Angelina Bellebuono is a photographer and writer living in rural Georgia. She owns 13 goats (including Dolly, pictured above) and has written for publications including Paste Magazine and Georgia Trend. In 2010, she created an interactive photography/writing project called Goatballad: A Pasture Hymn. We asked Angelina to play Goat Simulator and write about her experience with the game as a goat farmer. This is her personal essay.
A friend of a friend refers to me as goat goddess and emails me explaining that I may get a goat question from San Francisco. I live on a five-acre farm in rural Georgia. San Francisco is far away. Are there any goats in San Francisco?
The email arrives. A request: write about Goat Simulator, a new-but-not-so-serious video game.
That same day, three people post the game trailer on my Facebook wall. I have 13 goats. I have a traveling photography project that features the herd. I bottle fed many of them as babies and handle them all daily. They have names, distinct personalities, different food preferences, and a variety of vocal intonations. I can tell who is soapboxing as I walk from house to pasture. Usually it's the herd narrator, Lucinda. Loud of mouth, round of belly.
But the last time I played a video game, I sat cross-legged in front of the Atari 2600 in suburban Atlanta and shouted teenage obscenities at the TV screen, trying to coerce my Pitfall guy to leap over snakes or snag the gold. My screaming never worked, and soon I retired joystick for car keys and poetry and boys and never looked back.
Now, outside in the pasture, I ask the rag-taggle herd if I am qualified to write about a virtual goat. Dolly, the herd queen, head butts Ira, knocking him into Charlie, who careens, wide-sided, into me. I steady myself as Charlie moves away, casting wary backward glances at Dolly.
Her eyes shimmer gold flecks, then sparkle mischievously. Gracefully she flaunts her magnificent horns, turns sharp left, then forward, shoving big-boned Aretha into the hay trough and scattering the remaining herd like buckshot.
Points, I think. That move would earn us points. I ask Dolly how many we get. She glances sideways, but just chews her hay.
My friend Kathryn watches the Goat Simulator trailer and reports back to me with authority. “You will not like this game,” she says. “It's violent. The goat knocks things over and blows things up. Your goats don't do that.”
Kathryn should know; she is partly responsible for the first bottle baby goat on the farm, but I don't bring that up. She can, however, recall all the things she's learned vicariously about goats in the past six years.
Goatmyth by goatmyth, she debunks them all: “Goats are picky eaters; they do not eat everything. They like Rolling Rock, not Natty Light. They use their tongues for flirting, not for dragging people into oncoming traffic. They are affectionate creatures who fall asleep on your lap.”
She articulates, “They.Are Not.Killing.Machines.” She harrumphs—indignant at my obvious lack of respect.
I admire Kathryn's retention of seemingly useless goat knowledge; yet when I watch the trailer again, I snortlaugh. Is Goat really using its tongue to cause havoc and destruction?
I accept the assignment.
I sit in a space he calls the Dungeon. It's really just a basement, but JC is a serious gamer with a serious system. He has offered me access so I can cavort with this simulated Goat of Mayhem.
My fingers are clumsy as I try to manipulate various key combinations and mouse movements, but slowly, Goat and I begin our journey into this virtual realm of gas stations and parties and low-gravity research facilities surrounded by fences that he and I cannot seem to scale.
The pasture goats do not seek to escape their fenced pasture confines, but they are insatiably curious. I honor that curiosity now by exploring with this Caprine Destructor. My keystroke skills are weak, but we master headbutting quickly. We practice on cars, exploding them from painted red into charred metal shells. We practice on barrels in a rhythm—headbutt, back up, go again. Headbutt, back up, go again.
I feel a little dirty for having so much fun. “Don't tell,” I whisper to Goat, my enabler.
Best of all, Goat and I practice on people, flopping them into subservience. “Shit,” the convenience store clerk says as we wrestle her to the ground. We knock over wine bottles too. I wonder if it's champagne. Goats love champagne.
When my lack of maneuvering skills limits our progress, JC kindly offers to drive Goat so I can experience true chaos. His hands work keys and propel goat into places Dolly and her herd would find amazing. Goat in a tower with peasant goats bowing in honor. Goat with a jetpack. Goat on a trampoline. Goat with a Satan death mask, complete with extra set of horns. Goat obliterating yet another piece of heavy machinery.
“Wait,” I say, “Is that a John Goat tractor?”
It is. Instead of the ubiquitous green and yellow agricultural icon, this farm implement is resplendent in red paint and its very own goat logo. But not for long. JC and Goat headbutt it, too. The tractor explodes in magnificent, fiery fashion and in the excitement, I want to high-five Goat, but there is no time for nonsense when there is havoc to be had.
The duo of carnage wrecks GoatHenge, cascades into firework flight, jetpacks into tree houses, levels civil protests at ground level (no more Penis-shaped food, they demand) and annihilates party-goers mid-Cabbage Patch dance with the boulder of death.
As we destroy this virtual world, I gradually drift away from the violence and am lulled into watching the shadows follow Mayhem Goat so perfectly, and admiring the texture of his fur and his divine squash-belly body. What a lovely specimen of goat he is, I think, even as he does things no goat would ever do. I laugh deliriously at his ridiculous lolling tongue and heaving breath as he rests between goat missions. I wonder if the game developers know that in my pasture, a lolling tongue means the most rudimentary of goat romance awaits. Of this, Dolly might indeed be envious.
In a goat herd, a female goat serves as queen. What looks like bossy isn't. The herd queen maintains order if there is chaos, determines where the finest foliage waits, alerts if there is danger. Dolly is a magisterial ruler. She is quite serious in her duties, and mostly gentle. Her herd of 12 grazes contentedly in a pasture by the road, they sleep at my side on sun-soaked days, and they welcome warmly visitors of all ages.
Kathryn's correct. These squash-bellied 13 do not trample, destroy or destruct like Mayhem Goat. They push and shove like small children on a playground, trying to get to the perfect rock or the single, most succulent piece of hay, but they are generally kind, intelligent beings, oft-maligned by lore that has them eating tin cans, trash and refuse.
Like Mayhem Goat, they are agile and strong. Precocious, too. The developers got that right.
I tell JC that gamers would be bored to hear about how my goats spend their days grazing, stopping only to nap and chew their cud. It feels simple, after all that excitement, to explain that I spend hours in the pasture simply watching the goats explore, interact, frolic, rest and ruminate. I watch them, and in the watching, I leave whatever I'm battling behind. Their quiet quiets me. And their antics make me laugh.
Yet JC gets it. “With them, you escape,” he says.
JC admits to have fallen hard for “Goat Simulator.” I ask him why he'd bother controlling a goat instead of focusing on more serious games with rich details, complex characters and intricate plotlines.
“This game,” he says, “is also a perfect escape—a delightfully fun escape.”
I wonder out loud what drama we'd encounter if Dolly and Mayhem really did manage a pasture hook-up. I am hoping the game developers give me a call. With some collaboration, I bet we could take “Goat Simulator” to an entirely different level. Goat tongues and all.
Read more of Angelina Bellebuono's work on her website. All of the photographs above are from Goatballad: A Pasture Hymn. After writing this essay, Angelina sent us a quiz about goats to accompany it. You can take that quiz on the next page.