Untitled Goose Game and Player-Driven Comedy

Untitled Goose Game and Player-Driven Comedy

The idea of comedy games has fascinated me
for some time, likely due to the fact that, when compared to, say, action or horror, it’s
a genre that’s remained remarkably underexplored in the interactive realm. It’s easy to
create action by putting a gun in a player’s hand and telling them to shoot things; you
can manufacture an omnipresent feeling of dread even when you’re not directly scaring
a player. Telling an effective joke, however, is difficult
to pull off in any medium. It relies so heavily on being able to specifically
direct an audience’s attention, with a precision of timing that you simply can’t guarantee
when, in games, you hand control of said joke over to your audience. Look up any list of the “most comedic video
games” and you’ll see a lot of the usual suspects—the searing satire of Grand Theft
Auto or the passive aggression of GLaDOS in Portal, for example. Outside of a few noteworthy cases though, regardless
of your thoughts on how funny these individual games actually are, what sets them apart as
comic often has little to do with how you play them. These are games with comedic writing, decorating
otherwise unrelated game mechanics. But what about games that specifically set
out to be funny, whose moment-to-moment interactions hinge on trying to make you laugh above all
else? In most cases of late, the more prominent
examples of this have involved an examination of the wackiness inherent to controlling a
game itself—asking why players adhere to arbitrary objectives, poking fun at the way
things like moving or picking up an object are taken for granted as a simple button press,
or introducing an element of anarchic chaos to mundane situations. Games like Surgeon Simulator and Goat Simulator
offer countless opportunities for absurd humour as you wreak unintentional havoc on a quiet
town, a carnival, a desk or someone’s brain. That said, the havoc is, indeed, unintentional. The immediate comedy of these games largely
spawns from the difficulty most people will face trying to play them quote-unquote “correctly”. They go so far in making simple tasks as difficult
as possible that part of their charm lies in how frustrating they can often be. To write them off as bad games or simply random
for the sake of it does a disservice, I believe, to just how fine-tuned Surgeon Simulator’s
ridiculous controls actually are, or the way Goat Simulator pokes fun at the eerie, uncanny worlds found
in more “conventional” simulator games, but the player isn’t so much enacting the
punchline of a joke here as they are kind of the punchline itself. The fact that you’re playing this game at
all, that you’re directly fighting the fundamentals of control in order to… get a better score,
I guess, is part of the joke. You might see other visual gags around, you
may enter the offices of the developer for example, but the extent of your ability to
create comedy is… the extent of your ability to flail around. And then, on the other end of the spectrum,
you have a game like Jazzpunk, which flat out markets itself as comedy. Since its release in 2014 it remains a really
neat experiment in favouring jokes rather than mechanical engagement, all with an endlessly
charming aesthetic. But that’s just it though—whether the
end result of your interactions is setting off a Rube Goldberg-esque series of events
leading to a punchline or simply pushing someone off a bridge, as far as your agency over it
all goes, you’re mainly just “pressing A to see joke”. Your opinion of Jazzpunk, then, is likely
going to come down purely to how funny you think said jokes are because… that’s kind
of it. So we have full-blown anarchic absurdity on
one side and we have games where you merely turn the joke crank on the other, but is it
beyond the interactive medium to allow players to actually tell those jokes? To set up and execute on their own punchlines
through mechanics and systems? Well, enter Untitled Goose Game—a release
that might be the purest embodiment of a “comedy game” I’ve yet seen. For a start, its premise is funny for sure—for
an Australian game it captures that particularly British sentiment of the stiff upper lip extremely
well; that idea of pretending nothing is wrong in order to avoid the social awkwardness of
confronting the very obvious issue at hand. What’s great about Goose Game, though, is
that it doesn’t need to spew jokes at you in order to convey this—instead the game
uses its systems, making it your goal to organically create said awkwardness. Not outright havoc, not violence or death and
destruction, but awkwardness specifically—the game presents a series of clockwork systems, and through
simple stealth mechanics combined with low-stakes scenarios, encourages you to find ways to
disrupt the natural flow of things; in order to ruin someone’s day just a bit. And it all starts with the simple fact that
every action has a reaction. Outside of the differing severity with which
each NPC treats the goose’s presence, their routines come down to one simple trait—if
they notice something is out of place on their route around any given area, they attempt
to put it back. It’s a really simple thing but consider
that purely by virtue of getting a reaction out of people, your actions suddenly carry
much more weight than causing untold destruction and having no one care. Further, where the humour of a similarly systems-driven
game like Hitman is perhaps an unexpected side-effect of a game that has you trying
to Hitman someone while avoiding being Hitman’d yourself, Goose Game has no such failure state. Instead, when you get caught, you drop the
item you’re holding and flap around wildly as a goose is wont to do. This lack of failure state not only reduces
frustration—all in your Goose feels incredibly satisfying to control, which is more than
can be said for other animal-based absurdity generators—but it also reduces the stakes
of any encounter to something more relatable, more in line with the overall mischievous
tone of the game at large. It all serves to build the character of this
world without dialogue; painting the goose as a petulant child unwilling to take no for
