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Untitled Goose Game: Is it Good to be Bad?

Untitled Goose Game: Is it Good to be Bad?

If you’re on the social internet, at least
the parts I apparently frequent, then you’ve probably heard the good news about the goose. Untitled Goose Game has become something of
a phenomenon, as it seems the appeal of mildly inconveniencing the upper middle class via
the enigmatic hostility of a goose is a broad one, and it’s a concept simple enough that
you might question the need to discuss it here at all, that to take these kinds of games
that resonate so effectively on an emotional level and just… essay all over them, would
only detract from their majesty. But it’s this kind of self-indulgence that
forms the thematic core of Untitled Goose Game, and more than enacting my desire to be a horrible
goose and write essays on whatever I want, there’s something in the sudden ubiquity
of the goose that just invites curiosity. Even the developers have speculated that:
“There probably is something more interesting there, but I’m not sure what it is.”
And I’m all about searching for the thing that’s more interesting there, especially when I’m
not sure what it is. Despite its simplicity, Untitled Goose Game
taps into a range of histories and wider conversations: pastoral England, the animal rampage, silent
comedy, the apparently increasing allure of chaos, these are all held within the game,
and within the goose. *honk* Firstly, this isn’t the first game released
this year to centre its gameplay around the destructive whims of a wild animal. Ape Out provides a more violent, action-based
counterpart to the goose’s playful mischief And it also features an improvised accompaniment,
just one that is similarly more intense. And it certainly fits more neatly into the
image of the animal rampage – an idea generally poetically associated with carnality, turmoil
and freedom. Like in probably what is genuinely my favourite
poem ‘The Tiger’, not the one by William Blake but the one written by a six-year-old called
Nael: “The tiger; he destroyed his cage; yes; YES;
the tiger is out.” Those associations probably weren’t intended, but to an adult audience they seem almost inescapable. The goose doesn’t carry the same associations
of danger, anger or even sophistication as the tiger or the gorilla. This is not the righteous rage of a caged
animal. But, in its semi-wild semi-domestic position,
with its ability to intimidate and inconvenience but not really harm – the goose is an animal
with a much more nuanced relationship to its human adversaries. As one of the game’s developers, Jacob Strasser,
explained: “We very quickly realized that the low-level relationship between a goose
and person was really interesting and really rich, and had all this opportunity for depth
and nuance and humor.” And that in an early prototype of the game
with just the goose and the gardener: “No matter where he was in the world, the goose
would turn his head to look at the gardener. And the gardener would do the same. And just having those two characters look
at each other… in silence had all this stuff in it.” That silent stand-off between two figures
conveys an uneasy tension in its ambiguity, with neither character clearly in control,
just both aware of the other. The blankness of the goose has led many to
read their own intention into its chaos – potentially stemming from this interaction on twitter
– which elevated the goose to a leftist icon, an outcome supported, though not intended,
by developer Michael McMaster. But developer Jacob Strasser clarified that:
“… the goose is just a goose… this chaotic neutral character… just an animal who’s
not really aware of what they’re doing.” And Brian Feldman writes in Vulture that while
“the goose’s disrespect for private property” has contributed to a leftist interpretation,
“the goose’s self-centered approach” could equally represent “the winner-take-all philosophy
necessary to thrive in an unrepentantly capitalist age.” Laura Waddell, writing in The Scotsman, agrees
that “it’s hard to read a revolutionary spirit into this Goose. It’s not a cipher for the greater good…
just pointlessly horrible.” but continues to say that “the Goose’s
thoughts are gloriously unknown,” which brings “… its own kind of satisfaction.” The goose is intention-less, so you can read
