Digital Salad Revisits A Classic

First, before I get in to any of this blog I have big news – my small Guild Wars 2 guild of friends have made it into the Edge Of The Mists map testing. I wasn’t allowed to say before now, but the alpha team have let us all know that they want to actively encourage us to share info and screenshots of it. Expect lots of those from the Digital Salad in the future!

That is once the download has finished. One hour in and I’m 10% done even with fairly decent internet speed; not cool. So, whilst that chugs along on my PC I’ve been keeping myself busy with other games, and I’ve rediscovered a very old favourite that I wanted to share. It’s a classic that gets emotions going and really sucks you in.

Emotional investment, the aim of many video games
Emotional investment, the aim of many video games

I’ve been playing a game that makes you smile and makes you want to cry in equal measure. You care about the characters and watch them develop through time. Sounds a lot like your GTA Vs and other high budget releases of the year, attempting to get that kind of emotional response from the consumer.

The funny thing is, the game that’s got me so emotionally invested is no other than Zoo Tycoon 2 Ultimate Collection.

Video game gold - honestly!
Video game gold – honestly!

You’re probably thinking one of two things right now: either, I’m absolutely mad, or that I really have no self-respect to be broadcasting to the world wide web my love of a game designed primarily for kids. Well, that in itself is nothing to be ashamed of. Some games primarily designed for kids can be amazing products, even to me as a more mature consumer of video games these days. As for mad, well maybe, but hear me out on this one.

A game that lets the inner Attenborough jump with joy
A game that lets the inner Attenborough jump with joy

I’m going to start with a little story, and it’ll be worth it, I promise! Upon rediscovering the game I decided to start a sandbox zoo with no holds barred, unlimited money and time. A nice easy ride to create a zoo full of all the animals I wanted and not worry about the spreadsheets.

My first exhibit was a fairly large lion enclosure. I’m a big fan of lions, and know about them as much as you can gain from the programs of the fantastic Sir David Attenborough. I know that the males are very competitive, so I started off with just one male that I called Mr Lion and a small pride of 3 females to keep him company. I thought this would be the ideal lion community.

Indeed it was the ideal lion community, and visitors flocked to see the happy lions. Then all three females became pregnant; it seemed that Mr Lion was as promiscuous as a real life lion. This was a joyous event, and I was really happy for the lions.

The three females gave birth to two cubs each, two of which in total were male. I knew that males didn’t take well to other males, but I assumed that Mr Lion as an adult male would take care of a young male cub and then I could make a new enclosure for the males or put them up for adoption when they matured. How wrong I was, for he immediately killed his two male children.

Poor Sausage Roll and Fig Roll, as I had named them. I was actually emotionally sad I realised, I was that emotionally invested in the life of Mr Lion and his brood.

Mr Lion in his very cubic style
Mr Lion in his own very cubic style

That’s the kind of emotional investment most video games would die to achieve. Yet somehow a 10 year old game (scary how time flies!) that now resides in bargain bins at the best, and can be picked up for essentially lose change online, managed to achieve this without really trying to.


Personalisation, that’s they magic key. The game is all about you creating your zoo, full of your animals. You naturally care about them, about what they get up to and how well the public takes to them.

Caring about characters that game designers created, no matter how well made they are is more difficult, because they’re not yours. Nobody else will ever care about Mr Lion and his cubs as much as I did and do, yet if you pick up a copy of the game and create your own zoo full of your own creatures you will find yourself emotionally invested in your own Mr Lions and co.

Maybe its just easier to care about cute animals than complex humans. I think my Mr Lion story kind of disproves that though. For all the retro simplicity of Zoo Tycoon 2 Mr Lion is a complex character, he’s happy and likes a belly rub but ruthlessly murders his male kids. That’s what lions do, its nature and its brutal, and that is just as complex as any human character. Arguably there’s more complex characters to be found in Zoo Tycoon 2 than your average stereotypical COD experience after all!

I don’t want to overstate how good Zoo Tycoon 2 is too much, but I would recommend buying a copy if you don’t have one already. If you do have a copy, go revisit it, start a zoo, name some animals and watch their lives develop. Zoo Tycoon 2 is a simple game, but I think it’s a golden classic.

Digital Salad –


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