The Maturity of Tokyo Jungle

There's a lot of fuss about achieving genuine maturity in games. An uncomfortable amount of this discussion is coming from people who want to delegitimise games they dislike. But if they can use subjective definitions for their own purposes so can I.

My definition of maturity involves not caring what other people think. This doesn't mean taking the idea to its ridiculous extreme — you can still seek advice and treat other people well. But maturity is a particular sense of self that, at its heart, does not rely on how others perceive you. An identity secure enough not to amplify its own uniqueness either, just accepting it.

Tokyo Jungle is possibly the most mature game I've ever played. Some reviewers and critics are jumping up and down to tell you just how weird it is, but the game itself simply is what it is. There aren't any knowing winks or nudges; no self-aware humour or clever commentary. Tokyo Jungle neither apologises for nor glorifies itself, and I love it for that.

In Tokyo Jungle humanity has mysteriously vanished, and the former pets and zoo animals have taken over the streets. Story mode feels like an extended tutorial, progressively introducing new mechanics and game areas. The real action is in survival mode: eat enough food, mark territory, attract mates, and persist for as many generations as possible.

No one is seriously going to claim Tokyo Jungle is ecologically realistic, but certain things feel very right, like the focus on generations over individuals, the pressure to disperse away from your parents' territory, and the ongoing struggle to take in enough calories. Tokyo Jungle has some of the most meaningful game ecology I've seen, which admittedly isn't too surprising next to druids protecting the mystical balance of nature, or some such bullshit.

Just because I see Tokyo Jungle as mature and meaningful doesn't mean I'm oblivious to the humour. Like having a Salaryman character (only in the Japanese version so far, give it time), or the disclaimer that displays every time you start up the game:

This is a work of fiction. Any persons or groups named herein are entirely fictitious.

But to me humour's a minor part of the experience. And personally, I don't think Tokyo Jungle is particularly weird. At least, I don't think playing an alley cat taking down a hippopotamus is any stranger than playing a human with god-like strength. The outfits are equally ridiculous in both cases. And the cat probably had to go through an extensive breeding program to pull off that feat, which I'm happy to believe could actually happen over a long period of time.

Yes, animals have sex sometimes and mark territory by peeing. Surely you've watched nature documentaries? Even if these things amuse you the first few times they'll probably be normalised quickly. Animals don't care about your sensibilities and just get on with things.