whatever intention you want into it – or you can embrace the goose as what it is, intention-less. Because what’s interesting to me about the
goose isn’t that it’s an empty vessel to be filled, but that the vessel was empty to begin
with. That the goose is engaging in meaningless
destruction is satisfying in the way that just defying the status quo is satisfying
– a kind of anarchist fantasy. [Music: SNL – “I threw it on the ground!”] Sociologist Roger Caillois defined play as
“an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill and often money.” but rather than framing waste as a negative,
it can be a way of rejecting the dominant structures that define worth based solely
on productivity and efficiency. [Music: SNL – ‘I Threw it on the Ground
“I’m not a part of this system. Man!”] But despite frequently being hailed as an
‘agent of chaos’, how chaotic is the goose, really? because while the act of play exists
outside of capitalist infrastructure, games still tend to reproduce it – as well as living
in capitalism we also play at capitalism. In their talk ‘Video Games and the Spirit
of Capitalism’, game designer Paolo Pedercini claimed that “computer games are the aesthetic
form of rationalisation.” These worlds are ‘goal oriented’ with elements
being reduced to means and ends. And despite its chaotic associations Untitled
Goose Game, with its itemised to-do list, is no different. As Ian Bogost pointed out in The Atlantic:
“The goose isn’t really wreaking havoc, it turns out. The goose is running errands.” But this doesn’t entirely erase the more radical
implications of the goose’s actions. In a world where everyone’s main motivation
is ‘put back’, the goose is denying ‘business as usual’, disrupting routines, with a list
that can be read as clues as much as tasks, clues to a whole world of possibility outside
of ‘put back’. Like, you see that ornament that you placed so neatly and carefully on the patio, had you considered maybe not? And as void of political motivation as the
goose might be – they’re undoubtedly the underdog. As Adam Harper writes in Frieze: “She is disempowered,
she is envious, and thus she is sympathetic…” The revolutionary promise of Untitled Goose
Game isn’t just about causing chaos, it’s about seizing power. This is where the purely personal motivations
a player can read into the goose meet the existing associations we can derive from the
game’s pre-existing context. As Adam Harper, again, writes in Frieze: “The
game directly accesses an English pastoral tradition, centuries in the making, and brings
all of its ambivalent cultural and ideological baggage with it.” Namely hierarchical baggage – a history of
class struggle, colonisation, monarchy and general oppression. Baggage that’s given physical form in a
castle, after we rampage through the model village as the big goose bod we were always
meant to be. We never see the real castle. The goose might be able to cause minor disruption
in the village but will always be denied access to the real site of power – but it’s bell
is heard, and through the association of order, systems and imposed rule, its presence is
always felt. And it’s the perfect final boss. Not only because the bell is a symbol of the
ultimate monarchical power structure, and so shiny, and so loud, but because it is just a symbol,
something that has no use or value to us, and it feels like such a victory
anyway. We don’t need to destroy the actual castle
to get what we want, we just need to take on the idea of it. As much as Untitled Goose Game deals with
boundaries and exclusion, it also deals separately with the idea of those things. It’s often only when the humans are so preoccupied
with upholding the idea of boundaries, making making their absurd ‘no goose’ signs I can’t read,
I’m a goose! that they literally leave our path
to bell-based victory wide open. Having free reign to destroy the model village
in all the oversized glory we could only dream of as one small goose in a human sized world
feels like destroying the very idea of rules, demolishing this world where everything would
always be perfect and in its place, so long as the things were in places that benefited
those in power. It’s a motif so befitting that it’s already
appeared in the film Hot Fuzz, which deals with the same small-town perfectionism, features
