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In The Founder, a “dystopian startup simulator,” you must disrupt markets, innovate nonstop, maybe even go beyond the Earth in wildly expensive rockets. The management sim by developer and designer Francis Tseng uses a gaming framework to satirize startup culture and its unstable economics.
“Management sim games often reinforce or try to validate existing systems rather than examine them critically,” Tseng told Hyperallergic, citing the empire-building Civilization as an example where the existence of states is unavoidable, and SimCity where crime in your fictional metropolis can only be combatted by increasing the number of police stations. “For the most part these games are not conscious of their own perspectives and assumptions, so they can’t be critical of them.”
Tseng recently launched a Kickstarter to complete The Founder, which he has been working on for a year and a half as a passion project. The game follows projects like Humans of Simulated New York, created with Fei Liu as part of a DBRS Innovation Labs residency, which involved a model of the city that allowed you to experiment with adjusting different social situations. In The Founder, there is one goal, and that’s to grow your startup and please those investors until there’s nothing left to give. Along the way, you appease preferably low-payed employees with perks like office kegs and butter coffee, join the lucrative industries of biotech or defense, and run your competition into the ground with sponsored music festivals and “causewashing campaigns.” The dark humor extends to the various tech you can launch — whether drones, cryonics, spaceships, or Alcubierre drives — until you satisfy shareholders, the game tallying your impact on pollution and human fatalities along the way.
“To be successful in terms of the game, the player has to adopt this perspective and logic and see for themselves where and how it goes wrong,” Tseng stated. In this way, The Founder is similar to work by Subaltern Games, whose No Pineapple Left Behind uses the management sim to critique the standardized test emphasis of American public schools and whose Neocolonialism: Ruin Everything warps a world domination strategy game to end with the destruction of the planet.
“At some point, if I get the game’s design right the player will ask themselves: is this actually a reasonable way we should want the world to work?,” Tseng explained. “As you pursue the growth of your company in the game, you’ll start to see the effects your pursuit of growth has on the world — the destabilization of other countries, the exploitation of other populations — and I’m hoping that’s what will get people thinking.”
The Founder: A Dystopian Business Simulator is fundraising on Kickstarter through August 26.