an answer rather than some kind of powerhouse, and the villagers as mildly irritated as opposed
to cowering in fear (well, most of the time anyway). The villagers just want to keep this world
prim and proper; which gives you all the more reason to cause a mess. You may just be untying someone’s shoe or
misplacing their possessions, but that’s all you need to do to make an impact here. It’s a stealth game where the supposed “enemies”
are very much aware of your presence and the inevitability of incoming inconvenience. And with this, the stage is set for you to
plan and execute your own hijinks. After getting the gardener to open the gate
and repeating the same routine of moving objects around, being chased and having said objects
taken away from you, you might notice that the keys to the gate are an item like any
other you can stuff in your beak, and that the gate itself is an interactable part of
the environment. You lure him out, steal his keys and close
the gate behind him, causing uninterrupted chaos while he watches on powerlessly. It’s a satisfying realisation to act upon,
but it’s also just a solid gag—gardener goes to sort a problem and, thanks to you,
ends up making things so much worse. It’s a scenario made all the funnier when
you realise that you’re also stuck without him, so, you coyly stick your head through
the gate, whereupon he snatches his stolen keys before grumpily marching in as you nonchalantly
walk beside him like nothing has happened; the goose’s blank expression very much painting
them as some kind of pet who stares you coldly in the eyes as they slowly push a fragile
object off a high shelf. You strut along, confident in the knowledge
there’s nothing this person can do to get rid of you, and that he, like all the villagers
you’ll come to terrorise, is resigned to their life in Goose Hell. It’s a sequence of experimentation and discovery
found across all the areas of the game, where you might wonder what would happen if you
put someone else’s stuff on the shop podium, knowing how aggressive the shopkeeper is based
on how she reacts to you. What would happen if I brought an item from
another area, for example? That, or you consider how the old man might
return an object you’ve dragged through from the neighbour’s garden when the only
passage between the two houses is conveniently goose-sized. The game never guides you towards any of this
stuff; it merely provides you the pieces and invites you to put them together how you see
fit—fully prepared to provide you with some kind of payoff for your poking and prodding,
turning every object you come across, every move you make into a potential joke—and
it’s all the more rewarding and crucially funny for the fact that you stumbled across
it all yourself. And what’s more, you still have that same
style of video game wackiness you get from more outwardly absurd titles. The complex series of machinations leading
to the delightfully wicked punchline of a kid losing his glasses is made all the crueller
by the fact that that kid will forever be searching for those glasses unless you choose
to close that systemic loop. It’s yet another layer of control placed
in the player’s hands about just how much they want to toy with the villagers—drawing
comedy not only from the gag itself, but also the fact that it’s being controlled in a
video game. But it’s not just the systems themselves
that make Goose Game a fantastic example of a primarily comedic video game—alongside
the deeply expressive animations conveying character without words and really selling
the reactions of your victims, Goose Game’s soundtrack is arguably the glue that binds
everything else about the game’s humour together. See, as opposed to a traditional score, the
game takes disparate fragments of the piece Minstrels from Debussy’s Preludes—itself
a kind of patchwork of jaunty staccato rhythms and jarring modulations—and uses it to accentuate
your movement. Tiptoeing around and scouting the area will
result in plinkety arpeggios; preparing to strike will see the music swell discordantly
until you finally make your move and a cartoonish melody explodes as you tumble triumphantly
away. It’s like your every step is being uniquely
soundtracked by Carl Stalling or something—like you’re the central character in a Looney
Tune of your own creation. Music isn’t a constant underlying bed here,
it’s not an afterthought; it’s dynamic, with periods of silence, build-ups and releasing
of tension reflecting your precise movements. The music, like seemingly everything else
about Goose Game’s aesthetic and technical workings, is a mechanic in service of amplifying
your own comedy. Of course, a video like this is barely going
to scratch the surface of what a “comedy game” entails. There are plenty of other games that experiment
with comedic mechanics and there’s no way I could cover all of it. I’m not saying you should take my reading
as gospel; I’m not saying that any of the games I’ve mentioned are bad because they
don’t do exactly what Goose Game does. I’m just saying that when I envision what
a comedy game could be, a complicated joke that requires a mere button press to get the
gears turning is always going to pale in comparison to a simple joke that players are allowed
to control the precise workings of. Or we could just disregard all of this and
think that it’s kind of just funny to flap around as a wee goose—you know, that’s
fine too. So I hope you enjoyed my piece on comedy games. I’d just like to take this opportunity to
thank my patrons who are the ones that make videos like this possible; you can really
help out (and join the names on screen) by heading to patreon.com/writingongames and
pledging even a dollar or two. You ensure I can keep doing this and for that
I cannot thank you enough. Special thanks go to Mark B Writing, Sivaas,
Artjom Vitsjuk, Rob, Bryce Snyder, Tommy Carver-Chaplin, David Bjork, Lucas, Hibiya Mori, Dallas Kean,
William Fielder, my dad, Ali Almuhanna, Timothy Jones, Spike Jones, TheNamlessGuy, Ham Migas,
Samuel Pickens, Shardfire, Ana Pimentel, Jessie Rine, Justins Holderness, Nicolas Ross and
Charlie Yang. And with that, this has been another episode
of Writing on Games. Thank you very much for watching and I’ll
see you next time.

