Prison Architect flash mob
October 31, 2013 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Everyone's favorite prison simulator Prison Architect wins Halloween with an awesome Easter egg.
posted by Artw (44 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
HA! That's awesome.
posted by xingcat at 8:14 AM on October 31, 2013


The Alpha Update Videos for Prison Architect are pretty amusing too.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:18 AM on October 31, 2013


This is a joke right?
posted by dfriedman at 8:20 AM on October 31, 2013


I've been curious about Prison Architect,* because I love everything else Introversion has ever done, but frankly it seems a bit... misguided?... in terms of me not thinking that prisons are super fun or funny places, and that taking them as a subject for a wacky Sim game isn't a great idea for a game or for society in general.

I'd love to be wrong. Am I wrong? I kind of hope I'm wrong.

*frankly I need something to break my stupid Terraria addiction
posted by Shepherd at 8:36 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I first saw this game appear on Steam, I couldn't believe it. It seemed like a sick joke. The US currently incarcerates over 1.6 million people, the highest rate of any country in the world. That's right. The republic that imagines itself a beacon of liberty, a shining city on the hill, is, for a vast number of its citizens, a jailer. Most of those imprisoned are poor, black and lacking in the basic elements required to live a life of dignity and satisfaction. The prison industry itself is increasingly privatized and monetized. Those prisoners often work for slave wages and those who are viewed as problematic can be forced to endure the hellish isolation of solitary confinement.

Instead of reacting with stark horror and shame at these ugly facts, the unincarcerated elite in this country, who have both wealth and leisure, can amuse themselves with building virtual models of more efficient prisons. That is, if they haven't worn themselves out with doing virtual labor in Minecraft, committing virtual crimes in GTA V, or going on virtual killing sprees in a host of FPS games.

America is being eaten from within by a moral cancer and this game--this fucking game--is a tumor. Its creators should hang their heads in shame, and anyone who spends so much as a nickel on it ought to thank whatever force in the cosmos it is that kept them from being born poor and black in 21st century America.

Oh, right, but ha ha ha, easter egg.
posted by R. Schlock at 8:44 AM on October 31, 2013 [12 favorites]


I get what you are saying but .co.uk is in England.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 8:49 AM on October 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have a friend who is actually a prison architect. Curious to hear his thoughts.
posted by josher71 at 8:52 AM on October 31, 2013


Sorry, my bad. Carry on then, prison architects.
posted by R. Schlock at 8:53 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


... the people with the means of production mostly don't play video games. They're 50 to 60-year-old white males, mostly, although I know some younger white dudes who also own large amounts of the means of production, and some heiresses. But even they do not have the entertainment habits of the rest of us: this $30 game is for the rest of us, mostly. Mass culture has always been for a middle and possibly lower class. Why play GTA when you can shoot an actual rocket launcher?
posted by curuinor at 9:10 AM on October 31, 2013


It's actually an indictment of the system if you think about it as you play.

You're playing a warden/architect of a for-profit prison. Your decisions are based on financial grounds, except that you have to achieve a minimal level of support to prevent riots. It's a brutal, ugly system and it's rubbed in your face at every turn.

For example, visitors arrive every day to see the prisoners and you can hover over them to see their names and ages. Lots of the visitors are children or parents, and prisoners have icons over their head when they don't see their family at visitation often enough.

By making the player complicit in the system in a visceral way, it indicts the player as part of the entire process by which seven year old have to pass through eight wire fences to see their daddies. It's a sad game in that way.

But I overthink things, so who knows if that's the takeaway other people got.
posted by winna at 9:17 AM on October 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh, right, but ha ha ha, easter egg.

I haven't played the game but my impression from reviews and interviews is that, if anything, the game's creators totally agree with your position, R. Schlock.
Things will work a little differently in the game’s campaign, where the simulation at its core remains the same, but the story aims to explore more specific political issues.

Chris doesn’t want to spoil the story, but he does offer up one example. “We have a chapter where a politician decides that he would like to run an experiment. He says to you that you should try and create a full reform prison where budget is no object. Assuming money was no factor, how much could you actually do with a reform prison? How well you do at that level has repercussions in the story.

