Prison Tycoon Game Gets a Beatdown from Bloggers

A strategy game which challenges players to create and manage a private prison empire has outraged some observers.

Of ValuSoft’s Prison Tycoon 4: Supermax, the Criminal Justice blog writes:

[Building] a private prison? Who would want to spend free time building an elaborate cage, allowing gang wars, drugs and racial violence to fester in an attempt to earn more money? This is the fourth version of the game, so apparently someone is playing it.

I guess there’s a video game version of nearly everything one can imagine. But the existence of this game… highlights the disturbing prevalence of prisons in our society. This game takes for granted that prisons are everywhere and that they are simply a tool for profit. That’s a sad place to be.

The architecturally-oriented BldgBlog couches its dismay in sarcasm:

The description of Prison Tycoon 4: SuperMax… urges players to experiment in the architectural framing and administrative implementation of prison life.


"Build a profitable privately run prison from the ground up… Grow your facility to SuperMax capabilities, housing the most dangerous and diabolical criminals on earth – all for the bottom line."


Putting moral limits on our imaginations temporarily aside, perhaps we could even conceive of Prison Tycoon 5: Guantánamo Bay, or Prison Tycoon 6: Austrian Basement Edition. Prison Tycoon 7: Gulag. Prison Tycoon 8: Escape from Abu Ghraib…

Prison Photography takes a more blunt view:

Prison Tycoon is less gratuitous than Grand Theft Auto and the like. But I don’t know if this is any comfort. To manipulate a virtual prison population with “friendly interaction and fighting between inmates dependent upon mood and gang affiliation” and to rely on “guards [who] will subdue aggressive prisoners, medical staff to treat injuries, chaplains administer to prisoner’s spiritual needs and therapists talk to prisoners to lift their spirits” seems a bit too sinister and calculated for an evening of gaming…

Really, why does this game exist? I suppose it is just completing the loop – the gamer, as a God of Pixels, can create criminals in his other games and then manipulate them in this one.

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  1. Praetorian says:

    I seem to recall an old game called Dungeon Keeper 2. No one back then complained about it and it had prisons and more!

    You summond certain monsters by building certain kinds of rooms. Libraries would summon wizards and workshops would summon trolls. After a little ways in the game, you could build prisons to starve captives to death so you could have a skeleton army. Not long after you got prisons, you got torture chambers to get information from the people in prison. A little farther into the game and you are able to build casinos with the option to "rig" the games to win or lose so you’d get the money back from the creatures you paid at the end of the week. Last, but not least, near the end of the game you would get temple structures so your monsters could pray to an evil god to increase your mana or you could sacrifice your monsters for gifts from the evil gods. In the end, the object of the game was to keep the bloody do-gooders away from the gold and jewels you were mining for a profit.

    Now, to me, though the game was done is a humorous form, is still far worse than a crap filled prison game.

    So, take a look at both games:

    Prison Tycoon — House criminals and make a profit.

    Dungeon Keeper 2 — Summon monsters and demons, starve prisoners, torture prisoners, fleece your demons by cheating them at a casino, worship a satan like god or sacrifice creatures to him, kill the good guys, mine and hoard treasures.

    Dungeon Keeper 2 was very fun and entertaining too!

    Now, why are you compaining about a prison game again?


    "I’ve been told I’m the resident skeptic, but I wouldn’t believe that."

    ECA Seattle Chapter

  2. gamegod25 says:

    I think the biggest outrage should be that they made not just one but four of these crap games when more deserving games don’t get any sequels.

  3. Arlen says:

    This is just another example of people who are mad at the things that happen in a game when they should be mad at the things in the game that happen in real life.

  4. Zevorick says:

    I live in Huntsville, Texas. I can take a five minute drive from my apartment (five minute walk from the University i attend) and visit the facility in which they execute prisoners in Texas Death Row. We have protests over every execution. We can hear the prison sirens every day and night. In fact, 60% of Walker county is state owned. Take out the university and schools and all that is left are the various prison units, and there are a good number of them. In fact, just up the road is Eastham, the facility in which Clyde Barker was housed for some time (he later returned to break someone out and take revenge on the guards but that’s a different story).

    I’d be conservative in saying almost half the town is employed by TDJC. Prison sucks, whether it be state owned or privately run.

    If you hate the game on moral grounds then consider this. I have not played the game or done much research on it, but from what I’ve garnered through second hand accounts, these games are much more tame than anything you’d ever see in a real life facility. In summation… get over it?

