I have to confess, as sick, depraved, disgusting and sophomoric as this game is, I could probably play the hell out of it.
When Prison is a Game:
Prison Architect, Introversion Software’s long-awaited incarceration simulator, begins by asking the player to construct an electric chair. A milquetoast, Walter White-type has murdered his wife and her lover, and you, the architect, must carry out his punishment. It’s a disorienting anachronism. The electric chair, its fatal technique refined and its debut hastily forgotten, ruled capital punishment for nearly 75 years, but a series of botched executions in the 1960s sparked a Supreme Court case that led to its effective retirement.It should be noted that the simulation is very British and thus virtually clueless when it comes to the reality of American prisons versus their own. Even the trailer is sophomoric and absurdist (m8).
At first, the historically anomaly is odd. Prison Architect, after all, has been marketed and developed as one (British) studio’s take on the contemporary (American) prison-industrial complex. Yet this oddity quickly comes to represent Prison Architect’s relationship to its subject matter: For all of Introversion’s developer diaries about their sensitivity to the minutiae of the penal system, Prison Architect isn’t shy about its distortions and oversights, necessary sacrifices on the thirsty altar of “fun.”
I'm not a big gamer, but it reminds me a lot of Clash of Clans or even the Hobbit KoM, where you have to "build" your world, brick by brick, then populate it with a bunch of warring armies, or in this case, "hooligans" inside your walls.
But beyond that, let's stop and recognize that it is just a video game, and any "higher reflection" the company claims to be encouraging by mass producing it is completely asinine.
Introversion has been transparent about its desire for Prison Architect to provoke reflection about the American prison-industrial complex, and to do so in a way that does not exploit the suffering of those caught behind its jaws of steel. And, to a degree, Prison Architect achieves this goal. Whereas Valusoft’s lamentable Prison Tycoon series gleefully exploited mass incarceration as a vaguely subversive veneer for its shoddy simulations, Prison Architect genuinely attempts to model the systems that, together, comprise the complex ethnology that is the 21st-century American prison. Particularly admirable is Prison Architect’s sensitivity to how incarceration can exacerbate or ameliorate the interlocking problems of drug addiction and alcoholism (in 2002, 68 percent of inmates suffered from substance dependency), lack of education (roughly half of inmates are functionally illiterate), and recidivism (more than 60 percent of released prisoners will return to prison within three years).Uh, yeah. Again, as sordid and debase as the whole idea is, I and virtually anyone else who has studied prisons and corrections over the years could probably build the ultimate maximum security prisons.
At the same time, however, the distortions Prison Architect makes—escapes are constant, riots are quotidian, and, above all, race is virtually devoid of meaning—betray Introversion’s prime directive: the pleasure of the player. No simulation can, of course, perfectly represent its subject, and so verisimilitude is a poor basis for judging Prison Architect as a simulation. The trouble arises when viewing Prison Architect as anything other than a particularly captivating and colorful ant farm—which is exactly what Introversion wants its players to do.
It would be like shooting fish in a barrel, and that's both ironic and sad at the same time.