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.
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.”