Untitled Goose Game is the Colin Mochrie of Video Game Comedy

We’re in the midst of a goosenaissance. Whether it’s copious fan art, reviews focused on the biological nature of geese, or stream-of-consciousness goose fanfic, House House’s Untitled Goose Game has rapidly exploded in popularity beyond the usual audience interested in indie games and expanded to the internet at large in less than a week.

It’s happened in no small part due to the game’s cantankerous yet charming star, with its subtle waddles, flaps, and honks that elevate it from just another video game character to a cartoonish but believable real-ass goose that’s funny to watch and even funnier to take control of. 

Scripting Comedy

It seems like every few years there’s yet another thinkpiece about how difficult it is to convey comedy in video games, mostly due to the fact that as an inherently interactive medium, developers and writers have to approach a joke from every angle possible. Additionally, the game convention of being sent back upon failure means that players might encounter the same bit multiple times. What’s funny on your first try might be grating on your third or fourth.

Some games, like Psychonauts solve this by focusing on comedy in cutscenes. Others, like Jazzpunk, place the player in outlandishly absurd and stylized situations. Others still lean into the unique physical comedy potential of games — Goat Simulator is a prime example.

Untitled Goose Game takes a decidedly hands-off approach, setting up some carefully-constructed scenarios and giving the player a to-do list to approach however they like. I find myself using those to-dos as rough guides to play the game, rather than explicit instructions. Sure, it’s funny to steal an old man’s slippers as I’m being directed to do so, but it’s funnier to steal them, drop them in a pond, watch him search and give up, before flippantly bringing back his soggy footwear with a gloating honk.

More Terrible Animals:

Honk if You’re Horny (for Mischief)

Because of that intentional narrative sparseness, it’s arguably the first improv videogame, where the player can construct plotlines as they see fit (for example, see this exhaustive list of where the game’s NPCs fall on the issue of Brexit) and make their own jokes. It’s a game that knows how to say “yes, and” — yes, you stole the shopkeeper’s canned goods, and now she’s going to grab the broom to shoo you away as you find a spot to hide them. 

Each level is a new suggestion to base your antics around. Preen with a bow around your neck in an artist’s backyard. Crouch down low and waddle between a gardener’s bushes like Solid Snake. Terrorize the hell out of a poor little kid, just for the fun of it. Untitled Goose Game makes being an agent of chaos in these and many other situations amusing by drawing on the same techniques employed by podcasters, streamers, and Colin Mochries throughout history.

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