91 thoughts on “Untitled Goose Game and Player-Driven Comedy

  1. Gotta say, this and your Thumper video are probably the two best videos you've done as they really nail the way story or narrative get presented in games that are almost entirely mechanically focused and finding the story that could be told within the mechanics. Very good stuff.

  2. huh second video i've seen on this. when i get the money i'll probably buy it cuz i kinda just wanna chase people aroud honking like a normal dick goose before actually trying to figure out the puzzles.

  3. Which is why UGG's worst mechanic is its objective list. Get rid of that, allow chaos to run amok naturally and you gave a true masterpiece.

  4. I just want to say that I think GTA is not just funny in the cutscenes and the planned setpieces. I think the funniest parts of GTA come when you're just dicking around in the overworld. One of the funniest game moments I have ever had was in GTA 4. I was driving around on a motorcycle at full speed, when a car suddenly apeared at an intersection. I hit the car at full speed and my character got launched so high he landed on a building next to the road. I laughed so hard at how lucky I got to not die from the impact, only to realise that I was on top of a building with only a sliver of health and had no way to get down. This was the hardest I've ever laughed at a game, and none of it was planned.

  5. This is exactly why I've been playing hitman 2 for 6 months now, it's endlessly fun.

    I will get this game when it comes to ps4 👌

  6. Except, what really makes this game funny is the $1 million for "rake in the lake" was won by a some guy wearing a blindfold!

