Su Lum: The Zoo Tycoon | AspenTimes.com

Su Lum: The Zoo Tycoon

Two Christmases ago I gave my granddaughter, Riley, two computer games: “Tarzan” and “Nancy Drew, Message in a Haunted Mansion.”

In the Nancy Drew game, you go from room to spooky room: down in the cellar, up in the attic, into the library and bedrooms, talking to the inhabitants and collecting keys and “tools” as you find and solve very complicated clues.

The graphics are great, but even with Internet cheating (“After finishing the inlay puzzle, find the ladder on the stairs. There’s a picture of a girl in guy’s clothes; take a left and you will see the old, unfinished part of the wing and the ladder will be there.”), we never could figure out the continuity and, in the end, didn’t much care.

“Tarzan,” on the other hand, was an action game with 13 “levels,” and Riley diligently applied herself to working her way through each one, unfazed by what was, to me, the intolerable time-wasting reality that if she ran out of lives she had to go all the way back to the beginning and start over.

I don’t know how many times I saw her get tromped to death in the elephant stampede at Level Four before she figured out that Tarzan has to Keep Running, but she kept stoically going back to the beginning only to bleed to death time and again fighting Sabor the leopard at Level Five.

As computer games go, “Tarzan” is relatively nonviolent, with many lighthearted interludes and some superb surfing on jungle branches, and Riley was beside herself when, after more than two years, she knocked the evil ape-poaching Clayton off the cliff and won the game.

Having spent most of my formative years in a state of mind-numbing boredom, I wished I had had a few computer games in the Old Days. They certainly encourage perseverance and complex hand-to-eye coordination, something that has never been my forte, and it hasn’t affected Riley’s passion for reading.

Finished with “Tarzan” and indifferent to “Nancy Drew,” we went online for a new game and picked “Zoo Tycoon.”

Here you start with a certain amount of money and an empty field, and build yourself a zoo, the object being to keep the animals, the visitors and the employees happy, to get grants and to make a profit. In other words, how to be a good zoo CEO, something I’m not sure is an acceptable role model these days.

Zoo Tycoons have their hands full, juggling all the components. For each group of animals you buy, you have to create the proper habitat: fences they can’t get out of, the preferred terrain and flora, a competent zoo keeper. To keep the visitors happy you must supply sidewalks and adequate amenities, and to receive grants for more exotic animals you must reach certain goals.

Lights flash: Simba the lion is giving birth, Leo is sick and the zoo keeper can’t get to him because there’s no gate into the compound. Riley promptly sells Leo over my protests that she can’t foist off a sick lion to another zoo.

Three disgruntled visitors have to go to the bathroom so Riley has to supply restrooms, two are tired and need benches, six are thirsty or hungry and need a refreshment stand (at least no brand names are mentioned, yet, though Coke and Pepsi will probably soon get into the act).

Add in the polar bears, the monkeys, the reptile house, the aviaries and the elephants and there is a world of trouble popping up all over the zoo. And Riley was like a kid trying to keep all 10 fingers plugging up holes in the dike, which I guess is how it is running a business in the real world these days.

And there is an element of danger. At one point, some hapless visitors wandered into the tiger compound due to improper fencing and Riley said she had to turn it off, saying she couldn’t bear to hear their screams.

[Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks our national leaders could benefit by taking a few turns at “Zoo Tycoon,” as there are plenty of unattended holes in the dike. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.]


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