ROLE: GAME DESIGNER, PROGRAMMER
ZOO KEEPER OR SO LONG SPACE ROBOT is a Experimental Game made of my final year dissertation
Zookeeper has a multi-layered narrative. The first layer, and the real world events, are that a long-distance spaceship freighter has failed to put the proper procedure in place to prevent AI corruption, leaving a young, premature AI in charge of a spaceship after the old AI malfunctions and is deleted. The spaceship crew wakes from cryo-sleep and finds themselves on a crash course that will last five days unless it is prevented. The crew has many disagreements and many prohibitions are lost as the crew hurtle towards certain death.
In the game’s world AI’s are developed like humans with simulated childhoods and schooling and it is at the age of 20 that the AI is allowed to run a ship, and then they will do this for 1000 years before needing to be decommissioned.
In the story the young AI at the age of seven is put in charge of every aspect of an interstellar spaceship and in charge of managing the crew and their relationships. This is presented to the seven year-old AI by means of a simulation that was designed to teach the basics of management. This simulation is called Zookeeper. The ship’s dead AI has attempted to map the real world and simulate the referent whole within the massively oversimplified Zookeeper. This is the player’s game environment and where the player will experience the story and will attempt to change it.
The game’s central experiment is to create a mechanical metaphor that the player is forced to interact with instead of interacting with a real world system. Forcing the player to try and understand the metaphor, read what is implied through the game’s mechanics and to try and apply this to a real world situation. The aim of this is to make the player become uncomfortable with their actions, as misunderstanding of the metaphor can have bad diegetic consequences, and force the player to interact with an apparent, uncanny metaphor, that only presents itself as half real.