“That’s where we’re going to try and deal with the really hairy issues head on. And then when people come to play the sandbox, we’re hoping that we will have seeded their mind a little bit with some of the moral issues behind each of the decisions they might make. We’ll let the player build an execution chamber in the sandbox, and I’ve no doubt that people are going to build vast execution prisons, but I don’t really have a problem with that.”
(quote is from page 2 of the linked article, emphasis mine)

It appear to be a gallows-humor critique, not a celebration, of the prison-industrial complex. I'm sure some players will miss that point entirely but for the rest it's probably a lot more effective than a preachy didactic "prisons are bad" game would be.
posted by ook at 9:19 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wanted to play this game, even though I had some reservations about the topic, because I love sandbox build them up games.

Alas, the tutorial had me building an execution chamber, right out of the gate, which I couldn't put up with, so it was a waste of $30 for a game I couldn't even get past the tutorial for.
posted by foxfirefey at 9:22 AM on October 31, 2013




That's the thing. It looks like "Haha, isn't prison fun!" from the visuals, but even the tutorial-story filled me with a deep sense of unease. Even incomplete, the game left me deeply unsettled each time I'd try to play it.

I really don't know that I've run into any game that's provoked as visceral of a response in me before. I'm not sure that someone could sit down, play through it for a while, and *not* come away from it with a gnawing sense that for-profit prisons are a moral blight.
posted by CrystalDave at 9:28 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


So we need this prison simulation game to understand the manifest injustice of correctional policy in the US? Or do we need it as a sandbox where we can play out fantasies of moral critique and structural reform unencumbered by actual engagement with other human beings?

Playing a game doesn't make you a good person. Even if the game itself encourages you to think the kinds of thoughts that good people think.
posted by R. Schlock at 9:35 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Playing a game doesn't make you a good person.

Playing a game doesn't Necessarily make you a bad person, either.
posted by Artw at 9:47 AM on October 31, 2013 [9 favorites]


No, but designing a game that simulates injustice and commodifies outrage might.
posted by R. Schlock at 9:51 AM on October 31, 2013


So we need this prison simulation game to understand the manifest injustice of correctional policy in the US?

Well, no, not need per se, but if it's a route for people who don't already understand it to find their way to understanding it... how is that a bad thing, exactly?

Playing a game doesn't make you a good person. Even if the game itself encourages you to think the kinds of thoughts that good people think.

Genuinely confused as to why you're railing against something that encourages people to think the kinds of thoughts that good people think
posted by ook at 9:52 AM on October 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


I canunderstand the discomfort of people around this game, as I feel the same, but on the other hand, since many games simulate murder, terrorism, war et all, why draw the line at simulating prison?
posted by MartinWisse at 9:52 AM on October 31, 2013


Also, I'm keen to hear how the apparent moral purpose of Prison Architect is served by the virtual performance by in-game prisoners of Michael Jackson's Thriller.
posted by R. Schlock at 9:53 AM on October 31, 2013


No, but designing a game that simulates injustice and commodifies outrage might.

Can there be fictional or semi-fictional media about prisons that doesn't 'simulate injustice' or 'commodify outrage'? At the point that it's a movie, or a show, or a game, or a book, it's become a commodity, and one that is likely to outrage. At the point that it's not security footage, it's become simulated injustice.

I'd rather have simulated injustice depicted so people can see it, rather than no injustice depicted, for fear of glorifying it. Then again, that goes back to that quote/adage that "There's no such thing as an anti-war movie".

Maybe there's no such thing as an anti-prison game.
posted by CrystalDave at 9:57 AM on October 31, 2013


Genuinely confused as to why you're railing against something that encourages people to think the kinds of thoughts that good people think

Because it trivializes injustice, virtualizes immoral action and cripples the potential for the kind of dissent that might accomplish structural change. I can't imagine that the executive staff of the Corrections Corporation of America view Prison Architect as any sort of threat. Can you?

why draw the line at simulating prison?

Because you're not an individual actor, you're directing the operation of an institution. You might argue that a prison guard simulator, where you're forced to model the physical actions performed by corrections officers, could be a valuable tool for awakening outrage and stimulating a moral impulse. Or a torture simulator might be a useful piece of political dissent. But bureaucracies, by their very nature, are set up to alienate subjects from themselves. Virtualizing that only adds another layer of alienation. The mid-level manager can take off his tie at the end of the day, get behind the wheel of his car, and return to his "normal life." The simulation player can do likewise by closing her laptop and walking away. In neither case has the body itself been implicated in the unjust actions of the system.

