The Goat Simulator video entertainment game, made by Coffee Stain Studios and distributed by the kind of in-jokey word of mouth that let potato salad earn somebody $60,000 on Kickstarter, is something that people are fiercely debating. I won’t lie, this is probably the kind of thing that you don’t want to know there’s a serious debate about, but this is the world we live in. Let’s investigate.
The game started as a joke at a game jam, a collaborative brainstorm/coding exercise for developers. The idea was to spoof “simulator” games, which tend to be like model train sets – lovingly crafted, extremely niche, and super boring unless you care deeply about the subject.
So Goat Simulator was the opposite – frantic action. You’re a model of chaos as your goat-avatar butts over fancy parties, cars, grandmas, etc. Since it was made in a hurry, they did their best (which was a very good job – they ARE professional developers) to capture the feeling of anarchic fun, but the game was half-made and buggy.
I’m hesitant to even describe the gameplay much because it doesn’t matter. The devs have compared it to a skateboarding game and that’s as good a description as any – I tend to think of this old Flash game I played where you’re a jumping dolphin. You initiate “runs”, dashing in Goat Sim, grinding or half-piping in skateboard games, or jumping out of the water in the dolphin game, and on each run the idea is to do as many tricks and cause as much damage as possible, with consecutive tricks building up a score multiplier. There is some mild exploration, a few upgrades and secrets, but really you’re looking at a few minutes of fun as you explode things.
In fact, as I type this out, an analogy suggests itself. This game is Snakes on a Plane. Conceived as a joke, produced to fit a moment in time on the internet, lambasted for being mediocre, defended as ironic fun.
You can learn something about yourself from where you fall in this debate. If you try to make a “bad” (ba-a-a-a-d?) game and succeed, have you succeeded? Have you failed? Is it alright to then release that game to the public, and charge them for it? If an in-crowd, in this case game developers and internet meme-ists, makes their brand of humor available for sale, if you can in some sense purchase inclusion into that group, is that an abomination? Or is that just how these things work?
If you want a concept game with a weird sense of humor, try Viscera Cleanup Detail by RuneStorm. Play its multiplayer with a friend and chew the fat some evening, and see if you aren’t finding some emergent gameplay in high-fiving each other with severed limbs before long.