Game On: Goats, bears and clumsy surgeons – the welcome insanity of novelty sims
Goat Simulator

With shamelessly silly titles such as Goat Simulator attracting thousands of fans, Mark Butler argues that these novelty sims offer a colourful, entertaining antidote to the po-faced seriousness that has come to dominate gaming.

Goat Simulator

Just yesterday, a rather fantastic-looking concept called Bear Simulator was brought to my attention.

Described as “like a mini Skyrim – but you’re a bear”, the unconventional open-world game proudly invites you to place yourself inside the fur of a hulking, sweaty animal and “do bear things”,  including exploring woodland environments and eating fish.

On the face of it, it may seem like a silly throwaway idea. The kind of thing you and your mates would come up with after a few late-night pints.

But consider this: the Kickstarter for the project has already completely smashed its goal in just one week, and the title has now raised a whopping $43,000 at the time of writing. More than 1,500 people have so far donated their hard-earned cash to make the idea become a reality, and there’s a genuine buzz building around it.

This is no isolated incident, either. Goat Simulator – a self-proclaimed “small, broken and stupid game” – has been receiving widespread coverage in the gaming press of late.

The experience, which is set to become available next week, sees you step into the hooves of a deceptively super-powered billie to wreak havok on an unsuspecting suburban population: head-butting people, trashing homes and using your ultra-sticky tongue to latch on to everything in sight. Oh, and clumsily flying through the air like a drunk, crippled Superman of course.

But if you think that such things are simply a throwaway, flash-in-the-plan exercise in OTT goofiness, you might want to think again.

The chaotic and brilliant Surgeon Simulator 2013, released last year, won rave reviews from a number of well-known critics and publications, and became a bona fide hit.

It notched up six-figure sales within the first few weeks of release and – by July – had been the subject of more than one million YouTube videos: racking up over 80 million views in the process. Not bad for a deliberately ridiculous farce that sees you comically attempting to perform heart transplants using crude tools, and the world’s worst control scheme.

Of course, the rampant interest in and enthusiasm for projects like these raises a very pertinent question. Just why do so many people want to play as a bear so badly? And why are novelty sims now beginning to get bigger and bigger in gaming?

The answer, I believe, lies simply in their inability to take themselves seriously – and the sheer, giddy, ludicrous fun that they provide.

One of the biggest problems in gaming over recent years has been its continual and dispiriting descent into a perpetual state of po-faced seriousness. The modern landscape is awash with brooding heroes, dark storylines and grey-brown colour palettes, with barely a glimmer of comic relief to be had.

When I were a lad, mainstream releases were dominated by a sort of irreverent, gleeful chaos. Hack-and-slashers like Golden Axe had pixie-kicking bonus levels, racers like Road Rash were really just an excuse to cause as much carnage as humanly possible, and FPS was frequently a by-word for tongue-in-cheek mayhem and gore-soaked silliness (think Wolfenstein, or PO’ed).

Now we have Call Of Duty.

Against a backdrop that seem determined to ape cinema’s recent desire for grittiness, and appears to regard any attempt at exuberant entertainment as ‘immature’ or ‘childlike’ (and what the hell is wrong with that?), is it any wonder that novelty sims that provide an anarchic, hilarious release are flourishing?

The simple truth is that these games are fun. Pure, unadulterated fun.

I can’t tell you how hard I laughed when playing Surgeon Simulator with my mates for the first time, and how much I physically hurt afterwards (though not as much as my unfortunate patient, who now had a set of stationary where his internal organs should be).

The likes of Goat Simulator provide a welcome release from the earnest, straight-faced delivery of modern Triple A titles, turning physics glitches and visual bugs into a delightful boost to the overall experience – rather than an immersion-destroying, aggravating by-product of shoddy oversights and QA shortcomings.

Speaking to Polygon, Goat Simulator creator Armin Ibrisagic noted:

“There are so many comedy movies out there in the movie industry, but there are so few comedy games.

“There are so many games that take themselves so seriously; the game industry is super serious for some reason.”

I couldn’t agree more. And while playing the gloriously funny South Park spin-off Stick Of Truth recently, it struck me that we are rather starved for laughs at the moment. When I set down my controller as the credits rolled, I thought ahead to the rest of the 2014 mainstream release schedule, and realised with a sinking heart how few light-hearted experiences lay in store.

There simply isn’t enough good old-fashioned fun in mainstream gaming these days, and novelty sims just might be the antidote to this glum, overcast trend.

So sign me up – I can’t wait to run around punching pigs and nicking pic-er-nic baskets in Bear Simulator

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Mark Butler

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