the shenanigans of another white feathered wildfowl and similarly ends with model village
destruction. I think this is why I actually never felt
the need to justify the goose’s actions, or I guess my actions as the player. This power imbalance felt inbuilt to me – and
so for I, the horrible, excluded, disenfranchised goose, an injustice has already been served. To steal a quote from Benjamin Myers’ novel
‘The Gallows Pole’, like the thieving goose I am: “Fuck the king because you can be
sure the king is already fucking you.” The game also accesses ideas of tradition
and repetition through slapstick comedy. We’ve seen these situations before – these
jokes, these moves, are familiar – and the final joke, revealing all the past bells the
goose has stolen, contains another layer of repetition. We’ve all been here before, the goose’s destruction
is just as cyclical as the routines it’s disrupting. It’s a constant fight. A new bell tower will be built and the goose
will destroy it all over again. But that doesn’t make the goose’s cycle equal
to the humans’ routines. This isn’t about ‘put back’. More than the thrill of shameless self-interest,
maybe being, not an agent of chaos but, an agent of change allows us to believe that
stealing these bells doesn’t just feel good, but that is good – that we should be fighting
for change. And in this context these leftist goose memes
make perfect sense. I know that’s a lot of political weight to
place on the shoulders of a goose just being a goose, but, just as a final note, there’s
a dedication at the end of the credits that comes across as equally critical of unjust
power structures. It states: “This game was made on the lands
of the Wurundjerl people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to their Elders, past
and present. Sovereignty was never ceded.” Though most of them don’t go as far as straight
up refusing to acknowledge the existence of Australia, this kind of statement isn’t uncommon
in Australia and there’s no reason to believe that this hints at a greater political message
within the game itself – but it’s an reflection of how historical injustice lies underneath
so much of our modern life. And I want to add ‘sovereignty was never ceded’
as a leftist goose slogan. We can’t really read any intention into the
goose, and maybe I got carried away and poured too much of my own excitement into its empty
goose heart – but, I like putting things where they aren’t supposed to be, whether
that’s unnecessarily academic analysis with a fun goose game, or everything in the lake. But I do think the fact that all these ideas
of boundaries, repetition, power and insurgence can be found in the game – introduced mostly
via association and so allowing the game to simultaneously retain its simplicity – is
ultimately, for me, what makes it so satisfying. That and the strange charm of a goose. That they’re small, silly looking, incapable
of real threat – but they have the confidence and attitude of an animal far beyond their
stature, and I admire that. You do you goose,
don’t let anyone get you down. And as much as we can justify our actions
by believing we’re avenging some great injustice, whether our motivations are derived from the
game’s setting or entirely imagined, the simple thrill of shameless self-indulgence is a powerful
one. Like how these videos that I make have been
getting more and more complex and wider and wider in scope and it feels good to just talk
about a game I really like – to momentarily become goose, destroyer of worlds, and aggressively
honk my thoughts all over everything. To insist on examining the social and philosophical
implications behind a fun game about a goose because shut up that’s why. The goose doesn’t have to manifest pure chaos
or even have clear motivation for it to embody the spirit of revolution. Breaking the cycle of unquestioned routine,
exploring options outside of ‘put back’, this can be radical just in itself. The goose is a force of change, a victory
of the powerless over the powerful. Be gay, do crime! yes YES, the goose is out *honk honk honk* Music: Cullah – Referent Power Music: “Power to the revolution,
power to the new age;” Music: “power to the people born and raised in a cage.” Music: “Power to the work, power to the play;
power to the moments that seem to last all day.”

