Where The Goats Are starts as an idyllic game, where players guide their character, Tikvah, around her small farm, churning butter, collecting eggs, and watering a flower pot. But the horrors of the post-apocalyptic setting can’t be kept out by the white picket fence that guards this peaceful home, and soon the songbirds are replaced by ominous ravens, heralding something wicked in the wind.
“I am always interested in how video games can elicit emotions in us, how it’s possible for us to feel attached or even empathy for moving pixels on a screen,” Coyan Cardenas, who goes by the developer pseudonym Memory of God, told Hyperallergic. “That’s what I’ve tried to do: created a place you can call home for a short time, interact with, learn the routines, care for, and want to protect when something threatens it. To feel loss when it’s gone.”
The game is pay-what-you-wish on Itch.io, downloadable for Mac and PC. Players can discover ways of survival by interacting with the objects scattered around the farm, learning to take a long walk to the well for a cup of water, or to milk the goats to make butter, which in turn you can trade to a passing peddler for hay to feed the goats. The peddler is the only other human character in the game, although he regularly delivers letters to Tikvah from brothers and other friends and relatives who have fled the countryside for the city or more fertile lands. Cardenas explained that the idea for the game initially came out of a conversation with his girlfriend, when they were fantasizing about leaving their London architecture jobs for a self-sustaining life in the country.
“I was working on my previous game at the time, The Entertainer, and in contrast to the relative fast pace of that game — the premise is you run around a busy market square, busking for money to eat while avoiding the police and prison — I wanted to do something a lot more calm,” Cardenas stated.
The perspective of Where The Goats Are never changes, as the day turns to dusk, and you start in the cycle of busywork each morning. And it is a serene existence, in the beginning. A dark shadow falls over the farm slowly, with spectral appearances of phantom goats in the night, and the disappearance of your chickens. The letters from your friends grow more dire, warning of the pollution and devastation that will inevitably come. In an age of climate change and conflict, the game can be experienced as a digital parable on how we are all impacted, no matter how isolated our daily lives.
“To have players’ world view affected somehow by the game, even marginally, is my ultimate goal,” Cardenas said. “For video games to sufficiently reflect life to such an extent that they can influence a person’s world view and even ultimately understand the world a little better, I think is where video games as a medium should be heading. At least that is where I will be focusing my efforts.”
Where The Goats Are is available for free for PC and Mac on Itch.io.