A prison video game

An independent British video game developer called Introversion is currently working on a game called Prison Architect.

I should really be talking to my little brother about this, or asking him to write this post (but if I try calling him and he doesn’t answer, it could likely mean he’s busy playing video games). The last time I played a video game, I was as Captain Falcon in Nintendo 64’s Super Smash Brothers and I think by then, even that was considered vintage. I know there are video games that are incredibly realistic, that bring their players into warzones or zombie-infested alleys. I know that there are entire communities that form around (or within) video games—(nearly) complete double lives that hardcore gamers live out. From what I can tell from a little exploring, this game doesn’t have the graphics to try and simulate you actually being inside of a prison. No, from what I can tell, this game’s draw is the strategy and problem-solving of “planning” a prison: the decisions usually in the hands of politicians, policy makers, commissioners, prison officials.

One video game blogger, who tried out the game, categorizes it as a “god game”:

The choice, which I was presented just yesterday: Did I want to put a window in the cell of a man on death row? Or save the money? Either way, he was going to die the next day. […] This is the kind of game I want to play, I realized. I’m in the mood for a game without easy answers. I’m ready once again for a game that feels grown up. […] Each choice in Prison Architect feels like it has something to with a life. To treat my prisoners like standard video game cannon fodder would feel like a conscious choice. To have mercy on them, to make their lives better or tolerable, feels like a statement.

I’m always fascinated when simulations of reality bring people to those kind of personal revelations: how a real concept is sometimes more easily digested after it’s processed through fiction (like when someone might say, in a particularly terrifying, romantic, or tragic moment, “This feels right out of a movie!”). Check out the bottom of the blogger’s post for some reactions to the game.

It’s also interesting that this comes out of Britain, whose prison population is 3.6 percent of the United State’s. A lot of the language used by this blogger in his post, and the game’s creators, is about how to handle violent prisoners, and all the risks that come with confining a bunch of people who have committed violent crimes. And while the US has a higher rate of violent crime than any other industrialized country, half of the people in prisons in this country are in for nonviolent crimes, many of them drug-related. The US criminal justice system expanded as new, harsher, longer sentences for nonviolent drug offenses began. So, I wonder, what it would be like to play a US version of Prison Architect?




Support for Prison Time

Support for the Prison Time Media Project is provided by the Prospect Hill Foundation, the David Rockefeller Fund, the NY Council for the Humanities and by numerous individual donors via Kickstarter. Special assistance provided by the Adirondack Community Trust.