The man you behold in the picture above is Dominic Myers, professional money git and, somehow, zoo owner. Dominic is the antagonist of the campaign mode in my beloved Planet Zoo, and he comes as a bit of a surprise. In the campaign, you play as a trainee zoo manager taking his first jobs under the mentorship of warm-hearted, chuckly old geezer Bernie Goodwin. A few missions in, however, Myers comes out of nowhere, buys out Goodwin's zoo franchise from under him, and abruptly becomes your boss.
Myers is a hedge fund director, and an utter sod, obviously. He'd sell a truckload of tiger willies if it made him a tenner, and laugh about it afterwards. He'd make a crocodile eat a big hot anvil made of poison, while people threw pennies into a hat. He doesn't care about animals. Far worse, he has no interest in them. But despite this, as I've been pottering along with the campaign during quiet evenings in recent weeks, I've come to find him a strangely welcome, refreshing presence.
Since Dom is only interested in the profits his zoos are making, he begins sending you to complete shitholes when he takes the reins of the campaign: a collection of hovels on a Greek island, where depressed tortoises sprawl about on dirty tiles like a load of half-deflated beach balls; an Indian megacasino, where gharials shiver with trauma in an inch-deep moat of piss; a windswept car park in Hull, where Myers is to be found lashing a week-dead wildebeest with a length of bicycle chain and demanding it give him a tenner.
OK, that last one isn't true, but you get the picture, right? Myers makes no pretense, whatsoever, about his contempt for the realm of beasts. If a new rhino is born in your zoo, he will Google the sale value of its pancreas, before reluctantly releasing the funds for you to build it some kind of shelter. There is even a mission where (and I'm not exaggerating this time, I promise), the site you're building on is littered with barrels of "toxic waste", that mysterious green liquid manufactured only by villains in cartoons.
And that's the thing: Myers is a cartoon villain through and through. He's a competent bit of writing, in the context of a simple, kid-friendly narrative campaign. And this is fine. Suffice to say, I was never expecting the complexity of Iago in the baddie from a zoo construction game. Why, then, is this objectionable, pinstriped cliche of a man so strangely dear to me?
The answer came to me, I think, when the game explained Myers' motivation for owning loads of zoos. It's not purely for money, you see. While he wants to milk every coin he can from the facilities he puts you in charge of, that's merely a side-goal for Big Dom. What he really wants from his zoos is this: good publicity. He's in hot water for doing nasty money things, you see, and so the Goodwin zoo empire, plus you, are to serve as a sort of animal welfare beard for him.
"That's the thing which staggers me; that Myers - a billionaire - actually holds concern, even fear, for the state of his image in the public eye."
And that's the thing which staggers me slightly; that Myers - a billionaire, let's remember - actually holds concern, even fear, for the state of his image in the public eye.
What a utopian world Planet Zoo has inadvertently let us glimpse here! A world where, for all their passionless, insatiable hunger, billionaires can conceive of the idea of consequences. A world where a scandal over something so trivial as a few knackered elephants having a cry might knock a plutocrat very slightly sideways on his perch.
It looks like paradise, really, from the vantage of a world whose richest man just took a ten-figure joyride to the edge of space, and who then, with dead eyes and porcelain smile, thanked his customers and employees for paying for it. I don't think Bezos realised quite how brutal the taunt was, to be honest, and probably gave it no more thought than toddler might, when considering how many ants would be crushed on the giddy rush across the playground to a new toy.
Because honestly, what possible consequence could give a man that powerful pause, before he carryied out his whims anyway? Elon Musk could stream himself forcing elephants to fight to the death, and receive only the customary 48 hours of twitter outrage: strident calls for something to happen, forgotten in moments when Richard Branson is filmed suplexing a terminally ill gorilla into a volcano.
Here's to that brief glimpse, then, into a world whose villains not only create problems as easy to solve as glowing green barrels, but where they actually worry about getting into trouble because of said problems. And here's to Dominic himself: not some chilling, pharaonic creature whose ascent into wealth has made him into something imperceivable as fully human, but simply a dickhead who wears a stupid gold watch on his sleeve in place of his heart. Billionaires like him, I think I could actually handle.