Jungle Park

By Sjoukje van der Meulen, 10 September 1997

First in a series of personal reflections on computer games, Sjoukje van der Meulen, art historian and co-editor of the Dutch art magazine MetropolisM, tells of her travels in Jungle Park. Gento Matsumoto is Tokyo's favourite young designer. The Japanese magazine IDEA even calls him the most talented designer of the near future. There are good reasons for this. The programming of his CD-Roms is remarkably creative and humorous. In Pop-Up Computer, for example, you'll find a 3D book whose pages you can turn to see how animals come to life, or how young pop stars perform their latest show. Every page has a surprise - a space Shuttle is launched, an IQ test is performed, a zeppelin hovers above a city or a monkey surfs the waves.

Matsumoto's newest CD-Rom, Jungle Park, is even more subtle. This time the game environment is a big island. In the middle of it lives Saru the monkey. Actually, it's quite difficult to start the game. You can spend several desperate hours finding out how to get Saru off of his base, a small island. But even there Matsumoto's complex invention (the island rotates and consequently lets you step off) is fascinating. Ignoring traditional perspective, Matsumoto lets you see all 360 degrees of the island with just a few clicks of the mouse.


Wandering around the island Saru finds all sorts of things. When he encounters a rope in a tree, he hoists a row of little coloured flags to the top; when he passes a rock, he draws on it. In contrast to most other games many of Saru's actions are programmed for the sake of sheer joy. He walks through the jungle with nothing to win or loose. The whole game is totally un-goal-oriented - but there is still competition involved. When Saru picks up a hockeystick for example, a match starts ('Roll Ball'). Like addictive Sega games, the games in Jungle Park have several levels of difficulty. Unlike those games however, Jungle Park allows you to move on when you get bored. In other words, Gento Matsumoto is very aware of the limits of the user's patience and understands the psychology of those moments in which s/he gets tired of solving problems and prefers to be entertained.


Interesting moments are those in which interactivity is banished completely. As soon as Saru gets into his canoe the only thing you can do is sit back and relax. Slowly, the canoe glides down-stream, passing merry jungle birds and yawning hippos along the way, speeding up when the water becomes wilder. For a few minutes Matsumoto changes the CD into a cinematic experience in which he invites you to enjoy his artistic digital tricks and stories. The only thing you can do is enjoy the trip. Matsumoto's experiments with activity and passivity are among the most interesting aspects of the whole CD-Rom. There's a precarious balance between the moments in which you have to take action and those in which everything has been pre-programmed. Mostly though, Matsumoto uses daring combinations of the two.


Matsumoto's vivid imagination touches everything. One of the most beautiful images is that of a waterfall plunging into an enormous fish bowl. Its water drops, accompanied by a gentle rushing sound, are shot through with colourful pixels. Little jokes are programmed in: fishes swimming in the bowl change their colour and shape every time Saru passes the entrance; when he pushes the button of a vending machine he receives a bottle of some or other refreshing drink. In fact, whatever object, game or experience in Jungle Park you choose to mention, it is the product of a highly personalised language. Jungle Park is an experience for the senses. It's comical, advanced and subtle. It affects you and makes you laugh. But at the same time it's an almost theoretical statement about experimental film, interactivity, perspective and creativity in digital space. It's a work of art disguised as a game.

Sjoukje van der Meulen <dominiq AT>