The rule of law; or, lawlessness in video games.

Part of my leisurely reading as part of my mammoth 100-book challenge for 2017, trying to maintain my final legal momentum in my last semester, has been Tom Bingham’s The Rule of Law. Lord Bingham is famed as a widely-respected Law Lord, in his role of Master of the Rolls, and as a thoughtful and assertive jurist. Winning the 2011 ‘Orwell Prize for Literature’, I first bought this book back in my first semester of my undergraduate degree, when my intention was to become a well-read, broad thinking and considerate jurist. Eventually, you get dragged down in the rigmarole of the degree – reading specific cases, revising very fine points of law, and undertaking research of few academics. To coincide with my recent career progress, I had considered that now would be the time to discover a love of the law, in the event that I would need to turn to academia to find a future career; it began with Susskind’s Tomorrow’s Lawyers, as I lamented over in a post yesterday. To move on, I grabbed this book from my bookshelf. I had tried reading it prior, but had stopped after only 20 pages, and now, for some reason, I know that I have the capacity to read pretty much any book that I desire.

The reason for this (likely short) post is twofold. Firstly, I’d like to reflect on the first half of the book, and my notions of the rule of law. And secondly, I’d like to make an aimless and unsubstantiated comment on the rule of law in relation to video games.

Firstly, to the book. I found myself quickly agreeing with the book’s premise: the term ‘rule of law’ is almost without genuine meaning of any import. It is used in a laudatory manner for those who win in court, and is used as a denigratory tool by political activists when something questionable on legal justification (see: R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union) is actioned in the courts. I am currently finding Bingham’s restatement, or simple assessment, of the principle to be rather helpful in redefining something which had come to lose any sense of meaning; it is a simple, and yet profound, principle based in centuries of history, which ensures the equality of law: that it must be clear enough for us all to understand how to utilise it (both enforcing our civil rights and avoiding criminal charges), and that it must be without prejudice, in applying equally to all, with only necessary levels of discretion and sufficient guidelines for the justices in whom we place our trust in exercising justice. I hope, as I continue to read the book, that Bingham makes an attempt to explain how we may begin to further understand this rule, not necessarily through a form of codification (which would be troublesome in our unwritten constitution), but rather through a clear and transparent explanation suitable for the layman, most of whom would agree to espouse the above principles, but when faced with the notion of a ‘rule of law’ would likely shake their head in confusion.

And secondly, to the games. I find it interesting that almost all video games must exist in a state where the rule of law is not present, in some way or another. If all video games are based on conflict of some sort, it is highly likely that the rule of law is breached in any game where the setting is something greater than simply ‘within one’s mind’; or perhaps more simply, where the video game is set in society at large, there must be a material threat to the player, and this threat will often contravene the rule of law. Not always; even in Grand Theft Auto, where the player is liable to be threatened largely in response to his own actions, his arrest or ‘waste’ will fall in this area. But consider the modern shooter, or even game of espionage: society, if it has not fallen, will likely impose some extrajudicial punishment regime, so often death, or at least arrest, which cannot be reconciled with the rule of law. I told you that this was aimless. I think I have to do more research about this, but consider games like Watchdogs, or even The Legend of Zelda; there is seemingly no recourse to a higher judicial power, able to reverse unlawful detention, or to resolve issues facing multiple parties. Instead, local and autonomous jurisdictions utilise their own opaque and hidden laws, often off-the-cuff, to the detriment of the player. It is an interesting point to consider that, in the perfect world of the rule of law, a video game would appear…limited, at best.

In other news, I’m embarking upon my annual re-reading of Wuthering Heights. Wish me luck.


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