I’ve done a lot of messed up stuff in video games. I’ve beat people to death, slaghtered innocent animals, and even committed genocide. In doing all of that though, I’m not sure I’ve felt as uncomfortable as I have while playing Do Not Feed The Monkeys.
A self-described “digital voyeurism simulator,” Do Not Feed The Monkeys is a kind of management sim where you shovel money into a dark web enterprise that hacks into cameras or (referred to as “cages”) that you then have to watch. As you look upon these scenes, you then take notes and try to piece together what you’re looking at. All the while, you have to manage your health and hunger in real time, as well as earn enough money to afford to eat, pay your rent, and buy new “cages.”
Spying on unsuspecting individuals—as creepy as it is—isn’t the true source of discomfort in Do Not Feed The Monkeys. Rather, it’s the hellish situation you’re in. This voyeurism club that you’re a part of (The Primate Observation Club) requires members to buy certain numbers of new cameras every five days, or risk losing their “privileges.” They also have only one, simple rule: “do not feed the monkeys.”
To be honest, I haven’t played enough of Do Not Feed The Monkeys to really know what happens if I lose my “privileges” or “feed the monkeys” (which I assume means let people know I’m watching them), but I’m scared to find out. The whole game creates an intense atmosphere of paranoia and dread, to the point that I’m not sure how much more of it I want to play.
Hats off to the developers of this game, though. Fictiorama Studios somehow made the most mundane scenes and occurrences feel menacing. For most of the game, you’re just observing what’s happening on the cameras, but you’ll occasionally get emails, or someone will knock on your door. These kinds of interruptions are commonplace, but—in this game—they feel like enormous points of tension. This is because they’re occurring while you’re doing something nefarious. It feels like you’re getting caught, but at the same time, you have to deal with these distractions while continuing your observations for fear of falling out of favor with The Primate Observation Club.
This is the key to why Do Not Feed The Monkeys feels so icky. Most games that have you performing some kind of immoral or heinous acts are in service of a kind of power fantasy. Do Not Feed The Monkeys isn’t empowering in the slightest. Your voyeurism habit may have started out of curiosity, but it persists because you have to keep earning cash to pay the club. It’s a trap. It feels like the video game equivalent of a ransomware attack. I have nightmares about being trapped in situations like this, so it’s no wonder I don’t want to play a game that simulates it. You’re helpless, and your only recourse is to decide what you’re going to do to keep your head above water.
Of course, there is the alternate option of not playing it. That isn’t to say it’s not a good game. In fact, Do Not Feed The Monkeys seems like it’s extremely good at what it’s going for. It’s just that what it’s going for is almost literal nightmare fuel for me, which means I likely won’t return to it, even though I am curious to know where it goes.