73 thoughts on “Untitled Goose Game: Is it Good to be Bad?”

  1. There are few things I look forward to more than your videos! They're always a treat!
    Also thank you for intoducing me to my new favorite poem. I will look out for Nael's future work

  2. I played Firewatch after your essay on it, and absolutely loved it. Now I'm going to do the same with Untitled Goose Game ^_^

  3. Thanks for the amazing video i love your essay videos and I like your ability to write video essays on such a broad variety of topics. °³°

  4. The goose is a stand in for a toddler. But they couldn't have a child running around on it's own getting yelled at by strangers and swimming. Any parent has played this game all day at home.

  5. I loved everything you said 😀 I don't know, it might be, because i was on a climate protest today, but I got GOOSEBUMS when you talked about the goose being a symbol of revolution. I would love to see a serious nerdwriter-style essay on the meaning of this game, Maybe I should start doing videos and stop bothering other youtubers with my video ideas 😀

  6. This was lovely little chaotic video (like the goose I guess). I can see the Goose being the more chaotic form of rambling, the idea that beings can walk wherever it likes is a concept that was a massive part of Leftist movements particularly British one's throughout history.

    What I'm try to say is the Goose is the Gaming Equivalent of the Kinder Scout…that maybe a bit of a reach.

  7. Wow, you beat out Philosophy Tube for my favorite video released today about fighting hierarchies through video games 😉 Great essay as always!

  8. This was awesome! I played the game (and 100%ed it because I love procrastinating…) fairly shortly after having re-read some of Raymond Williams' The Country and the City for a thing I was writing and so the idea of the "green and pleasant land" and the countryside as a container for "Englishness" really jumped out for me. Loved all the other themes you pulled out of it and the thing about us recreating capitalism in play/play not necessarily allowing us to escape capitalism too! Love your stuff, so insightful and insanely well-presented!

  9. I'm so out of touch with video games these days… Last one I played was Age of Empires 2, at the turn of the century… At the time I assumed that all games would just continue escalating in strategic complexity, growing in the scale of the universes they created and in the nuance of every character… About two decades later, I watch this video and realize that as long as there are people with imaginations and intellect sophisticated enough to fill any voids left by the game (narrative, symbolic, or otherwise), then even the simplicity of a small-town not-so-wild goose chase will have a place in the heart of gaming culture. Thank you for the wonderful and enlightening commentary, as always!

  10. have you read daniel ortberg's "i am the horrible goose that lives in the town"? he really gets at the fundamental power of playing the game, the real joyous malevolence of being a goose

  11. While I love the leftist interpretations of the Goose Game, the whole game was reframed for me at the very end, with the reward for finishing every goal. A shiny crown that you can only wear with the help of a townsperson. I had assumed you needed to manipulate the neighbours into giving it to you, like the ribbon, and ended up staring in disbelief when the clean neighbour calmy put the crown on my head, Looked me quietly for a moment, and returned to his business. That was actually the most radical thing that left me speechless about this game. That they'll all do it, no questions asked. All your past actions, no matter how disruptive, doesn't stop them from doing this one random act of kindness, just because. It made me want to do something nice for them. Which is pretty cool. It's important to remember that the townspeople are also faceless. We can assign villainy to them easily but like the goose, that interpretation isn't absolute. I like that, however unintentionally, the game reminded me that while not gory, it is still violent. And while that's perfectly reasonable and the catharsis is clearly appreciated, I like to remember how powerful the opposite can be as well, especially considering how little we see of it in gaming.

  12. I think the idyllic village simply makes the game more charming, and the anarchy of the goose would work just as well anywhere in the world. It's actions are 'acts of God' from an insurance point of view – like a farmer's sheep getting struck by lighting or a lambourghini being crushed by a falling tree. The 'to do list' makes the goose the puppet of a Trickster God, but ultimately its theft lacks motive and it's vandalism lacks message.
    It's just cute and fun. : )

  13. You know, usually your essays are pretty serious and dry and I love that, but this is probably the most fun I've felt you've had in a any of your previous videos.

  14. it is such a nice video & such a nice analysis!
    now i'm filled with happiness because this channel can tell us WHY do we like things

  15. I'm glad you took something simple and just, very silly to disect like this. It really felt like you had fun and a lot of freedom to explorer several ideas and concepts that could be hidden within THE GOOSE. Really loved this video!

  16. "Who gave you permission??!"

    Love this too much, super amped to see so many on this colonial dismantling path. Let's build a groovy new future on the ruins of this stale bullshit!! 😀

  17. I don't know if I really want to include this game in my political identity. I feel like I love this game in a much less grown-up way than that. It perfectly captures the harmless and carefree mischief that I got up to as a kid.

  18. Interesting is that the undefeatable opponent of the goose is a stoicist. Someone who doesn't want havoc to be made. But if their shoe just happens to get stolen by a goose, accepts it instead of unsuccessfully chasing it around.

