After some introspection and much online commentary, the developers behind Prison Architect: The Board Game have decided to cancel their crowdfunding campaign.
For those not aware, the game is based on the video game of the same name (minus the board game part) by Paradox Interactive. As the name suggests, you build and manage your very own prison, handling everything from the placement of cells to security checkpoints to more extreme elements like the placement of Solitary Confinement or Death Row. It's the kind of management sim that is best tailored to a singular experience, and experimentation.
PSC Games then pitched turning Prison Architect into a board game experience. But just this morning, they have announced that the game has been canceled This wasn't due to talent or quality, PSC Games has a healthy history of producing games through Kickstarter. Instead, the feedback came from the very act of turning Prison Architect into a communal board game experience, which greatly changed the entire dynamic of play.
Simply put, managing a prison and determining the most efficient means of punishment leads to a highly uncomfortable and divisive experience when shared with friends around a gaming table. The backlash was harsh with players stating that such a project was inherently racist, and helped reinforce the systemic oppression found in the criminal justice system. Subjects that too many people cope with in the real world every single day.
Designer David Turczi explained this in a formal post on Board Game Geek. He stated,
"Videogames are a different medium, for a different community with very different context. You play games in the privacy of your home, gaining enjoyment from whichever part of the game you want to. As long as nobody is getting hurt, as long as nobody is promoting hateful ideas, it probably falls under the “no harm done” category. But our board gamer community is about interacting with other people in real life. We want a game on a table, we want to look each other in the eyes, we want to go down to the club or the shop, and put it on the table there too, and tell everyone how awesome whatever game we’re playing is, and that they should join in."
Turczi mentions that this decision was not made lightly. Multiple precautions and measures were taken such as excluding Death Row from being something to manage, hiring sensitivity readers to prevent any unintentional negative stereotypes. promoting discussion among their community, and consistently getting feedback and professional advice from fellow designers and colleagues. But no matter how much of an effort was made, there is only so much that can be done with an experience that brings vastly different contexts as a board game adaptation. This was something the developers felt even in the two to three weeks leading up to the Kickstarter's launch.
In fact, not only has the Kickstarter been closed, the designers have asked any and all prototypes or design documents of the game to have their names removed saying they didn't want to be associated with this work. While PSC Games still hold the rights to all of the work Turczi and his team have done, the designers demanded to not be credited with any of it, even giving up the chance for royalties. Turczi explained "We are incredibly proud of the game design in its abstract, mechanical, experience sense. But we came to the conclusion that we cannot pat ourselves on the back for a cerebral exercise while it hurts people’s feelings so systematically, for a valid and undeniable reason."
It's a more formal and involved apology compared to PSC Games themselves. While the official Kickstarter page includes a short but simple announcement of the cancellation, the game is still advertised as on sale on their official website and has made no further comment on any social media platform.
Where the project goes from here is uncertain, but the one thing we can be sure of is that it won't include designers David Turczi and Noralie Lubbers.