Illustration: Toby Morris
Illustration: Toby Morris

Pop CultureSeptember 28, 2019

Honk if you feel good: The Spinoff reviews Untitled Goose Game

Illustration: Toby Morris
Illustration: Toby Morris

Toby Morris plays the lo-fi avian puzzle game that’s taken over the internet.

“It’s a lovely morning in the village. You are a horrible goose.”

And with that, we’re in the world of this week’s surprise hit game: Untitled Goose Game by Australian studio House House. You play a goose – not a super powered goose, or a talking goose or a goose of destiny sent to save the world, just a regular unnamed pesky goose, honking and flapping, harassing innocent bystanders around a small village. There’s no big plot or any character stats, no revenge or redemption, no power-ups or even points. No armor, no coins to collect, no spells or ammo or buffs. You have a simple set of tasks but no ticking time limit and very little stakes at all. You’re just a big old bird doing what big old birds do – namely, being a total jerk.

It’s a deceptively simple game, but a clear and focused one, and playing it this week has got me thinking about games in general and what games are actually supposed be. So, in the spirit of being a belligerent waddlebag with questionable intentions, I’ve got some thoughts to honk at you.

I’m a grown adult, with a wife and two children, a job and some faint semblance of a social life I’m trying to not let peter out completely. How do I have time to play a 30 hour game? A 50 hour game? Just not happening. Even if I did manage to magic up some extra hours in my week, there’s a long list of things I should and could do before I can spend 50 hours traipsing across an imaginary land, learning an elaborate control system I’ll never use again in my life to defeat some kind of alleged ancient demonlord slash warlord slash crimelord.

But can I spare a few hours to pester a gardener, turning a sprinkler on him and throwing his tools into a lake, totally unprovoked? Yes please.

Here are some feelings I would prefer not to feel during the precious moments I do get to sit down and enjoy a video game: panic, fear, stress, repulsion. I would prefer not to be shot at or punched (or shoot anyone else really) and I’d rather not take on the responsibility of leading an army or having the fate of the world on my shoulders. If someone I love is going to die if I don’t solve this puzzle or shoot 14 arrows through this narrow gap while I avoid a flaming possessed tank, I’ll take a pass. Usually not in the mood.

Why are the stakes always so high? Why is it always the whole entire world at risk? Can’t a game just chill a bit and let you enjoy the simple pleasure of honking at a boy until he’s annoyed enough that you can chase him into a phonebox?

Imagine opening Netflix and the only things available to watch are extra long very sincere Michael Bay movies. That’s it, just explosions, po-faced monologues and slow motion ads for the US army. Or you go into a library or a bookshop and there are only books where the name of the author is embossed and bigger than the title of the book. Or you open Spotify and the only music available is poorly edited compilations of Slash guitar solos hacked out of early-to-mid Guns’N’Roses.

Why are games like this? All those things are fun, and fine, but you need more. You need something weird or something funny too. You need something new, something you haven’t experienced before. Different points of view. I’ve been the chosen one a hundred times. I’ve rescued the princess, dismantled the evil corporation, found the antidote. Sometimes I get to choose to be the villain too, but always with consequences. A goose, on the other hand, doesn’t feel guilt. True chaotic neutral.

So would I like to be a goose stealing clothes from a washing line, or running away with a stolen pipe in my beak being chased by a pompous cricket fan who was just trying to enjoy a quiet cup of tea? Is it fun to hide in a hedge with a milk bottle stuck on your beak?

Yes. Yes it is. Thank you Untitled Goose Game. Thank you House House. Good game. Honk honk.

Keep going!