  19. Good video but just a rant outside of the actual game. I'll never get why capitalism is so villainized when Marxism has led to the starvation and murder of over 100 million. I don't think lots of people even know what it means. From Google. Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system and competitive markets. <– now what is bad exactly in this???
    it is like all these people whining about capitalism should read The Gulag Archipelago, or learn about the Khmer Rouge, or maybe live a year in Cuba or Venezuela or North Korea, or maybe talk to the people of Hong Kong. But no, they will bitch from their perch of privilege in the free West. Truly ingrates and spoiled naive children throwing a tantrum. "Oh someone got more than me and I am so jealous lets take them down"

  20. How about all these borders represent things people have worked and strive for and have spent their life achieving, only to be ruined and stolen by some goose who never did shit or made shit and is only filled with murderous envy and rage and ignorance. Goose needs some birdshot.

  21. It occurred to me a while ago that when animals behave the way humans do people call them "evil" or "chaotic".

    Bottom text

  22. I really love your content, you're really onto something. Every statement on this paragraph is really real.

    Also, I'd like a list of your sources for each video. Because I'm that lazy member of your audience.

  23. This feels a lot like parenthood. Especially the bit about the father, I mean farmer, looking at the goose, neither speaking nor willing to concede. Were you also as amused as I that the interview about the Goose was in Vulture?

    Video is so so bloody good as always, but you're tired of superlatives from me so please just assume them from now on.

  24. I love how every video you do has personality (this video and the speed of being online in particular) and your voice is so nice to listen to. Your videos are just a lot of fun to listen to/watch

  25. Look at the Facebook group “Untitled Goose Group” and after following the leftist goose meme trend and generally embody the be gay do crimes philosophy, it’s fascist/anti-Semitic/TERF mods flooded the group with weak memes for kyles and chads. It broke my heart

  26. A brilliant analysis from so many facets.

    I think that if one views this game through the lens of a leftist political statement then I would compare the Goose's motives with that of the myth of Sisyphus. The Goose struggles repeating the same tasks, yet no matter how many bells are collected the conditions of the Goose's underclass status remains.

  27. This is really great, and works bizarrely well with a session I ran at uni this past week (in accordance with the UCU strikes) on video games + activism. We even oft quoted Paolo Pedercini!

  28. Just wanted to say how much I love all your videos. You need a lot more appreciation for how much thought and effort goes into these well crafted essays. My particular favourite was your episode on Night In The Woods, one of my favourite indie games. Can I recommend The Dream Machine? I think you'd really enjoy it

  29. I wrote a poorly written essay about this game a couple months ago that covered really similar thoughts, and I wanted to use it as a base to make my first YouTube video! But I lost faith in my abilities to make it with the high standards I aspire towards, so I dropped the topic. I'm glad to see that was the right option because I could have never made something as well crafted, insightful, and entertaining as this. Thanks for being an inspiration to do better!!!

  30. I love your videos so much. It's been cold and rainy where I am for the past few days, and something about listening to you talk about the joys of being a degenerate goose up to no good is so fitting somehow. There's something cozy? about them, like a mug of hot tea on a chilly day under a pile of blankets but for your brain. Also this game sounds like an excellent Christmas present for someone I know (…yes, by someone I mean myself), so thanks!

  31. I'd like to nominate this video for one of the best things of 2019. Not videos, just THINGS overall. Freaking great.

  32. I have this on my Switch and my sister's two-year-old adores it. I enjoy how everyone who plays the game starts to roleplay the goose almost immediately. Angrily honking when thwarted, flapping wings at the gardener, dumping sandwich in the water for no reason. It's beautiful.

  33. The academic text slowly encroaching upon the goose at 11:59 made me honk with laugher! This is such a brilliant essay!!

  34. “incapable of real threat”

    UHHHHH geese break bones and kill people friend. they have straight up dismembered people. it’s their necks, the muscles in their necks are insane.

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