Maybe there's no such thing as an anti-prison game.

Well put.
posted by R. Schlock at 10:06 AM on October 31, 2013


Escape Goat is an anti-prison game. Unless it turns out that you were the villain all along at the end.
posted by squinty at 10:08 AM on October 31, 2013


You might argue that a prison guard simulator, where you're forced to model the physical actions performed by corrections officers, could be a valuable tool for awakening outrage and stimulating a moral impulse. Or a torture simulator might be a useful piece of political dissent. But bureaucracies, by their very nature, are set up to alienate subjects from themselves.

Wow, you are really reaching here. Simulating the prison guard could be "a valuable tool for awaking outrage and stimulating a moral impulse", but simulating the guy in charge of the guard is a reprehensible dissent-crippling tool of the bureaucracy? Somehow? Seriously that makes no goddamn sense whatsoever.

Look: I agree with you. The guys making this game agree with you. It appears that the game is intended to make more people in the world agree with you. And based on most of the reviews I've read it's doing that successfully. Literally the only reason I can imagine for you to continue insisting that's somehow a bad thing is that you don't want to admit your first impression was ill-informed.
posted by ook at 10:20 AM on October 31, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not getting this thing where games absolutely can be a moral hazard but never ever a tool for thinking about things - seems like a bit of an artificial distinction set up to reinforce your original judgement.
posted by Artw at 10:36 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have read up on the game long before I saw this thread. I know what it is and what it's trying to do. My position is both well-informed and philosophically grounded. The criticism I'm making of bureaucratic institutions and alienation is informed by the work of Max Weber and Michel Foucault. I have solid knowledge of how contemporary prisons and correctional institutions are run, and I stand behind everything I have written in this thread. You may like the game and be sympathetic to what its creators think they are doing. I, for my part, think it is misguided in its intent and obscene in its implementation.

Maybe we should just agree to disagree.
posted by R. Schlock at 10:40 AM on October 31, 2013


Fair enough. Cheers.
posted by ook at 10:42 AM on October 31, 2013


[Folks please have a conversation with people in the thread, don't use it as your own soapbox. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:56 AM on October 31, 2013


Foucault on zombie games vs Prison Architect:

"The plague-stricken town, the panoptic establishment -- the differences are important. They mark, at a distance of a century and a half, the transformations of the disciplinary programme. In the first case, there is an exceptional situation: against an extraordinary evil, power is mobilized; it makes itself everywhere present and visible; it invents new mechanisms; it separates, it immobilizes, it partitions; it constructs for a time what is both a counter-city and the perfect society; it imposes an ideal functioning, but one that is reduced, in the final analysis, like the evil it combats, to a simple dualism of life and death: that which moves brings death, and one kills that which moves. The Panopticon, on the other hand, must be understood as a generalizable model of functioning; a way of defining power relations in terms of the everyday life of men. No doubt Bentham presents it as a particular institution, closed in upon itself. Utopias, perfectly closed in upon themselves, are common enough. As opposed to the ruined prisons, littered with mechanisms of torture, to be seen in Piranese's engravings, the Panoptican presents a cruel, ingenious cage. The fact that it should have given rise, even in our own time, to so many variations, projected or realized, is evidence of the imaginary intensity that it has possessed for almost two hundred years. But the Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form; its functioning, abstracted from any obstacle, resistance or friction, must be represented as a pure architectural and optical system: it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use." (Discipline and Punish, emphasis mine.)
posted by mittens at 11:02 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Brilliant. That's far more coherent than what I've been trying to say here. Thanks mittens.
posted by R. Schlock at 11:07 AM on October 31, 2013


Its creators should hang their heads in shame, and anyone who spends so much as a nickel on it ought to thank whatever force in the cosmos it is that kept them from being born poor and black in 21st century America.

Since you seem extremely concerned and you've done a lot of study about the game and what it's about, have you actually written or talked to any of the creators, R. Schlock?
posted by FJT at 11:16 AM on October 31, 2013


Nope. Do you think that somehow limits my right to object to the game's content? I mean, I hate Jeff Koons with the heat of a thousand suns, but that doesn't oblige me to send him a fuck you letter, does it? I think Mumford and Sons are the pathogen bearing tick that is enervating American folk music, and I can express that opinion in public without vetting it with them first, can't I? Orson Scott Card is a bigoted ass. Do I need to check in with him before I say that out loud?

