Tokyo Jungle Is Not About Survival

Tokyo Jungle, a feral post-apocalyptic urban simulation game, is ostensibly about survival; its Challenge system and player affordances wrap that core in ambition and domination. Where the avatar’s need of food is insufficiently compelling, the game dangles carrots in front of the player directly. These carrots and the behaviors they produce are very familiar to anyone living in the pre-apocalyptic societies we know today.

The primary game mode, ‘SURVIVAL’, begins by selecting a species to embody. After an absurd framing cinematic featuring a Jumbotron within a hollowed-out skyscraper, the experience of the “simulation” begins. Starting in Shibuya Station, the ecosystem appears around you as crows, beagles, puddles, flowers, rabbits, mushrooms…

You have needs: consume food, avoid or kill hostile animals, manage toxic exposure, and mate at least once every 15 years to continue your lineage. That last bit is the most complicated, requiring Status (gained through consumption,) claiming territory, locating a mate, and proceeding to a designated sex nest. While the density and composition of ecosystems in each zone vary from playthrough-to-playthrough and decade-to-decade, the novelty of wandering its set geography, even as dozens of different species, may wear thin.

A few minutes in, having survived a year of game time, Challenges will start pushing to your screen. There are some EX (Example) Challenges and an Unlock Challenge for each animal type which are consistent and need only ever be completed once. With these out of the way, all subsequent play sessions as that animal will have a set structure of Challenges to be completed within specified timeframes: years 1-9, 11-19, 21-29, 31-44, 46-59, 61-74

All Challenges are visible in your menu from the start, providing a rough outline of your entire multi-generational arc should you live long enough to see it. There are rewards for completing Challenges (clothing items, points, new species) but no penalties for failing them. A trivial set of Challenges in one context (Year 21-30: Mark 6 times; Eat 2 mushrooms; Find Shibuya Parking Garage) may prove nearly impossible in the face of unfavorable environmental factors in another iteration. The matter of survival (at least for the first few decades) is assured, if survival is the only goal. There is the occasional fight or toxic meal to be avoided, but the bare necessities aren’t particularly hard to manage.

What the system really demands of you is to consume, dominate and propagate: to eradicate other species and colonize, or leave abandoned a husk of the former ecosystem in the wake of your insatiable appetite for resources; to cement your relative worth within the hierarchy of your species through conspicuous consumption, even in the absence of any competition for mates; to plan from your first moments what myriad assaults you will engage in over the next half-century to assure your success. There’s little evidence we need to await the destruction of society or extinction (/ alien abduction / quantum disappearance / Rapture) of humans for this to be the status quo.