But I had two problems: 1) I do not know how the buttons work so every game has a massive learning curve for me. and 2) I don’t like to hit things or die. This makes me feel stressed and I don’t like to feel stressed in my down time.
What I like is to be told a story. I like a narrative arc and a riveting main character. I like to be entertained. And that is how I became a terrible, horrible, no-good, extremely bad goose.
I became the terrible goose before the game even arrived. I saw the trailer, saw that dumb goose pop its head out of a bush and honk, and my reign of terror began.
The goose creates chaos. The goose does not care for rules. The goose has no interest in being “responsible.” No. The goose wants to swipe the pint glass from the bar in its pointy beak and waddle-sneak it across the patio and out of the pub and across the street and plunk it into the canal with abandon. The goose wants to buy a Nintendo Switch even though it does not know how to play video games and wait impatiently for several days to download Untitled Goose Game with complete disregard for “finances” and solely because it likes the way the goose sounds with its beak stuck inside a glass bottle: a muffled, echoing honk.
Plus, things have been stressful. Maybe, I thought, being a goose could help.
The Untitled Goose Game came out on September 20. It was created by some Australian company called House House, who were kind enough to thank the native groups on whose land they created the game in their credits. According to real reviews of this game, it is a “slapstick-stealth-sandbox.” These words mean nothing to me, as I am an awful goose.
All I want to do is drag the rake into the lake. All I want to do is make a lady hold a walkie talkie and then honk into it and make her fall down. All I want to do is walk quietly down the road while my little orange feet slap the pavement and then hide in a box so someone will pick me up and carry me around and I can honk in their face and make them run away.
This is controlled chaos; this is acceptable catharsis; this is the opportunity to scream into the wind without worrying that someone will hear you. Hasn’t this year made you want to throw something? Hasn’t it felt like maybe, just for once, you should get to have the tantrum?
Owners of rage rooms say they are surprised by the number of women who come in to smash things. No women I know would be surprised. This has been a hell of a three years for anyone paying attention. Yesterday, as I watched the president blatantly lie in a press conference to the American people all I could think to feel better was: tonight, I will pull the stool from behind the old man and he will fall on his rear.
The people you hurt in the goose game are not real. The glasses you smash magically clean themselves up. If you drop a bucket on someone’s head you’re an asshole, sure, but you’re also just a goose. There are no consequences for most of the game. The worst that can happen to you is that the villagers you terrorize might keep you from completing something on your literal to-do list of chaos.
I felt my face smiling while I played. The goose game’s soft color palate and calm music made it feel like a children’s book. Its surface-level absurdity made it silly enough that every area has something that isn’t a goal but is hysterical. Why not hold the sunglasses in your mouth? You’re a cool goose now.
Playing the goose game felt like lifting my hands from the handlebars at the top of a big hill, like greeting my friend’s very good dog, like climbing higher in the tree than I knew you I was supposed to, like a bar with free snacks. It felt like... joy?
Everything is fun and everything is light and everything is rancor. Until suddenly, you are the one in danger.
In the last section of the game, you arrive at a model of the village you’ve destroyed, and you destroy that too. You can do bigger damage now. You rip out the tiny bench, you drop the gardener in the lake. You are goosezilla! And then, you find something precious: a beautiful golden bell. Carry the bell back home, the game tells you.
But the beautiful bell comes with a consequence. You must carry it back, through every house you have terrorized. Carry your bell lightly, or it will ring. Carry yourself slowly, or you will be revealed. You must face all the people you have wronged. A children’s book’s moral with a twist.
“Why can’t they just let me have this?” I found myself asking in the game’s last act only to remember that I cut their prize roses off at their peak, and threw their bras into a fountain and ripped up every carrot in their garden even though I didn’t need to and there was no in-game benefit to that behavior.
Though I had liked the game all along, enjoyed myself and laughed and forced my poor friends to listen to me talk about it, in this last mission, it surprised me. I felt deeply, inherently, connected to the goose. I wanted the bell to come to my home. I wanted to be left alone. I felt sad and a little scared. I was emotionally invested in the goose! This has always been, for better or worse, what I value in art: its ability to make us feel, and to force us to question those feelings. Should I, a terrible goose with no morals, get to succeed?
When I finally arrived with my bell back to my home, I found a pit full of other bells. A goose’s memory is short. I dropped my new bell among the others, and felt goofily happy. For the hours I played it, I felt only happiness, only amusement, only relief. As far as escapist media goes, this is as good as it gets.
I cannot wait to honk my way through the bad days the future will bring. A terrible goose does not have time for news or professional turmoil. All a professional goose has to do is create a little anarchy. The people in the town can put up all the No Goose Allowed signs they want. I’m not listening.