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Have You Played... Prison Architect?

More than just Theme Prison

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Prison Architect delivers all the satisfaction of a traditional Bullfrog-style management game. You place walls, lay pipes and wires, and soon slip into a zen state familiar to anyone who played Theme Park. What makes the game special is the simulation of the game’s people, which reminds you over and over that you’re not building Disneyland.In short: those people have needs. Not just needs like eating, sleeping and showering, but emotional needs. They get depressed, frustrated, angry and those dark moods make them more likely to lash out, attack someone and start a riot. Build a visitor room and let them see their family however and they’ll feel better, relax, and behave.

This isn’t to say that the game solely supports a liberal idea of prisons though. It’s also possible to build a brutalist nightmare, in which your charges are kept in solitary confinement at almost all times. This instead keeps the prisoners in a state where their will is suppressed such that they feel unable to rebel or to act violently.

It’s possible to build prisons along either of these paths, or a mixture of the two. What’s less possible is to build a prison that outright dehumanises the people under your control. However you feel about the subject matter – and it’s undoubtedly grim – it’s a much more human game than anything Bullfrog ever made.

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Graham Smith

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