Who knew the profundity of life could be encapsulated in a small, perfectly formed log of goat cheese? I didn't before playing Where The Goats Are but Tikvah, the elderly women I'm inhabiting, has just opened my eyes.
On the face of it, this charming little game is about making cheese and tending to Tikvah's modest flock of goats. I tried to find spare moments to collect water and give my gasping plant a drink. Sometimes I collected eggs from my satisfyingly ramshackle chicken coop. And when I really needed a break I took up my stick and made patterns in the dust. But the rest of the time I maintained a focused dedication to my task of making cheese.
Tikvah, you see, has seemingly never known another life. Where The Goats Are begins with an affecting, minimal flurry of text. "Tikvah has lived here all her life," the game tells me. "One by one, everyone else left. But now, there is no one left. Except Tikvah and her goats." The game would reveal more details over the course of its hour or so run time but I already knew what was in store. Artisanal communities like Tikvah's, whether in my native Britain, southern Europe, mid-west America or Middle East—heck, anywhere in the world—have been under threat from the creeping hands of urbanisation and globalisation. Millions have flocked to cities and factories in search of work leaving these old ways of life to looming dereliction. Tikvah's fate, it seems, was already sealed before I even loaded the game.
That might seem unrelentingly gloomy and, to an extent it is, but there is a lightness of touch to the events of Where The Goats Are. I found a real joy settling into the game's rhythm of labor. I began at the crack of dawn with the call of the cockerel and time marched on with its scorching yellow sun and milky blue nights. I would milk and churn and produce and there was a grace to my actions. As Tikvah pulled on the teats of her goat, she would whistle a sweet, delicate tune, clearly deriving great joy from the process. I found that joy, too.
Like Cart Life, another game where life and labor is centre stage, time never stops. There is an insistent quality to it. Even as I read the increasingly bleak letters delivered by the portly, shuffling postman-cum-trader, I could make out my goats and chickens wandering around the pen through the letter's translucent surface. But while Cart Life is stressful—deliberately so— Where The Goats Are exudes a chill, hypnotic quality. Time marches on and the shadows lengthen but Tikvah is never hurried. She goes about her work with the slowness that her ageing legs and swollen ankles require.
Perhaps it's the game's languid pace that allowed me to consider the impact of the world around the farmstead. Many of the characters display an assumption that the old and new ways of life are separate. "I used to think the farm was the whole world and the city seems like a different planet," writes one family member. But then Tikvah's brother writes that he thought he saw her cheese being sold in the city and suddenly they don't seem so far apart after all. It's just one grows at the other's expense.
While Tikvah and her goats might meet an ultimately tragic end, the fleeting, quiet moments before this asked me to appreciate the small things while I could. Sometimes there's virtue to be found in making things by hand, even when the world's closing in around you.