Simplify This Horse is, on the surface, a simple browser game made as a promotional tool to hype up the Swiss band Extrafish’s upcoming album, Simplify This Fish. That is, until its layers are pulled back, and what’s exposed is a game that’s obtuse, weird, and fascinating.
Extrafish is a balkan-dada-dub band, a genre you’d be forgiven for never having heard of—the band made it up. Mixing traditional balkan music with dadaistic lyrics, and dub parts, the band sounds all over the place, but in the best way possible. Songs are often hard to follow, they change radically, and they’re sonically confusing. But they’re also catchy, smart, and unique. All themes developer Odan has captured visually in Simplify This Horse.
Simplify This Horse, both the game and the song, which plays throughout it, fixates around a quote attributed to the scholar Max Fisch (1901-1995), that reads, “Simplify this horse and change its architecture and its math. Neutralize this poor animal from its fishlessness.” It’s less of a suggestion, and more of a command. The game opens with a crudely-drawn horse whose legs and head keep shaking. Upon pressing them, they fall off the horse, “simplifying” it until ultimately it becomes an eye, and then two eyes, and then a fish, then multiple fish, what looks like a wave of water, and an inverted pyramid. All ultimately revealing the cover art of Extrafish’s upcoming album.
Odan told me his game is meant to leave players wondering, “what the hell did I just do?” He’s incorporated the band’s dub influence in the game, allowing players to remix the song as they interact with it, while also maintaining Extrafish’s dadaism influence.
“For me, a crucial part of [dadaism] is the attempt to go beyond the comfort zone of the audience to test them with something unknown or something they can’t categorize and provoke them to start thinking about what they just saw or heard,” he said. To achieve this, he leaves the player to trial and error, letting them experience the changing music and imagery with each mouse click. It’s intentionally irritating, Odan said, because he wants the player “to question and analyze what’s going on and what [they’re] doing.”
As a package it all works; as much as I was confused, I couldn’t help but be curious while playing Simplify This Horse for the first time. I wanted to know what bizarre shapes the green lines would take next. Each time I was able to progress, it rewarded me with more of “Simplify This Horse,” the song, which has now been stuck in my head for days—and that’s not a complaint. It’s cleverly disguised as a simple browser game, but is actually a smart marketing tool, stealing a player’s curiosity and subliminally making them new fans of Extrafish.
For more on Extrafish and their new album, check out their Facebook or give them a listen on Bandcamp. To play Simplify This Horse for yourself, click this link.