Thoughts on the representation of Law in video games

Throughout the semester, we have learned about video game law, in other words, how the law regulates and hinge on video games. The name of the course could then have been “Video Games and Law”.

But what happens if we reverse those two words? Does the meaning remain intact? Does “Law and Video Games” mean something different from “Video Games and Law”? Certainly. This change of position also leads to a change of perspective. The heart of the issue is not about how law takes care of video games anymore, but rather on how law is depicted in video games? Put another way, is there a representation of law in video games and if yes, how does it portray it? A lot of studies examine the connection that exists between Law and Literature, Law and TV shows, Law and Movies, Law and Opera. So why not Law and Video Games or Law in Video Games?


Let’s start by dividing the video games market in two; video games depicting law as the center of the gameplay -such as Ace Attorney– and the ones dealing with law in a more indirect way. Let’s clarify what I intend by law in this category. In the media sphere, law is usually associated with criminal law and trials. However, it can cover way more than that; what about committing a breach or a crime while playing? Doesn’t GTA deal indirectly with law when the player steals a car, kills a pedestrian while driving it and try to escape the police?


From a more abstract point of view, can’t we say that law is also present in the idea of Justice? Indeed, this moral and philosophical principle drives a lot of gameplay and justifies most of the actions the gamer is asked to complete throughout the game. Let’s take for instance Super Mario Bros. What idea surrounds the purpose of the gameplay? The rescue of Princess Peach who has been unjustly kidnapped by Bowser Jr.

The gamer is, most of the time, playing to reinstate what the gameplay depicted to be the rightful and legitimate situation, in other words, bring injustice to an end.


From this point of view, it is actually hard to describe a game without law in it…


2 responses to “Thoughts on the representation of Law in video games”

  1. NY Bae

    Great food for thought.
    As an avid Animal Crossing (New Horizons) player, the idea of buying a house and paying off (semi-mortgage) loans resembles real estate and property law for sure.
    Though players technically can escape their debt by selecting “reset game data”… if only it were that easy in real life!

  2. Ryan Buchanan

    This was a fascinating discussion post. Your point on the law driving gameplay development made me think of how games such as RPGs or JRPGs use themes of law, morality, and justice to alter player decision-making and emotions in particular contexts. Your example of Princess Peach is similar to the Assassin’s Creed or Wolfenstein franchises and how the storylines are almost completely driven by the theme of bringing injustice to an end. What I find so fascinating about video games in comparison to movies is that movies are being broadcasted to you whereas a video game can force you to deal with an ethical problem as it is presented. In other words, the game can stop you from progressing until you deal with a situation or moral dilemma. As such, many gamers can feel intense emotions when being forced to make certain decisions such as whether to kill a character or not. Additionally, you discussed that the player is playing to reinstate what the gameplay depicted to be the rightful and legitimate situation. I think this is true and can be extremely troublesome when we consider that a game like Assassins Creed has been shown by scholars to have extreme historical inaccuracies. These inaccuracies affect how gamers view the historical groups that are depicted in the game and how the gamer characterizes this injustice internally.