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!

by worstideas




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.