When I was 11 years old, I bought myself a zoo. Admittedly, it was not your typical establishment. To answer the condescending voice inside your head asking, “What, was it, like, a stuffed animal zoo? Har har har!”… no, it was not. Every lion, tiger and bear running around my park was 100% alive. Perhaps they weren’t alive in my dimension, but behind the screen of my old PC, they were certainly living.
Zoo Tycoon, released in 2001, was perhaps the greatest computer game of all time. Not only did it let you keep as many animals as you wanted (without being reprimanded by your parents for not cleaning the litterbox or not taking the elephant for a walk), but it allowed you to do so through an educational platform. What other game will teach you that leopards can jump over 6 foot fence and eat 5 humans before being captured by park officials? Exactly. Zoo Tycoon enlightened and entertained little me in a variety of ways, even if some of them weren’t exactly conventional.
Deny it all you want, but human beings are innately terrible and if you don’t believe me, I suggest you put one in front of a fully functional Zoo Tycoon game. After admiring the sheer talent required to create such a quality park, he or she will immediately destroy it. It is a natural instinct, the same instinct that causes you to jump on your friend’s newly constructed sandcastle or put a Sim in a swimming pool and remove all the ladders. When promoted to “God” status, the temptation to wreck havoc on humanity’s wildlife is just too great. If this person is anything like me, they will fill an exhibit with an army of lions, and another with a herd of antelope then remove the fences, and let nature run its course. (And by “nature,” I mean “vicious animals” and by “run its course” I mean “hunt zebras and park guests for hours.”) Whether this decision is caused by Discovery Channel deprivation as a child or pure evil, I’m not sure. I just know that giraffes cannot jump over fences and carnivores prefer the taste of antelope over monkeys and penguins.
When I was 7, I took out a book titled “Baby Animals” from my elementary school library and never gave it back. Call it a premature motherly instinct but ever since then, my attraction to baby animals of all kind has skyrocketed. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that when my polar bear exhibit suddenly gained two new members, I transformed into an embarrassing and overprotective suburban mom. These baby polar bears were small, white, fluffy, and they could be cleverly renamed at the touch of a button. While I’m sure my bear family did not appreciate their labels, that didn’t stop the guests from enjoying the exhibit’s four bear cubs: “Fuzzy,” “Wuzzy,” “Wasa,” and “Bear.”
Dinosaur/Marine Life Edition
In 2002, Zoo Tycoon took their business simulation a step further and released two very popular add-ons to the original game: Dinosaur Digs and Marine Mania. In addition to their clever, alliterative titles, these two games promised hours of fun. Or, so the package promised. While I wasn’t able to make Shamoo perform for the crowds as planned, many of the guests got a kick the Tyrannosaurus Rex, especially when he began crashing through the exhibits of the other dinosaurs.
Easily Irritated Animals
Zoo Tycoon was not all fun and games. Like any other situation in life, you could only control the will of the animal if they were sufficiently happy, which they never are. My typical gameplay would go a little something like this:
Game: Lion 1 is unhappy with his exhibit.
Me: *buys better shelter*
Game: Lion 1 is extremely unhappy with his exhibit.
Me: *removes shelter, buys more food*
Game: Lion 1 does not want more food in his exhibit. He has become vegetarian.
Me: *removes food, adds bowl of salad*
Game: Lion 1 is not hungry. Lion 1 is unhappy with his exhibit.
Me: *removes salad, adds a small rock to the corner of the exhibit*
Game: Lion 1 is satisfied with his exhibit.
Sources say Zoo Tycoon was often used as a training program for new mothers whose children were entering the “teenager” stage of development, but nothing has been proven.
So whether you liked animals, dinosaurs, or business administration, Zoo Tycoon was the go-to game of the early 2000s. While I can no longer play the game on my computer (my brother stepped on the disc a few months after I bought it and I was forced to revert to Roller Coaster Tycoon, but that’s a story for another day), I will always remember the success I felt when I had created a popular zoo environment and the satisfaction I reaped from destroying it immediately after. Destruction is a form of creation, if you think about it.
Image via ZooTycoon