I am inexplicably loving Prison Architect. So now I’ll try to explicate that love anyway.
Prison Architect is a game about building, administrating, and maintaining a prison. I can’t think of a less engaging or desirable subject matter. It almost pains me to admit that I like it. Introversion Software is the developer, and they’ve done some really good work in the past on Darwinia and DEFCON. They just know how to make a good game, apparently. What’s even more strange is that not only to I enjoy playing it, but I also enjoy watching someone else play it. I’ve been following Yogscast Sips as he builds his filing cabinet for the unwanted people of whatever place PA calls home. A warning to the uninitiated: this is very low-brow, dark, crude humor and you’re either going to enjoy it or turn it off immediately.
What I love about the game is not what it says about our society, or how it makes me feel about putting someone on death row. Odd, because the game stirs emotion about both of those things. Its value is as a logistical simulation. Things need to be constructed and demolished, people need to be moved about, and materials need to come and go. There’s an extensive system for monitoring and supplying(or not) the needs of the prison population.
All of this practical juggling does sometimes make you forget that it’s a prison you’re building. DEFCON did this as well. A wonderful, enjoyable game about worldwide nuclear warfare that makes you forget about all the radioactive fallout until explosions and screams enter into the soundtrack. PA could feature just about any logistical activity, and as long as it did so with the same amount of soul, it would be a great game. It makes me forgive, just a little, the people who work for some morally ambiguous companies simply because they love the day-to-day activities of the job. I’m also considering taking up some work that, morally, I have some issues with, so I’m a big baby about this kind of thing right now.
Prison Architect mixes some very practical matters(How exactly do you feed all your prisoners reliably?) with some of the more pop-fiction elements of incarceration(There’s no fucking way that prisoners are able to make escape tunnels as frequently as they do in this game.) and creates a believable and fun world to play in. The graphics are simple, but detailed. The sound changes with zoom level. I could go on, but then you’d believe I was being paid to say all this crap.
I recommend the game especially to people who don’t think they’ll like it. Hell, buy it on Steam and return it if you don’t like it. I think they will accept pretty much any return request if you’ve played less than two hours or so, and two hours is about all it will take for you to either get hooked or repulsed.