Grand Theft Auto 5 is a massive game that took hundreds of skilled developers to craft, with an endless amount of activities and goals. However, one of my favorite things to do has absolutely nothing to do with any of the carefully designed gameplay loops.
Instead, I like to slowly drive my car up onto the sidewalk and target one pedestrian. I follow them, bumper to the back of their knees, and every time they panic and break into a jog, I lay on the horn. I can entertain myself for tens of minutes just targeting one unlucky citizen of San Andreas.
One time, I was in the middle of such a game of cat and mouse, and I had just finished bumping my target and cackling at them as they frantically power-jogged away. I didn’t realize my husband was behind me until I heard him sucking on his teeth in concern.
“You, uh, having fun there?” he asked. The truth is, yes. I was having fun. And thanks to the social media frenzy over Untitled Goose Game, I know I’m not alone.
The joy of being petty
I’m the kind of player who occasionally hyper-focuses on these weird little self-imposed challenges. In Overwatch, while wiser players are checking their team composition, I’m going hogwild and ripping up the library and relishing in the fact that I’m spending carefully curated books flying up into the air. When I’m playing games with my friends, I’m a terrible teammate who takes immense amounts of joy in trampling them with my big stupid horse, or pulling enemies onto us by shouting “HEWWO?” at other players over the mic.
The real power fantasy that I want to explore through games isn’t blowing someone’s head off with a shotgun or systematically destroying a host of highly trained secret agent enemies. Instead, I want to be the goose from Untitled Goose Game. I want to honk, and I want to steal people’s hats, and I want to watch them try and chase me as I run away on my little goose legs.
I want to be an unbridled chaos gremlin in a world that’s barely equipped to handle the force of my mischief.
The goose speaks the truth
Navigating society always requires some compromise. I’m a woman with anxiety who was raised in an Irish Catholic home, so I tend to compromise more than others might. I perform the necessary amount of emotional labor when I’m out, about, and interacting with the public so that everything runs smoothly. I smile, nod, and perform the appropriate social cues as necessary.
I don’t resent that — everyone needs to be polite to keep the gears of society greased — but when I’m alone and playing games, I want to escape it.
Much like the popular meme professes, I’m tired of being nice. I want to go ape shit.
It feels as though game developers have anticipated this ... to a degree. Games often give me tools to violently act out against NPCs, or pilfer loot and get rich. Those things are fine, and I don’t begrudge them existing, but they’re not the power fantasy tools that I want.
When a random guy shouts at me on the streets of Saint Denis, I don’t want to shoot him with a gun. I want to hogtie him, put him on the back of my horse, and parade him around as my new best friend. Getting lots of money so I can customize my environment and create a beautiful home is perfectly fine, but getting to go into someone else’s house and throw their stuff around is even better.
Being a horrible goose and getting to terrorize a village? Yes. Good. Perfect.
One of my favorite moments in Untitled Goose Game is knocking someone’s glasses off their face, moving their glasses far away, and then spreading my wings and doing loops around his legs while I slam the honk button as hard as I can.
The victory laps around my target aren’t a win condition, by the way. I just wanted to honk.
It’s fascinating to see a game where being petty and mean (in a relatively harmless way) is so deeply baked into the project’s bones, because it makes me yearn for the same thing in other games. In order to be the absolute worst in the way I want to be, I often have to take little bits of a game and artfully mix them with a dose of imagination.
Abigail Havelock, my busybody wine mom in Fallout 76, isn’t really supported by the game. I just won’t let Bethesda stop me from carrying out her homeowner crimes. But what would she look like if open-world games as a service focused on enabling me to be petty in the same way they enabled me to be violent?
A popular joke on Twitter right now is “put the goose in [another game]”, and it’s great to think about the horrible goose terrorizing Liberty City or Thedas. But the goose is just an avatar of something greater. The goose was inside of us all along, and we too can honk and flap our wings at sobbing children without the glasses they need to see. I only hope developers notice this glee and work to give us chaotic, petty goblins the tools we need to effectively terrorize NPCs and our friends alike.