Episodes Of "Nathan For You" Designed Specifically For Me, A Person Who Has Been On Edge Due To Secondhand Embarrassment Since Roughly 2005*

*2005 being, roughly, the year it seemed like commercials finally shifted from the late-90s “extreme”/Clueless/ambient 70s vibe to the “awkward silences” and “I can’t believe you just said that” and “Now you’ve made it weird” vibe that has predominated for well over a decade now. Nathan For You, in case you are not familiar with the premise, is a television show personally designed to hurt me, Daniel Mallory Ortberg. I will not link to a clip from that show because I cannot bear to even look at a screencap. Here are some episode descriptions from Wikipedia.

  • Nathan goes to a clothing store, where he tries on two shirts in the changing room, has a perfectly friendly-yet-unremarkable conversation with a member of the sales staff, and leaves with a new shirt he purchased with regular money. The shirt is in a bag.

  • Nathan meets someone who is both unhappy and deluded, and he leaves them alone. Just…he just leaves them alone.

  • Nathan helpfully answers a stranger’s question, at which point their interaction ends.

  • Nathan spends some time listening to a friend’s problems without offering advice, just providing a neutral sounding board while they figure out their own priorities in this situation. Then they eat something normal, not like, a really big fish or anything.

  • Nathan leaves a whole mess of people alone

  • Just an hour of nothing, maybe there’s a very low, gentle hum in the background and the screen is kind of greyish but nothing more than that, and I give Nathan $500 to not do anything for an hour

  • Come on, man

  • It feels like it’s happening to me every time, and I can never figure out if in this nightmare scenario I’m the dupe being stretched thin or if I’m Nathan and I’m suddenly going to blink and find myself in the middle of pushing a total stranger’s buttons during an obviously stressful and painful times and I’m going to have to start piloting Nathan’s body around and extricating myself from the awful, uncomfortable, fingernail-shredding situation he’s created, all while pretending to be Nathan himself and trying to backpedal whatever crazy shit he’s just promised to do

  • It’s not that I don’t think it’s a good show – I’m not really prepared to evaluate any of its merits – I don’t even know what good would look like for this sort of exercise. Interesting? Worthwhile? Merely unpredictable? I’m not qualified to evaluate this sort of thing! I’m not qualified, I’m not prepared, this isn’t my jurisdiction, man, I don’t want to make any claims about its goodness or badness so much as I want you to understand that the very existence of this show means that Hell is real and designed specifically for me, to torment my exact temperament as thoroughly and as efficiently as possible – I think he’s quite talented, only I don’t really know if talented is the word I want here. He’s very good at extracting something out of others, including me, and I hate it, and it makes me want to die, and I can’t say that about very many television programs, especially the ones that have already gone off the air.

  • I hit puberty right when Tom Green’s show first started airing, and that seems relevant here; I had a hard time then too and I haven’t stopped cringing ever since

  • Just be cool, man, just be cool, I don’t want anyone to notice me and when I so much as think about your show I feel like the entire world is showing up to notice me, yell at me, steal my pants, and burn me under a kleig light and I don’t think you’re personally responsible for that particular internal experience of mine but I sure wish you’d take it into consideration before launching any future projects

Yet More Goose Talk

Readers of this newsletter may remember the fact that I really enjoyed getting to play (if I’m scrupulously honest, mostly watching my friends play because I’m enormously bad at video games) Untitled Goose Game earlier this fall:

I am the horrible creeping bag of sound that is the most worst to you! I will use my beak to mischief you and I will press B. I wobble my snake-front-body and I waggle my bag-back-body and they meet in the middle to plan a bad idea to upset you. I flap back and forth my business rear for balancing and I snapple-pap my feet all up and down the town for terrible reasons, and you don’t like it. I am the goose and you are the miserable boy with no honk. I invented my body and it was the best idea.

Honk! Honk! I flap open my back in celebration when I make victory over the fence, when I smash it from its lock, when I smash it down, when I undo all of your doing. Here I honk! I hold up all of my wings and I make more layers of me, the goose that hates your family.

Earlier this week I got the chance to speak to Jake Strasser, one of Untitled Goose Game’s co-creators, as part of Melbourne’s Digital Writer’s Festival. It was delightful! It was a little nerve-wracking! Not since 1926’s “Jeeves and the Impending Doom” have I seen such a loving, masterful portrayal of birds and Man – what was I to ask him?

