Games have the ability to affect us. They can touch us, make us reconsider points of view, and bring us to new highs and lows. Characters connect with us, and their adventures can inspire us. Coffee Stain Studio’s Goat Simulator is pinnacle not only of story telling, but of games ability to convey important messages without us ever realizing they are there. Was this intentional? Will Goat Simulator spark revolution and social change across the world? Does this game go even deeper and farther into philosophical study than I have even suggested? Game Designer Armin Ibrisagic makes the answer to these questions clear:
@thelewisevans i dont know
— Armin Ibrisagic (@Arminposts) March 28, 2014
At first glance, you’d think Goat Simulator to be a simple game about a goat, trapped in a wonderful little neighborhood, and destined to frolic and play his days away. You however, would be wrong. Don’t be down trodden, it is an easy mistake to make, as the subtle references to religious history and socio-political class conflict are expertly hidden within the game.
Take, for instance, two of the parties taking place in this town. On one side of town, there’s an all-american barbecue, with people enjoying themselves on the edge of the forest. Cross the central road through town, and head to the wheat fields and you’ve got a very different idea of fun. A series of “rednecks” are driving in a circle, endlessly, and forever. On there own, you might think these two gatherings to be nothing more than set pieces to be destroyed by headbutts and misplaced-licks. However, when you consider where these are located, the genius of the game begins to become apparent.
The Barbecue is located near two major set-pieces: The Boulder of Death and The Pentagram of The Diabolical Goat, a late 18th Century Romanian version of the standard Pentagram. Why place such a pure and wholesome activity next to two clear focal points of death and despair? This is, in fact, a clear critique of Societal Norms. There nothing more ‘normal’ that a barbecue; friends, hamburgers and beers. It’s the American way. Yet, by placing this in such close proximity to a symbol of the Goat-Devil and a Death-Rock, Coffee Stain Studios and the creators of Goat Simulator have in fact said that doing what society thinks is right, what society thinks is appropriate, what society thinks is fun, is in fact dragging you into oblivion.
On the other hand, many of the people playing Goat Simulator no doubt chuckled at the Rednecks driving in circles ad infinitum. In fact, it has been made perfectly clear that this side of the town represents spirituality and the natural human desire for peace. The endless circling of the car is a reference to eternity and the ouroroboros. It represents continual rebirth and renewal. It should be no surprise that this event is happening close to the two most spiritual places in the game: Goathenge and the Crop Circles. Stonehenge, the real world basis for Goathenge, has intensive spiritual and astrological significance, and placing this so close the the crop circles is no mistake. It represents old world spirituality coming together with new age mysticism. Societal norms lead to despair and death, while spirituality and new age thinking lead to renewal and new life.
Goat Simulator is, quite frankly, one of the strongest artistic approvals of rebellion against society ever created. Take the most basic mechanic of the game: you are a goat. You hop about, you lick things, you ‘baaa’. You are The Goat. Yet, what are goats similar to? Sheep, the near universal symbol of complacency and of blind followers in our society. Having the player be a goat obscures direct symbolic connections, no doubt attracting more people to the game, and thus exposing more people to the message. Yet, like a sheep, you follow the tasks given on the screen: Jump, Flip, Lick, Destroy.
Goat Simulator represent a rare and wonderful thing in gaming: obscured behind a facade of off-beat humor and idiocy hides a truly powerful message. It is message of individualism, of rebellion, and of destinies siezed. Some may scoff at it’s setting or it’s devotion to the principle of “Man as Goat”, but I feel it represents something truly wonderful in gaming: Social conflict expressed through a barn yard animal.