PC; cert n/a; Coffee Stain Studios; £6.99
If there is one thing the internet is good at, outside of ruining April Fools' Day, it is creating phenomena. Through our plethora of sharing tools and instant transmission, unlikely ideas can catch the collective imagination in the morning and be around the world by teatime. And the key currency amid this meme madness is animals – well, usually cats, but not exclusively. And so we come to Goat Simulator.
Goat Simulator is and was a joke, the product of developer Coffee Stain studios entering a game jam and creating a knockaround sandbox that promises to fulfill all of your goat-based fantasies (not that one). The title of the game – which has been the subject of some frankly adorable confusion over at the Daily Mail – references the recent explosion in popularity of more straight-laced sims like Euro Truck Simulator and Farming Simulator. It is a parody both of gaming and of itself.
Games are a fertile area for this kind of self-reflexive success. Most recently we've seen Flappy Bird and Twitch Plays Pokemon. In fact there's a version of Flappy Bird called Flappy Goat. The phenomenon is about being part of the joke: look at Goat Simulator's user tags (a Steam feature that lets players assign words to games) and the top four are "Masterpiece", "Beautiful", "Art" and "Simulator".
While this is pretty funny, it also leads to the unedifying spectacle of everyone wanting to be in on the joke and outlets, without a trace of irony, awarding Goat Simulator the kind of decent scores and writeups that may tempt people towards a purchase. This is where I have to say baa humbug. The joke with Goat Simulator is that it's crap. And while this is a funny joke for 10 minutes, it becomes a different thing when the game's on the front page of Steam for £7.
You control a goat in thirdperson, and walk it through a small open-world area butting things from people to gas canisters. Butt a petrol station and, as in Goat Simulator's trailer, you can cause an explosion that sends our little friend careening across the map. Happen upon a barbeque party and you can cause chaos by butting the participants, perhaps kidnapping one with your tongue and dragging them up a nearby scaffold. Jump over a fence towards the Zero-G testing facility and, as well as the legend "Fuck the police" being blazoned across the screen, your goat can float around therein.
Through various means you can transform the goat into an alien, a robot, a giraffe, a whale, or – by dragging five humans onto a pentagram in a corner of the map – "Devil Goat". It is important to emphasise that all of this stuff sounds better than, in practice, it feels. Goat Simulator is a knowing piece of shonk, where the fact that the controls don't feel great and the physics are ludicrous is part of the appeal. This is a game where the screenshots are better than the experience, and comparisons being made to score-attack games like the Tony Hawk's series are ludicrous.
The selfish meme
While it wouldn't be strictly accurate to call Goat Simulator a meme, its sudden prominence does owe everything to that kind of virality. Last year Richard Dawkins gave a talk on how his original concept behind memes no longer applied to modern usage of the term; his point being that memes, in his original definition, are ideas that survive because they transmit culturally useful information. Now the term "meme" is more often used to refer to instant but transient success, something that is permanent only so far as countless news stories on the internet are permanent.
The sad thing about Goat Simulator is that it demonstrates how social media and the internet amplify our supine tendencies; this is a silly thing, and that's fine, but now it is somehow also a cultural moment. People are encouraging each other to spend money on it in their droves. In the desperate scramble to tease a meaning from such popularity – because surely there must be some reason for this behaviour – we produce only paeans to banality.
No one likes to be the curmudgeon pointing out that, actually, a joke isn't all that funny. But with Goat Simulator now a real product selling for real money on Steam I'll take the hit. This is a 10-minute laugh, if that – the kind of thing that's here today, gone tomorrow, but for a brief moment in history is the talk of Shoreditch and Twitter. It's the gaming equivalent of a novelty single and even the developers, to give credit where it's due, recommend you don't buy it. Listen to them.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010