A brief excerpt, for the unfamiliar:

“My man,” I explained to the Right Hon. “A fellow of infinite resource and sagacity. He'll have us out of this in a minute. Jeeves!”

“Sir?”

“I'm sitting on the roof.”

“Very good, sir.”

“Don't say ‘Very good.’ Come and help us. Mr. Filmer and I are treed, Jeeves.” 

“Very good, sir.” 

“Don't keep saying 'Very good.' It's nothing of the kind. The place is alive with swans.” 

“I will attend to the matter immediately, sir.” I turned to the Right Hon. I even went so far as to pat him on the back. It was like slapping a wet sponge. “All is well,” I said. “Jeeves is coming.”

“What can he do?”

I frowned a trifle. The man's tone had been peevish, and I didn't like it. “That,” I replied with a touch of stiffness, “we cannot say until .we see him in action, he may pursue one course, or he may pursue another. But on one thing you can rely with the utmost confidence — Jeeves will find a way. See, here he comes stealing through the undergrowth, his face shining with the light of pure intelligence. There are no limits to Jeeves's brain-power. He virtually lives on fish.” I bent over the edge and peered into the abyss. “Look out for the swan, Jeeves.”

“I have the bird under close observation, sir.” 

The swan had been uncoiling a further supply of neck in our direction; but now he whipped round. The sound of a voice speaking in his rear seemed to affect him powerfully. He subjected Jeeves to a short, keen scrutiny  and then, taking in some breath for hissing purposes, gave a sort of jump and charged ahead. 

“Look out, Jeeves!”

“Very good, sir.”

Well, I could have told that swan it was no use. As swans go, he may have been well up in the ranks of the intelligentsia; but, when it came to pitting his brains against Jeeves, he was simply wasting his time. He might just as well have gone home at once. Every young man starting life ought to know how to cope with an angry swan, so I will briefly relate the proper procedure. You begin by picking up the raincoat which somebody has dropped; and then, judging the distance to a nicety, you simply shove the raincoat over the bird's head; and, taking the boat-hook which you have prudently brought with you, you insert it underneath the swan and heave. The swan goes into a bush and starts trying to un- scramble itself ; and you saunter back to your boat, taking with you any friends who may happen at the moment to be sitting on roofs in the vicinity. That was Jeeves's method, and I cannot see how it could have been improved upon.

You can watch our conversation here, and for those of you who can’t listen to an interview at work, I’m including a few of the questions I asked Jake below.

You’ve talked about how you and your partners Michael McMaster, Stuart Gillespie-Cook, and Nico Disseldorp work collaboratively, that you try to operate by consensus wherever you can. What does that process look like?

  • Have you ever had to refine or modify it? What’s been the most challenging part of committing to consensus?

  • It’s funny to think of a consensus-driven team creating a game where your main objective is to divert, hinder, and stymie everyone you meet from achieving their goals. Do you think there’s a way that striving for consensus allows you to better imagine what chaos might look like? 

For that matter, do you think of the goose as chaotic at all? As malicious? As purposeful?

Your previous game, Push Me Pull You, explores the light, playful, relational side of Body Horror. Do you see any connection between that and the physical delight of, for lack of a better word, goosey embodiment in Untitled Goose Game? I suppose what I’m trying to get at here is the bizarre joys of enfleshment I’ve noticed in your games, in the strange triumphs of flesh-pressing you’re somehow able to bring to the forefront. 

I know a lot of the response to the game has been about the pleasure people have found in playing as the goose. I found myself experiencing multiple responses to, say, the boy I trapped in the telephone booth: sometimes great pity for his suffering, sometimes impatience and contempt for his weakness, sometimes a parental desire for him to stand up for himself and fight me. Is this what it’s like to be God? 

  • Is this a fantasy of harmlessness (I’m just a simple old goose who can’t do nothin’ to nobody) or a fantasy of power (even your smallest pleasures, townspeople, are subject to my whims)? 

You’ve talked about being influenced by Brum, a British television show that was syndicated in Australia and setting Goose in an English village – is it too much to suggest Goose has something to do with the Commonwealther’s relationship to British imperialism?

(Honk.)

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