Maybe you’ve heard of the goose game; or maybe you’ve just heard the goose game — in the form of jaunty piano figures and random honks issuing from your kids’ rooms, or the backseat of your car, or the office next to yours, or your spouse’s earbuds. If you haven’t heard of it, there’s a good chance it’s sneaking up behind you to try and steal your newspaper.
“Untitled Goose Game” was released just a couple of weeks ago for Windows, Mac, and Nintendo Switch, and to call it a runaway hit would be fair (it was the #1 Switch game in the country last week) but inaccurate: It was much more of a sneaky waddle.
Handcrafted by the four-person team of House House, and rendered in an elegant minimalist style, “Untitled Goose Game” operates on a simple premise: It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you’re a horrible goose.
And off you go. You can flap your wings. You can waddle or waddle faster. You can use your beak. And you can honk.
With this simple arsenal of tools, you can effectively — and delightfully — ruin the days of every faceless specimen of townsfolk unlucky enough to appear on your (curiously handwritten) to-do list.
This itinerary of irritations, which presumably springs from deep within our goose’s id, includes harassing a groundskeeper (and causing him to hammer his thumb), stealing a young boy’s glasses (and then his toys), destroying a woman’s property, pruning a man’s prize rose, and a constantly updating list of torments (made longer by a new feature that allows users to exact their own goose-driven revenge on . . . whoever these poor saps are).
All of this unfolds over an “adaptive soundtrack” based off of Debussy’s “Prelude No. 12: Minstrels” — a sprightly, mischievous piano piece that, cut into punctuational pieces, seems to relish in your small, nefarious victories via twinkly set-ups and bassy punchlines. It’s reminiscent of the music from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” — if Mr. Rogers was a real jerk.
There are no prizes, points, or badges to win. Just food to steal, vases to break, and the satisfaction of getting away with it all — a fantasy with a particular and peculiar allure these days.
A Vox piece praised it as “a virtual playground, one in which the ability to command a rascally goose can feel downright therapeutic.” The Washington Post called it a “socially acceptable way to relieve stress” and “the new crying at your desk.” And Esquire recently championed the game as “stupid. Utterly inane. Devoid of even the slightest trace of commentary or intellectual discourse,” and thus, “one of the most fulfilling video games in years.”
It doesn’t take long to play the game and solve all of its puzzle/punishments in full — a couple of hours, perhaps (though some expert-level geese have finished in under 16 minutes). And it takes only a moment or two to fully sink into your new persona — your inner horrible goose.
“Welp,” tweeted Twitter queen Chrissy Teigen , “as a contrarian, I wanted to hate goose game but I LOVE IT.”
What makes it so easy for so many people to instantly identify with a goose with a taste for chaos and havoc?
Well, for one thing, the goose is the only character rendered with visible eyes, causing the faceless myopia of the hapless townsfolk to seem more like a general condition afflicting humanity. This slightly sociopathic design choice paired with the sheer glee that comes with nipping someone’s slippers off their feet make it next to impossible to feel like the villain of the day. In fact, everything about “Untitled Goose Game” bolsters a suspicion that, somehow, each of them had this awful morning coming, and you’ve just arrived as a honking petulant avatar of justice.
This undercurrent of comeuppance gives “Untitled Goose Game” a touch more gravitas than the comparable “Goat Simulator” that had millions ramming into things in 2014.
But your cruelty as a goose is never clearly justified. Your gripe with your upright neighbors never fully articulated (though the honks do come close). There remains, throughout the short morning of “Untitled Goose Game,” the perfectly reasonable option of not doing any of these terrible things, of floating around in your pond, just being a goose.
Such is the philosophical burden of goosehood/humanity. This avian-favoring twist on what’s good for the gander seems, on the surface, like a simple pleasure, but it’s popularity emerges from a murky pond of dark impulses: To be a good goose is to go unnoticed; but to ignore one’s purpose and stay in one’s pond just seems like, well, treading water.