  7. Untitled goose game is a comedy game with only one joke
    That joke is “geese are demonic hell beasts who ruin everything”
    The joke is funny because it’s true

  8. Games are really good at unintentionally adding comically gamey aspects to what are supposed to be real worlds, the example I instantly think of is how in DkS2 there's a path that only the strongest warriors who have acquired the most souls may take, since a tiny bit of rubble blocks the main path. Matthewmatosis mentioned it in his well known critique, at first I shrugged it off thinking it was simply one of many cases where games have obstacles that we'd realistically be able to surpass, but then I realized the world building implications of this path.

  9. It strikes me as pretty reductionistic to demand that there be such a tight interlinking of gameplay and and comedy, and I think you do the games in the video a disservice by simply dismissing them as "press A to hear joke." Compare the argument that games are interactive medium and therefore everything it does should bear on its interactivity to the following argument:

    "Film is a narrative medium.
    Everything it does should bear directly on its narrative.
    Most film music doesn't do anything to advance the narrative in any meaningful fashion.
    Therefore, films should either be musicless, where the music is not around to distract, or musicals, where the lyrics of the songs can can directly advance the narrative."

    And, like, yeah, I like musicals as much as the next guy, but it seems to me that you're excluding a huge, juicy swathe of that middle to fit purely scholastic definitions of what a medium is for and what it can do. Musicals are great, but film isn't just a narrative medium, even if it is primarily is one, and there's room for atmospherics and aesthetics. Why should we reject the score of, say, Star Wars, because there's a more narrative-focused alternative at hand? And why, likewise, should we deny ourselves Jazzpunk's well-written comedy merely because there's a more interactive solution on hand?

  10. Saints row 2 is a PHENOMENAL comedy game, and a think a big part of that is the fact that most of the setting is incredibly normal. So when you’re suddenly given an infinite ammo rocket launcher it’s fucking hysterical

  11. There is one thing I found out when I locked myself in the first garden- there is a secret entrance hidden at the far left of the garden behind some manure or something- unfortunately I found this out after having to reset from locking myself in without the keys

  12. Idky but until now I thought this game was 2d… Man, it's a really beautiful art style. I wonder how they achieved that.

  13. A game that does the "hard to control protagonist" right is Octodad.

    He's hard to control, but part of it is lampshaded beautifully by Dads in general being kind of bumbling and clumsy.

    No one sees through his paper thin disguise. His kids think all dads are cold and slimy to the touch, his wife reacts so matter-of-factly to his eccentricities, and the locals will ignore him unless he calls attention to himself.

    The amount of slapstick pain Octodad goes through is really well done. From being sucked harmlessly through some machinery, to his limbs smoking when placed on a hot surface.

  14. It's clear you were reaalllllyy reaching this video. Not only with analysis but it's also pretty devoid of any point or insight.

  15. The best part about geese being dicks is that they're smart as hell. Lots of birds are. Geese have the full mental capacity to just mind their own business and leave everything be. They know their place relative to people. But that's what makes it so damn funny. Because they could mind their own business, but they actively make the choice to be annoying little shits. They're not just assholes by nature. They have chosen to be this way, and seem pretty damn happy about it. Cheeky bastards.

  16. I will say, no matter what anyone thinks of the gameplay itself, which, fair, it's hard as heck to control- Kid Icarus Uprising is my favorite comedy of all time, Television included. It's genuinely hilarious on every level.

  17. Every year the same goose returns to my city and camps out right in the middle of downtown where he (she) chases people up and down the sidewalk. It’s gotten to the point that a bunch of signs are put up saying “Beware of goose”. Can attest to accurate depiction of geese in this game.

  18. hey. hello there. I just wanted to commend You on this great video. I watched a similar kind of analysis by Treesicle and I just couldn't get through it (he had such an annoying cadence of speaking). thanks again, and may the Goose be with you.

  19. I think the closest game-as-comedy analogue to UGG is Katamari Damacy. Similar sort of environments made of everyday objects, emphasis on wordless interaction with that environment, plus the idea of playing as an outsider being who is not beholden to the morals of the society they're messing with, so there's less dissonance with the player's values. Of course, Katamari has you messing with society to absurdly cataclysmic levels, whereas the goose is a relatively harmless prankster. This isn't to take anything away from UGG's novelty, just a similarity I noticed.