And also, since you're trying to straw man me, I didn't say I was "extremely concerned" nor did I say that I've done "a lot of study." I have strongly felt opinions--ones that apparently clash with the attitude of the majority here. There was a time on MetaFilter when that wasn't unusual, but I guess maybe those days are over.
posted by R. Schlock at 11:39 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


There was a time on MetaFilter when that wasn't unusual, but I guess maybe those days are over.

Yes, I love prisons.
posted by josher71 at 11:52 AM on October 31, 2013


TBH if I realize the game wasn't well known outside of indie game circles or that we hadn't really discussed it here before I'd probably have framed the FPP A little differently because it's a game that by its nature raises questions - because it is a game that is about having fun designing something (hey, cool maps!) as much as it is moral wrangling.

I'm a little taken aback by the flat absolutist stance that THAT IS NEVER OKAY though, and frankly that kind of incurious judgmental approach is always going to lead to pushback here, and consequently boring tit-for-tat conversations.

Anyway, cool prison themed Easter egg everyone!
posted by Artw at 12:02 PM on October 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


[Folks, the derail is getting out of control. You know how to MeMail each other. ]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:13 PM on October 31, 2013


Hey guys usually the "let's agree to disagree" thing is the cue to stop poking at it
posted by ook at 12:14 PM on October 31, 2013


Prison Architect: My Mother and Me
posted by Artw at 1:35 PM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


I personally think that the discussion about the morality of a prison game simulator is a lot more interesting than a hypothetical discussion about Thriller showing up as an Easter egg in it, especially since the game has not been mentioned on the front page before, as far as I can tell.
posted by whir at 2:46 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd be entirely happy to see a non-weird discussion of that too, though the one above probably shouldn't be rehashed.
posted by Artw at 3:27 PM on October 31, 2013


[Comment removed. I don't doubt anyone's good faith or sincerity here, but the derail kind of sucked the air out of the thread right from the word go, so let's not provoke folks into rekindling it. I'm not saying "talk about the Thriller Easter egg and nothing else"; I am saying please be civil and direct your comments at the topic instead of other users. Further metadiscussion welcome at the contact form or MetaTalk, thanks.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 3:43 PM on October 31, 2013


Simulation creation is such a deep and varied field. And possibly because of that range of options available the end result always seem to have absorbed many unintended impressions of their creators.

So every time I play DF and see a dwarf creating some career culminating great artifact of questionable use, you can't help but reflect on the life of Tarn and Zach Adams.

And every time I watch someone play SS13 I'm struck by how much history of independence and need seems to be sunk into it.

I know my own art and life was/is heavily influenced by playing Sim City at an early age. Thinking about the urban environment as a malleable, dynamic, approachable but non-tameable entity made a big impression on me. I understand it affected a lot of people that way.
posted by tychotesla at 5:13 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


And every time I watch someone play SS13 I'm struck by how much history of independence and need seems to be sunk into it

Still haven't played it but every video I watch is jawdropping. I just found out about the various aparatus to mix gasses in the chemistry area. You can mix various types of gasses in a chamber and siphon it back out into tanks. It simulates pressure and chemical content and all sorts of things.

In the same video, a player took a canister of plasma he had created in the lab, and hooked it into the environmental system. This filled medbay with burning gas, incinerating everyone there. He did this to kill a spider infestation.

Even I have been questioning the morality of my actions in video games recently.

I've been playing Path of Exile. In the second act there are several areas inhabited by monkeys. After slaughtering several thousand monkeys I began to question it. Why was I invading money territory on my quest for orbs and uniques. Sure, I have an objective that takes me through monkey territory but shouldn't I just get on with it instead of slaughtering every monkey on the map? I guess they attacked first, but they are monkeys for gods sake. There are even special achievements for killing rare monkeys. I may have just murdered the last monkey of its kind.

I hope GGG takes animals out of the game so I can slaughter evil villagers instead, as problematic as that is, at least I'm not killing animals who are just trying to protect their territory.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:45 PM on October 31, 2013


Previously:
Sweatshop
Papers, please!
posted by Artw at 7:50 PM on October 31, 2013




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