How one goose took over the internet — and our hearts
By John Linderman
Elm Staff Writer
For a Washington College student, the idea of being a goose can mean anything: an athlete, a dedicated student, a contributing citizen of Chestertown… or possibly a literal goose.
For most of human history, being able to simulate a goose was left to the hands of lucid dreamers and mascots, but in 2019, we have perfected the technology to not only play a goose, but impede human civilization doing so.
“Untitled Goose Game,” developed by House House and released on Sept. 20, is a stealth-puzzle game centered on the machinations of a single goose in an unsuspecting English hamlet.
Upon the game starting, the road ahead is entirely up to you. The game provides you with a checklist of achievements and hidden Easter eggs throughout the town, and still, what you do is your discretion. Could this be an exploration of free will against determinism? Man against nature? The limits of human nature? Goose nature?
The most common species of goose in North America, including Chestertown, is the Canada Goose, or Branta canadensis. They are known for their black heads and necks planted on volant bodies which color can only be described as dirt-sand. They can fly at speeds reaching 40 mph, and distances reach 1,500 miles in a single day. Although in the game you presumably play as a member of the white goose subgenus, possibly a Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens) most geese have a barbarous reputation.
The Canada Goose in particular is labeled a pest by most parks and cities. They honk, leave droppings, feed on crops, and harass humans for anything from intruding nesting grounds to demanding more from unsuspecting bread-patrons. With all of this in context, “Untitled Goose Game” may be an accurate simulator of the kind of terror that geese are capable of.
“’Untitled Goose Game’ was just a hilarious experience and the best stress reliever for me,” said sophomore Percy Mohn. “There’s something great about being a nuisance and also a goose.”
Indeed, critics have shared similar sentiments about the super star game.
“Despite the children’s colouring-book aesthetic, it all feels so true, and in this way you are forced to consider, like the game’s developers before you, the essence of goose,” said Simon Parkin of The Guardian.
To this day, the game is still enjoying fad status, and exploding in communities on YouTube, Reddit, Steam, and other online congregates. Questions remained unanswered however: what are we to make of this?
Parkin writes that, “We are used to playing as morally complex individuals in video games; even the heroes typically leave a genocidal trail of dead behind them. Never before, however, have I felt so appalled by my virtual acts as in ‘Untitled Goose Game.’”
The trope of the morally-infallible-yet-unfeeling-machine protagonist in video games has been extensively critiqued in the past decade, but is “Untitled Goose Game” the first to unveil the monster we all choose to simulate?
There seems to be two paths: either the game tries to craft a humanly flawed protagonist, as in the case of Telltale’s 2012 critical hit “The Walking Dead,” or more rarely, reveal to the player not only how flawed the protagonist is, but monstrously lost.
This latter, more horrifying option was explored in Yager Development’s 2012 “Spec Ops: The Line,” where the player assumes control of a traumatized veteran sent on a rescue mission in a post-apocalyptic Dubai. “Spec Ops” retells themes of the darkness of the human psyche that “Apocalypse Now” first dared to show American movie-goers in 1979.
Humans might be critical of geese for their remedial aggression, but perhaps they have only been mimicking their crueler, more vile neighbors. The same neighbors who are the sole cause of habitat loss and global warming.
As we observe, and in the case of “Untitled Goose Game,” stimulate the goose experience, their collective anxiety is not much unlike our own. An actual goose is perpetually on the defense, scavenging for their young goslings in an industrial and hot anthropocentric Earth.
Real geese are also opportunistic, and we resent them for not only poking holes in our daily misadventures, but daring to mimic the one species that successfully conquered the planet. The more we shun the goose for its ostensibly reckless nature, the farther we spin the mirror away from our own conduct and behavior. Do we dare to look into the abyss? Where we risk seeing the centuries of soul-crushing, destructive truth of our actions?