  5. Overcast says:

    "Prison Tycoon 8: Escape from Abu Ghraib."

    Don’t forget the next one!!

    Prison Tycoon 9: Martial Law in America

  6. Overcast says:

    It’s fitting for a country that has more people incarcerated than any other country in the world – even more than China – and no, not more per capita – more period.

  7. Andrew Eisen says:

    I just checked the ESRB.  This game is rated Teen.  Hardly anything to get up in arms about.  It’s not very violent and while you can build death row housing, executions are not depicted.

    There isn’t even any inmate rape for crying out loud!  What kind of prison game is this?


    Andrew Eisen

  8. Orelup says:

    I won’t lie…i’m grabbing a copy to check it out…sounds not bad (though alevan is killing my hopes)

    edit* anyone wonder why it took them 5 months to find this game?

  9. Doomsong says:

    Too late…

    "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" – Benjamin Franklin

  10. HungryHungryHomer says:

    Really? Man, that sucks! Here I was getting my hopes up that this was the ‘Villainous, corrupt, R-rated movie warden’ game.

  11. Alevan says:

    They needn’t worry because the Prison Tycoon series suck.

    I tried all three of the series. They were unplayable with no guide book in the box or anything. Even the third one was a waste, with no clue as to what to do and difficult controls. It got repetitive very quickly.

    They can beat it as much as they like, but they’ll get people interested in it and to buy it, thus wasting their money. I pity them.

    Amy Levandoski

  12. Geoff says:

    EDIT: For some reason, this didn’t post the text before.

    "Really, why does this game even exist?"

    I ask myself the same question whenever they release a new hunting or fishing game…

    Anyway I don’t have any problem with it.  If it can display the complexity of the issues of the prison system to the gamer, more power to them. 


    Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

  13. Inimical says:

    I can’t believe the hypocrisy within gaming blogs. People are making games about Columbine it’s considered educational and another way to look at the issue meanwhile a game about creating privatized prisons that brings up actual societal problems shouldn’t exist.

    How can we expect people to take social commentary in games seriously when sometimes people within the community can’t themselves?

    This isn’t to say that the intention behind Prison Tycoon is social commentary, but I’m open to the possibility.

  14. nightwng2000 says:

    "This game takes for granted that prisons are everywhere and that they are simply a tool for profit. That’s a sad place to be."


    "Prison Tycoon 5: Guantánamo Bay"

    Was it Amnesty International that did the video of waterboarding?  I can’t remember and don’t have time to look it up right now.  But, music and music videos are used as expression formats, why not video games?

    In addition, now that Gitmo is being closed, the idea of someone (BlackWater or a fictional group?) reopening it as a private prison is possible in the fictional world.

    " Prison Tycoon 6: Austrian Basement Edition"

    Or privately owned penal colony (island or even planet)?

    "Prison Tycoon 7: Gulag"

    Many "prisons" were tiny enough that, though there were some contacts with higher ups, the tiny prison camps had to be self sufficient.  I’m thinking along the lines of the Vietnam War, but other prison camps run during and after war are possible.  Cruel, but history is filled to the brim with cruelty.

    "Prison Tycoon 8: Escape from Abu Ghraib."

    Now they are straying from the genre.  This would be closer to Escape From Alcatraz.

    "…chaplains administer to prisoner’s spiritual needs and therapists talk to prisoners to lift their spirits” seems a bit too sinister and calculated for an evening of gaming…" 

    For some reason, I thought this was ironic and funny in the same sentence.

    "Really, why does this game exist? "

    In addition to Jabrwock’s comments, there is plenty of debate about the government financially supporting prisons and the costs involved.  At least with this type of simulation, you get a vague idea of what it would be like for the the private sector to get involved.  Some things still don’t change.  Many involved as officials will still potentially be corrupt and unethical, and violence, aggression, and even more criminal behavior will still occur in the prison, no matter whether it’s the government or the private sector that is in charge.


    NW2K Software

    Nightwng2000 has also updated his MySpace page: Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as

  15. olstar18 says:

    So what we aren’t allowed to make games that show the what a prison is like unless its from the eyes of the inmates.

  16. Jabrwock says:

    If it teaches you that private-for-profit prisons are a bad idea, mission accomplished?

    As for the "tolerating gangs and drugs in the name of profit", government run ones tolerate a small amount just because it’s quite hard to stamp it out 100%.

    It’s not a very original idea (in general), most "future" movies that involve a prison, it’s usually corporate-run.

    — If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap…

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