Francis Tseng says video games and simulations can be a powerful way to to share ideas about society. Tseng is currently raising money on Kickstarter to fund development of The Founder: A Dystopian Business Simulator, a satirical game that takes aim at startup culture.
“I was living in San Fransisco, sort of immersed in the heart of all the startup culture, and there’s a lot of weird parts about it and quirky things that, if you’ve spent a lot of time in those circles, you start to lose sight of,” he says. “I thought I would be funny to bring those weird and sometimes troubling aspects out and present it to more people in the form of a game.”
In the game, players take on the role of a startup founder, building up a “disruptive” company, for better or worse.
“One of the things I really wanted to parody is that there’s all this language around innovation and disruption. It’s funny because a lot of the time the way people will pitch these products,” he says, “the innovation is always a mishmash of two other products.”
“The whole product development system in the game is basically that, where you just take different products and you just mash them together and then you see what you get,” he says.
The game also looks at Silicon Valley’s tone-deafness on certain issues, the failure of tech companies to think about the social impact of their actions and the labor practices of companies like Uber.
Tseng says he’s “also trying to get at the underlying logic behind why these companies and startup operate in that way.”
Tseng has worked on similar projects in the past, using artificial intelligence and interactivity as a way to explore bigger themes about technology and society. One of those projects is an economic simulation called Humans of Simulated New York. In it, players set the parameters of the simulated city’s economy and explore the effects of different changes.
“I’m really interested in designing these interactive systems where people can experiment with different structures of the world, or arrangements of the world and have this educational experience in a sense,” he says.
That experience can be a powerful one, he says, because players have to come to their own conclusions.
“With games, the player, they’re the ones making the decision,” he says. “If you’re reading something, the author has usually laid out a path for you, in a sense, the same with cinema. But, with video games, you kind of have to internalize the logic that’s being examined and that, I think, makes it have a much more visceral kind of effect.”
With The Founder, Tseng says he’s trying to reach people both inside and outside the tech world.
“I hope people in the tech industry play it, I hope that they see themselves in it and it gets them to look at what they’re doing and how they’re implementing and approaching things in a different way, that’s definitely one of my goals,” he says.
He also wants to reach people who are on the peripheries of the tech world, who a bit about it but have never actually experienced the startup life.
“This is sort of a way where they can live in those shoes a little bit and kind of get a feel for what that world is like,” he says
Tseng has raised $6,700 so far, over his $5,000 goal. That money, he says, will allow him to focus on the game full-time and get it finished.