In a follow-up to last week’s game design idea, use this one weird tip to add realism and teach players about the legal system at the same time!




We previously focused on adding a sense of danger to a computer game by adding new consequence for failure. (Specifically, adding an increasingly-onerous delay to the player respawn timer.)

In this follow-up idea, we suggest two motivating premises:

  1.  If a player has no consequences for failure, then they will not as keenly feel the thrill of success.
  2. An analogue of the real-world legal system can also punish the player for in-game failure.

The issue:

In a game like the modern incarnations of Grand Theft Auto, there is usually very little at stake with regards to success or failure of a mission. Missions have ample checkpoints, so failure leads to a 60-second setback at most. (Older versions of these games did not have checkpoints, so a 20-minute mission could become increasingly tense toward the end.)

If a character reaches a failure mode in the open-world section of the game (e.g., is arrested, hit with a rocket, or falls off a cliff), the player is just charged an inconsequential fee in the in-game currency.


We propose that a character who is arrested (or otherwise incapacitated by law enforcement) will have to appear at an in-game trial and face the legally-determined in-game consequences of their actions. This can be a complex process—see figure 1 for details!


Fig 1: Upon failing a hypothetical “Casino Heist” mission, the player is faced with many legal woes. Should they pay for an expensive legal team? Take a plea bargain? Roll the dice on a jury trial? Note the un-subtle endorsement of paying tons of money for lawyers in this diagram! Clearly this game was sponsored by a high-profile legal team, and definitely not .

Each of these options will lead to a different in-game punishment (or perhaps the character will get off scot-free). Note that there is the possibility of fractal complexity here; maybe in the “take it to a jury trial” segment, the player must also be involved in attempting to suppress inculpatory evidence, impeach the credibility of opposing witnesses, call their own character witnesses, establish a (false) alibi, etc…

PROS: Adds a dire consequence for failure, making victory sweeter. May provide useful instruction regarding the legal system.

CONS: Requires additional time and money to develop a feature that few players will actually appreciate.