Goat Simulator and the limits of digital anarchy

goat simBy Neil Merrett

At its best, Goat Simulator’s loose sense of rules exist to be reshaped, or rather headbutted to your whims. It is less a simulation, more a dreamlike experience akin to being an indestructible new-born child let free in a playground.

Goat Simulator, released on Playstation 4 in 2015, Developed by Coffee Stain Studios

Humanity faces an uncertain future, whether in terms of our economy, climate, or even how we eat and inform ourselves, our ultimate direction as a species has never seemed more unknowable. It is arguably exciting for some, but terrifying for others.
Somewhere down the list of these uncertainties we face as a species is how we entertain ourselves.

This is a question of how we might hope to try to escape from the daily worries of mammalian life to build digital worlds that can satisfyingly reflect our best or worst natures. In short, what exactly does our unknowable future hold for the videogames we play?
One bold vision for the potential future of the industry is put forward in the cross-platform title known as ‘Goat Simulator’. You’d think the title would be somewhat self explanatory of what the overall game entails, but you’d arguably be wrong.

This is a game that is as much in debt to the conventions of decades-old extreme sports games such as Tony Hawk Skateboarding, as it is to the more experimental VR titles of the last few years. VR, for example often seeks to create involving and epic adventures that can redefine storytelling and interaction.

This is usually reflected in games based on waving your hands around as if to shield yourself from visual beams of sound and music, or otherwise recreating seemingly more mundane daily experiences such as flushing a toilet, albeit it with universe altering ramifications.

A dream-like daliance

Goat Simulator starts in a faintly recognisable, almost dreamlike suburban US environment complete with a farm, construction site, highway, water park, a mixture of homes, a rural community to terrify and an anti-gravity centre to play around in.

The game’s worlds are to be explored as a goat, albeit it a goat that is an unknowable tormentor of the gormless humans, joyriders and business owners that all frequent the digital world around you.

This is not so much a vast living breathing digital world such as Grand Theft Auto, but more of a playground made to look and feel like everyday life.

As a goat, the player may as well be an alien creature or entity from a different dimension based on some of the more tangential tasks you can complete.

These range from facilitating occult rituals to performing some obscure aerial stunts while freefalling thousands of feet in the air, or even mimicking a Hollywood blockbuster by facilitating some grandiose, explosive destruction.

Your goat is not a benevolent force, nor is it necessarily evil.

It is an entity free to play around with every concept of the game world, whether making the most of programming bugs or testing the potential impacts of high velocity water slides mixed with jet propulsion.

The game’s rules are to be prodded and poked – they exist to be reshaped, or rather headbutted to your whims – as if you were an indestructible new-born child let free in a playground.

Missions and story are almost entirely irrelevant. Exploration and chaos are the driving mechanics of the game, leading to experiences that can shift even gravity and physics on its head.

To say too much more about the game’s structure of lack of it might spoil the experience for the uninitiated. For this is a game that is truly at its most liberating when letting you play around as a four legged anarchist free to try just about anything that an indestructible goat capable of leaping over a everyday shed in a single bound could get up to.

For the first glorious few hours of Goat simulator, there is seemingly no logic for anything that happens. Within the game’s world, there is an amusing, imprecise logic and sense of gravity and speed that means each glorious explosion or literal car crash has a heightened sense of impact, potentially catapulting you skyward, or sending you smashing into a family’s back garden bbq like a furry meteor of fury.

Wrath of goat

Less wrath of god, and more wrath of goat, but the effect is much the same to the terrified denizens of the game world that are broadly programmed to believe that farm-yard animals aren’t supposed to be a four legged manifestation of detached chaos.
Goat Simulator is, at its best, a blank canvas for all your mischievous, destructive, or even just playful urges.

Needless to say, the game is at its most effective in its initial, uncertain and vague state, where the player is not at all aware of their goat’s limits or purpose. Here you can learn the basic game controls, such as trying to balance on your rear legs for a points bonus, or see how additional chaos you can cause from ramming a market stall or petrol tank with a half a kilometre run-up.

At some points, Goat Simulator is forced to remember the stricter conventions of a videogame. Here, the glorious and largely nonsensical quests and missions, such as sabotaging a petrol station, are swapped out for basic quests to scour the land to find goat statutes.

Suddenly gone is the anarchy, and in its place is a somewhat clunky 3D platformer where you arkwadly try to run through garage doors and loft spaces to find over two dozen statues to get to a new level where a whole new level of chaos might be unleashed. At the very least, your goat might get to ride and meddle with a ferris wheel, but to get hear, you have to play by some form of rules.

In the end, even a dreamlike digital world has its limitations, and this is rightly so. A programmer’s resources and time are finite and expectations of an endless playground of things to headbutt, explode, ride or smash apart comes as a cost.

Yet there is something exciting on Goat Simulator’s opening few hours. A unique chance to play a meandering, dream-like video game free of those pesky restrictions and logic of life .

This is a title that shows there can be something just as immersive in engaging in obscure, pointless chaos and anarchy, free of any of its usual connotations, as there is a is spending 40 hours in some painstakingly programmed, cinematic open world with its tightly controlled rules, mission structures and need to eat and groom oneself.

Meaning, it seems can come in many number of tenuous forms, whether your existence is experienced on four legs, two, or none at all.

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