Many of us, especially those who came of age during an era of superhero blockbusters – from Tim Burton's 1989 take on Batman to, well, this very second – have dreamed of being a savior.
But who knew that all this time the superhero I wanted to be was a goose?
Press a button, and "spread your wings" we're told in the opening moments of Untitled Goose Game. A brief moment of inspiration before the terror starts. Or, depending on your point of view, the justified revenge.
Untitled Goose Game reminds me of a time I took a crack at writing a superhero narrative. In these stories, my caped crusader fought not against violent crime but combated those who trafficked in life's little annoyances; the folks who failed to return a shopping cart to the appropriate pen in the grocery parking lot, or those who chewed with their mouth open, or the mass transit riders who block an empty seat by sitting on an aisle.
The goal wasn't to arrest these people; my hero simply messed with them. They would wake up, for instance, to find a shopping cart dead-bolted to their front door. Or hidden in their home would be endlessly looped audio recordings of people chewing.
I didn't know it then, but the character I was writing was essentially the goose of Untitled Goose Game. I knew I loved this little goose from the first moment the waterfowl said hello in goose-speak. Or, to be more precise, "HONK."
It's a versatile phrase. I hollered it when I wanted to play a little soccer with a neighbourhood kid in the game. He didn't want to join and instead phoned a friend to have me shooed away when my playful pecks at the ball resulted in him trapping himself in a phone booth. And I hollered it when I was ever-so-kindly, or so I believed, asking a street vendor for a carrot. She instead ran after me with a broom.
The residents of Untitled Goose Game fear the unknown, and to them the unknown apparently is a goose. Scattered throughout their communities are signs with a goose crossed out. Just say no to geese, they're saying, and it made me feel unwelcome.
Their actions left me with little recourse. The world is unjust and narcissistic, so much so that it is unfit for a well-meaning goose. It's time, then, to destroy someone's day. It's time to "HONK". That will teach 'em. Actually, it probably won't. They'll return to their selfish habits in moments, but our goose will be more satisfied for it.
And so it begins.
Untitled Goose Game gets players right into the action. With broad, realistically abstract art – sort of like a playfully cartoonish take on Neo-impressionism – Untitled Goose Game emphasises finding objects and then using them to annoy people. Sometimes we need to break a shopkeeper's broom. Other times we must lock her in a garage. And our goose isn't above craving a little fame; one quest has us trying to find a way onto closed-circuit security TV.
Each area presents us with tasks to complete around the quaint, English-looking countryside (the game was developed by small Melbourne, Australia-based studio House House). Trick a human into breaking a vase or fool a kid into wearing the wrong glasses. Or maybe just take a moment to enjoy a picnic. Our goose can do the aforementioned honk and also waddle – more of a try-not-to-love me sashay, actually – and use a nimble, elongated neck to pry radiowires free or hide under a table.
And yet the goose isn't terribly graceful. Sudden turns are difficult – you may run into a few tables or humans along the way. But no worry; humans are by default lumbering fools, although they can always out-run the goose.
We don't really know why the goose is out to ruin days. That's sort of in the mind of the player. When plots aren't defined, the interactivity of the game medium allows the art form to be relatively malleable, its narrative shaped as much by the ideas and beliefs of the player as the developer. I don't enjoy playing evil characters, so I decided my goose was fighting on the side of good.
Therefore, I created mini-backstories for everyone I encountered to ensure that they deserved the wrath of the goose. A farmer? No doubt he voted for the wrong political party, a vote that allowed for the sort of construction that destroyed the goose's habitat and pushed the bird into the suburbs to begin with. You don't like the geese? Maybe you shouldn't have said yes to the folks who sought to industrialise some nearby green space.
A local businesswoman? Why, she raised the rent of her spare bedroom to force out a tenant and accelerate gentrification. A man trying to read his morning paper? An aggressive driver, obviously. The only honking in this town should come from the geese. The innocent-looking boy trying to dribble a soccer ball. Please, a bully who just the day before shot a spitball into a classmate's ear.
I played Untitled Goose Game as if I was out for revenge. Bring it on, people! And I was beyond delighted to have a stealth game that did away with violence and guns. Thank you, House House, for experimenting with how a goose would move and interact with objects. Waddling, it turns out, is just as much fun, if not more, than bombing things.
And yet there's evidence that I've been playing Untitled Goose Game all wrong.
The developers at House House may have very different ideas about the intent of the goose. "You are a horrible goose," the game's tagline reads, in part. To their credit, however, the game is vague and open-ended enough that the goose's personality is open to interpretation. Therefore, I never didn't read Untitled Goose Game as "Humans stink, geese rule."
So the next time you think about microwaving salmon in the company break room, or the next time you park on the line and decide not to realign your car, don't be surprised if a goose comes honking into your backyard to steal your laundry. You deserve to be terrorized by a goose. All of you. Every. Single. One. Of. You.
Spread your wings, little goose, and restore karmic balance to the universe. – Los Angeles Times/dpa