The Prison Architect’s Dilemma

Prison Architect is an upcoming game from Introversion Software where the object is to design and build prisons, ostensibly to rehabilitate prisoners with the least amount of rioting and rape as possible. It sounds simple enough, but the possibilities are endless.

Here’s TechHive’s fascinating look at the game:

prison-architect-1-100045230-largeEvery prison has a schedule you can customize: there are set times for meals, for showers, getting out into the prison yard for a bit of fresh air and exercise, and set times to sleep. Here’s where design issues come in: prisoners generally need to be shepherded about your complex, so travel time is key. If a guard hiking from one end of your labyrinth to another takes too long to open a door, your prisoners will lose out on a precious meal—or recreation time. As more prisoners go unfed or unentertained, you’ll eventually have a riot on your hands. You could always hire more guards (which eats into your operating budget), but you’ll be better off design tight, compact prisons to pack as many souls in as efficiently as possible.

And that, right there, is what gets me. The game makes no effort to preach about the evils of the prison-industrial complex or what have you. But within minutes I find myself treating these (virtual) people as mere cogs in my machine. You’re granted a bit of income for every prisoner you house, which all but encourages overcrowding, jamming as many cells into your prison as possible and to hell with the details. The game is ostensibly about rehabilitation, and you can hire a psychologist to survey prisoner needs and improve their standard of living. But a more cost-effective approach could be to send your erstwhile peons off to crank out license plates for a few hours, and use those funds to expand, hire more staff, and beef up your facilities to keep your ever larger prison-industrial complex in some semblance of order.

The game is still in beta, but it is available on the studio’s website or via Steam for $30. Windows, Linux and Mac are all supported. The price is steep, so this may be one to watch when a sale pops up.

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