  20. It's also funny how nobody really chases you, they just walk and take the items from you, since you're not really a big problem from them, you're just "That asshole goose".

  21. Anyone who's lost hours aimlessly wandering as Trevor in GTAV will know the player is capable of causing a tremendous amount of mischief that the writing actually accounts for. Rockstar didn't have to make Michael call you to tell you to "STOP SHOOTING ROCKETS AT MY HOUSE!", but they did. It's not as systemic as Goose Game, but it's still inherently player driven
    There's also the co op campaign for Portal 2, which goes out of it's way to encourage players to compete and betray each other. At first, it very specifically goads you towards these interactions, but later on, it stops this and lets the players drive each other crazy all on their own using the puzzle mechanics

  22. I love that you switched the letter and the package even though it has no effect on anything, that's exactly what I did

  23. I really enjoyed how some of the to-dos weren't immediately given. Happening upon the (as well) list was a nice surprise that offered extra incentive for exploration to see what else you could do. The tasks requiring you to utilise multiple areas were especially fun, and completing each area before the bell rings made it a bit stressful, but also really satisfying to succeed in.

  24. Slight correction; only the first area (the groundskeeper's garden) uses Debussy's Minstrels (Prelude 12, Book 1). The second area (High Street) uses The Hills of Anacapri (Prelude 5, Book 1), the third area (the neighborhood) uses Homage to S. Pickwick, Esq., P. P. M. P. C. (Prelude 9, Book 2), the fourth area (the pub) uses The Interrupted Serenade (Prelude 9, Book 1), and the final sequence uses Fireworks (Prelude 12, Book 2), all of which are from Debussy's Preludes.

    On a side note, the main menu/credits theme is Bruyeres (Prelude 5, Book 2).

  25. The issue is: the events in goose game are not particularly funny, nor surprising (the most important element of comedy)

  26. Goat Simulator video title: I ruin everyone's day in Goat Simulator

  27. 3:43 Just to expand on this, Australia tends to have a more "british style" sense of humour, rather than favouring American style slapstick and overt comedy. We definitely enjoy comedy based on self deprecation and awkwardness, which is why a lot of UK comedy shows are pretty popular here. Im definitely generalising, but this game mirrors the Australian sense of humour pretty well.

  28. I really like the freedom in the game
    you can cause ALL THE HAVOC, steal and displaces everything. IN the same time you can ALSO put pretty much everything back in place (villagers will put them back once things are in range, except for the mini garden and the rubbish bin near the shop)
    I end up giving real glasses back to the kid XD and being a total ass to the shop keeper because she is also rude to the kid and gardener lmao.

    I really like to think they all get pretty mad at the goose but in the same time take it as a town mascot, and maybe the goose is both a silly chaotic goose… and a chaotic god in disguise…


  29. What I love is not really doing things on the lists, but just doing crazy things for the sheer enjoyment of doing so:

    – Take every object in the game and make the guy throw it over the fence, so the lady's yard is full of everyone else's stuff.
    – The boy will follow you if you walk just ahead of him with his glasses. I forgot I left him in the river, his glasses went downstream.
    – Take all the signs!
    – Fun with walkie talkies.

  30. I greatly enjoyed Untitled Goose Game. I would love it if they did chapters where you are a goose in different towns.

  31. There is actually a small hole in the garden's hedge for you to use in case gardener is locked out.
    Then again you need to let gardener back in to proceed to the next area so your point still stands

  32. Then there's the comedy games whose comedy are unintentionally detrimental to the game's replay value; the prime example being borderlands 2, presequal and 3.

    The series were designed for multiple playthroughs due to its cast of player characters but because the structure of how the story (i.e: jokes) are presented (in the spirit of half life, where getting to a story scene, the pacing stops dead and cant be skipped since it's happening in real time), the game suffers immensely after the first playthrough.

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