Skip to Content
Humans and technology

The secret to why Untitled Goose Game is such a hit is … you

Turns out there’s more to the game than just being an annoying goose.
October 17, 2019
untitled goose game glasses steal humor comedy ludonarrative
untitled goose game glasses steal humor comedy ludonarrative
untitled goose game glasses steal humor comedy ludonarrativeHouse House

Untitled Goose what? Untitled Goose Game, produced by the Australian video game company House House, went viral shortly after its launch on September 20. The approximately five-hour-long game, set to classical music, is simple and relatable: you’re an annoying goose whose to-do list consists of creatively wreaking havoc in a sleepy English village.

Even if you’re not a gamer, you’ve probably spotted memes on social media referencing the titular goose’s antics.

The goose’s secret? You. A paper by Oskari Kallio and Masood Masoodian of Finland’s Aalto University and published in the journal Entertainment Computing last year suggests there’s an underlying reason why people have found the goose  so compelling: you, the player, are pitted against the townspeople—and become a comedian in the process. “The player is encouraged to ignite these Mr. Bean-esque comedic sequences and then react to them with improvisation, rather than just watching humorous events unfold,” Kallio said in an email to MIT Technology Review. In movies and books,  comedy is a passive experience—the jokes are crafted and delivered to you. In video games, players influence and often dictate the action. The personal connection makes the goose’s adventures all the funnier.

gif of untitled goose game farmer hammering sign hurting thumb honking
Giphy via House House

Funny video games could soon be the norm. It’s not a new concept: Kallio points to 1990’s The Secret of Monkey Island as one of the classic funny games, and more recently the sarcastic and winkingly nihilistic Portal and Portal 2 were huge hits. But as far as mainstream games go, these examples are closer to the exception than the rule. Bestsellers tend to be franchises like Mario and his posse, or games where shooting stuff is the central mechanism. Kallio and Masoodian predict that more video games will put comedy at the center of their play as players seek different, more collaborative experiences and tire of violence.

The goose is all of us. Untitled Goose Game is poignant because it’s surprisingly cathartic. “When deconstructed, all comedy seems to either directly or indirectly reference what is considered to be truthful or normal within its frame of reference,” the authors write. For some, a bratty goose on the loose is an all-too-perfect analogy for the chaos of world events. And being a Robin Hood–like goose could help people cope. As Todd Martens at the Los Angeles Times puts it: “I don’t enjoy playing as evil characters, so I decided my goose was fighting on the side of good.”

Deep Dive

Humans and technology

anti-choice surveillance tactics
anti-choice surveillance tactics

Anti-abortion activists are collecting the data they’ll need for prosecutions post-Roe

Body cams and license plates are already being used to track people arriving at abortion clinics.

Chinese livestreamer and beauty influencer Li Jiaqi, also known as "king of lipstick," is seen in a subway station in Shanghai
Chinese livestreamer and beauty influencer Li Jiaqi, also known as "king of lipstick," is seen in a subway station in Shanghai

How China’s biggest online influencers fell from their thrones

Three top livestreaming personalities on the platform Taobao commanded legions of fans who bought billions of dollars’ worth of goods—until they suddenly went dark.

animal crossing concepts
animal crossing concepts

Inside the experimental world of animal infrastructure

Wildlife crossings cut down on roadkill. But are they really a boon for conservation?

chore apps haven't helped overworked moms concept
chore apps haven't helped overworked moms concept

Chore apps were meant to make mothers’ lives easier. They often don’t.

Rather than reducing the burden of housework, they tend to become yet another thing to worry about

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.