Zoo Tycoon as a Database

When I was a kid, my absolute favourite computer game was Zoo Tycoon. I loved trying to make a successful business, keeping guests entertained, making animals’ exhibits suitable and achieving awards for it. Recently, I introduced the game to my younger cousins, and then decided to create a zoo for myself again. Within a couple hours, I had developed an award winning zoo, whereas before it would take me a week to do the same. I finally understood how systematically the game ran. The game was based on requirements, and if those requirements were fulfilled, there were positive resulting actions. Cage a guest with a lion and block the exit, and the guest will invariably get attacked. Achieve a 95% happiness rating for the panda bears and they will reproduce. The game is not a narrative, as I had believed it to be as a child. It is a database of processes: of action and reaction. There is very little chance involved. The illusion of narrative was in the ‘god-like’ power of the user, and the choices that the user makes as they create their zoo. But for every choice, and in any order the choices are made, there are corresponding reactions that apply to that particular choice. This is the database structure that allows many games to function, seemingly in a progressive narrative, but a narrative that is solely relevant to the choices of the user. Understanding that allowed me to play the game on the hard level and still make a very successful business in very little time. And to be honest, it also made the game a lot less satisfying.



  1. It could be said that there is a heteroglossia, or multitude of contexts when playing this game. There is the idea of building a business up, maintaining it, and enjoying the process. But the contexts could be seen in several different ways depending on audience/player. This game has these layers, and makes reference to a hypermediated zoo of our reality, while also references other similar games. In this way, Zoo Tycoon has been composed entirely out of other similar works and references. This idea bleed into the theory of digitextuality, in that there is an ‘unreality’ or a ‘hyperreality’ in which the game revolves around. It calls attention to remediation in the sense of making things different, if not better than, reality.

  2. I would like to argue that this games goal is to create a feeling on immediacy while in gameplay, while with the passing of time has become a great example of unintentional, and negative, hypermediacy.. As mentioned, when you experience a sense of timelessness and get lost in the game as a child, you view it as a narrative, and feel as if you are completely in control. This I feel is the games goal. It wants to experience empowerment and “buy in” to the game so that you forget the world you are actually in (not being able to distinguish this reality and another digital reality). When we were children and this technology was still fairly new, we did buy in, and felt as if this was another world we were experiencing. The problem with this is that going back to this game once newer technology has been built, the interface seems to draw attention to itself. No longer is there a seamless flow with amazing graphics leaving you in such a state of immediacy that you cannot distinguish this reality from the next, but instead we are startled and jolted out of this world with our new understanding and experience with newer forms of media that create a better sense of immediacy. Thus, in a negative way anyone who has experience with these newer games that “do immediacy better” will now experience hypermediacy within older games such as Zoo Tycoon, but with no outstanding feature to draw us in. Hypermediacy without this crucial feature is a negative occurance, as it brings attention to its flaws.

  3. I think Zoo Tycoon, like you say, fits exactly what Manovich means when he argues that games appear to be narratives but function with databases underneath. And simulation games, such as the Tycoon series, demonstrate this database level more clearly than other games, as they call for you to unearth the algorithmic process that creates an ideal example of their underlying logic. And sophiapelka’s right in identifying this layering as a heteroglossia. Dare2dream14–I like your reference to game interface. The interface of a game decides whether it will still be familiar to later players, in some ways even more so than the graphics themselves. How does the interface of Zoo Tycoon compare to later simulation games like the Sims?

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