We at Sidequest are never ones to back down from a challenge, particularly a self-imposed one. So here we are, ready and willing to really talk about the Untitled Goose Game and philosophy. We’re also a little facetious, but damn if we didn’t also convince ourselves we’re right.
Consider the Panopticon, a system of discipline in which prisoners are spread in a circle or semi-circle around a central observatory hub, in which a guard, unseen by the prisoners, resides. The prisoners know that the guard is there, that they will be punished further if they are caught acting out, but they don’t know when they are being watched. Because of this, they regulate their own behavior to avoid punishment.
Michel Foucault wrote about the Panopticon as a place of modern punishment and power in Discipline and Punish. We live in a Panopticon; perhaps not a literal one, but one where we are always conscious of being observed, of our actions being evaluated, and we monitor ourselves because of this—hence the endless supply of “the FBI agent assigned to me” jokes. Foucault refers to this idea as “a design of subtle coercion for a society to come.” In essence, by making us aware that we are being surveilled, the power structures that govern our societies encourage us to police ourselves by reminding us that our actions are always being watched.
Except the Goose. The Goose is not aware of our observation; he knows only chaos. He has no respect for law or society or politeness. He feeds on bread and mischief. The Goose, then, is our escape from our life within the technological Panopticon. We embrace this freedom, this madcap adventure, because the Goose has something we do not. Either he doesn’t care about being observed—though he might be chased or chastised, he can steal even as the villagers watch him do it—or he doesn’t know that he is being watched, a thing that humans in 2020 cannot fathom.
Why are we so obsessed with the Goose? Because unlike us, he is truly free. There is no punishment, no discipline, for a being of pure anarchy. No gods, no masters, no police, no Panopticon—the Goose is our refuge from surveillance, an outlet for the pandemonium we might cause in retaliation to our oppression if, only if, being watched didn’t cause us to self-regulate.
”I have a Will, and would willingly do Good, but the earthly Flesh which I carry about me, keepeth me back, so that I cannot.” —Jacob Boehme, The Way to Christ.
The Goose does good, but it is a self-serving good. Were it not a goose but a man, would we not praise the Goose’s efforts? Would we not commend him for disrupting capitalism? For returning the carefully confined garden to its wild and free nature? Perhaps, and yet the Goose is trapped in an earthly, goosely flesh.
Each day the Goose drives the humble village further from God’s light and closer to depravity. But is that not what was foretold? Boehme theorized that not only would the Fall of Man occur, but that it was necessary, that it would catalyze man’s evolution. To the villagers, the Goose can do no good. The Goose is devilry and chaos. The Goose is the catalyst.
What does it mean to be human? And what does it mean to be… a goose?
Plato once defined man as “a featherless biped.” In order to point out the flaws in this definition, his philosophical contemporary Diogenes famously ran frantically into the forum holding a plucked chicken and loudly proclaimed, “Behold! A man!”
The horrible Goose agrees with Diogenes’ sentiment. Strip him of all his feathers, and that doesn’t make him a man. It just makes him angry and, perhaps, a little more horrible on the outside, to match his horrible little wicked heart.
Diogenes, too, was considered a troublemaker in his day: he was a beggar who lived in a barrel on the outskirts of the marketplace and ate the food that others threw away. Why? He believed living more like a dog would bring him closer to understanding true happiness. A dog is unconcerned with materialism and superficiality, while humans are defined by their place in the social order. (He was ahead of his time, both in the understanding of class struggle and the art of shitposting, to be honest.)
So let’s consider: how horrible is the Goose, really? He lives among humans, the more privileged societal class, and honks back at the corrupt societal system in whatever small ways he can—by stealing their produce, turning on their sprinklers, taking over their televisions. By instilling a little fear in those who normally hold power over him.
In the words of Diogenes, “In a rich man’s house, there is nowhere to spit but his face.” The Goose is clearly a student of this philosophy. I rest my case.
Melissa Brinks is Sidequest’s editor in chief, co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast, author of The Compendium of Magical Beasts, and an aspiring beekeeper. She once won an argument on the internet, and tweets at @MelissaBrinks.