Ah, the unfathomable appeal of voyeurism. Whether it be following people on Twitter, believing you’re a genuine friend to an influencer who will never care what your name is or spending far too many hours watching Gogglebox to feel a semblance of human connection, the idea that we can spy on others lives without their knowledge is a deeply troubling aspect of the human condition. The general idea of it on the surface will be dismissed, those who like to partake and have no idea they’re doing so (Big Brother etc…) will flat out deny that they care enough about another human’s life to waste time of their own spying on the dodgy dealings of another. And yet, we all do it. We all have succumbed to that urge. And now there’s an entire game built around that premise, and it’s just as unsettling as you’d imagine.
Do Not Feed The Monkeys from Fictiorama Studios arrives on Switch after a hugely successful stint on Steam and is still a very dark, sombre and fascinating insight into the world of blind study. Wielding this particular power on Nintendo Switch feels at first a little jarring as it unknowingly sits next to Animal Crossing New Horizons on my homepage. As an experience, they’re different, sure. On the same console jumping between the two all week like I’ve been doing, it’s kind of a relief to be able to go back to my joyful island after a few hours spying on dictators and peeping toms in my one-room apartment.
Tired of the nothingness of your regular life, you’re accepted into The Primate Observation Club, a delightfully shady organisation that spies on the lives of others, unbeknownst to them via hacked webcams. Whether it be an assembly line where nothing happens, or a businessman in over his head with clients harassing him all day, but by night dreams of being a drag queen. It’s up to you to gather as much information as you can on your subjects through listening in on their conversations and their explicitly private moments to begin to paint a picture of who it is you’re spying on and report back to your Observation overlords.
Along with your new gig you’ll need to make money in order to keep up your wellbeing and be allowed to continue working for the Club. Your one bedroom apartment ain’t free, so each week your landlady comes around to collect the rent you need to earn by taking any menial job you can (you may miss her while you’re out but don’t worry, she’ll come back). The wages will not only pay your rent but your food and extra video feeds (‘cages’) to ensure your place within the club.
It becomes quite the juggling act as you’re never entirely sure if you should be saving money for your rent and food or saving up to buy new cages. You can work up to three jobs a day but it’s never particularly cheap to do anything. Your primary goal within the Club is to unlock more and more cages (and you’ll have a goal to reach by a certain time or else you’ll be kicked out) which eats away at your time and money even more. Before you know it you’ve become glued to your monitor, keeping an eye on a huge number of screens that you’ve forgotten to go to bed or eat anything, and it’s too late in the day to start earning your keep.
And of course there’s always something to do. Over time the Organisation will send you emails to find out specific details of the subjects, such as their address or their name. They won’t explicitly say these things out loud immediately, and you are rewarded financially for discovering this info, but it’s yet another time sink when you should be heading out to do some work you don’t want to miss what certain feeds may be blurting out to add to your notebook. There will be information you miss during your playthrough, but balancing the life/monkey watching existence isn’t one to sniff at.
The title does come into its own as you progress. Do Not Feed The Monkeys plays into the game in such a way that in certain moments you can interact with your subjects if you so choose. Reaching a certain level will unlock an online store, and here you can send items to your subjects or prank call them, for example. You don’t have to do any of these things, and the ramifications may or may not be worth it, but the option is there to Feed the Monkeys and manipulate their lives without them ever knowing it was you if you so choose.
It gets dark, and not in a ‘Last of Us’, ‘Not Tonight’ kind of way. If anything the darkness the game creates is completely on you. The pressure boils to such an extent that playing Do Not Feed The Monkeys begins to feel like a second job and/or a self-imposed anxiety nightmare. You’re tasked with purchasing additional video feeds but you also need to feed yourself, sleep, work, pay rent and shoo away your neighbours who inexplicably want favours from you in the middle of all this. Working will take you away from the monitor for several hours and whilst that will cover your rent, food and new ‘cages’, you’re not at home to watch the cages you’ve already purchased, therefore missing vital information the Organisation may be wanting to acquire. The stories of certain video feeds are grisly and seedy, and you’re never not drawn to them to see how far this game takes their narratives.
You ready for more yet? Well then there’s the browser, which you’ll need to use to search for certain keywords that you find during conversations. Why is that one guy talking about a woman he’s taking naked pictures of with a paparazzi lens like she’s a car? Why is she called the Cotton Princess? Is that old German man in the old people’s home actually Adolf Hitler? Why am I looking at a highway with nothing to interact with?
These mechanics bring me back to the works of Sam Barlow, namely Her Story and Telling Lies. There’s no real direction, you’re just given your control over a PC and told to work it the hell out. The key mechanic is your browser, and searching the keywords can allow you to find particular answers to the questions the Observation Club is asking. As you start to impress them and purchase more ‘cages’ you gain respect and notoriety within the organisation and start to climb the ranks. Naturally, it doesn’t get any easier, per se, but at least by then you’ll have a handle on things.
I certainly felt that once I got my head fully and completely bamboozled by the intricacies of Do Not Feed The Monkeys, it was over. Fortunately the game is replayable to the nth degree due to its central mechanic of playing the game particularly how you want to, no matter how stressful each playthrough was always going to be.
The game very much turns the camera on you. Does your voyeurism, your need and want for secrets and dark information you were never at liberty to ever know outweigh your own personal needs? How far can you push your obsession before you need to look at yourself? It’s an overwhelming concept, and not one I particularly play games to discover. Yet here I am.
Not just playing the game but bloody reviewing it.
I’m the monkey.
HEY WAIT A MINUTE, GAME.
Do Not Feed The Monkeys is out now on Steam and Switch (review version).
Developer: Fictiorama Studios
Publisher: Alawar Premium
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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