Legal System: The Gathering. What if law could be learned through a very complicated collectable card game?

Background:

Most legal systems are extraordinarily complicated and are full of strange rules and loopholes, so the average person has a very superficial understanding of law (as practiced in movies) at best.

Just like law, there’s another popular pastime that’s full of rules, thousands of pages of errata, and millions of Internet posts arguing about minutiae: collectable card gaming. This genre was initially made famous by Magic: The Gathering in the 1990s, but there are now dozens (hundreds?) of these games.

Proposal:

In order to increase familiarity with a country’s legal system (and provide entertainment at the same time), a card game could be created to promote legal awareness.

Consider how strange the legal system is, where there are many counterintuitive procedural requirements that must be followed. For example, it isn’t enough for some state-sponsored tough guys to bust down a door and find a murder weapon: they’ll also need to have gotten a search warrant first.

Let’s consider how a battle might work in a Magic: The Gathering-inspired rule system. An interaction might go like this:

  • Alice: “The dragon attacks you.”
  • Bob: “Ah, but before it could attack me, I cast a lighting bolt on that dragon, killing it. So it can’t attack me.”
  • Alice: “Ok, but before that happened, I cast ‘immunity to lightning’ on the dragon, so actually it survives and does attack you.”
  • Bob: “Well, before that could happen, I cast ‘immunity to immunity spells’ on the dragon, so your spell would have failed.”
  • Alice: “Actually, before any of that could occur, I cast a spell to return this dragon card to the top of my deck. So this entire interaction is now moot.“

This may seem ridiculous if you haven’t played a game like this, but it works quite well in practice.

A law game (Figure 1) could work similarly:

  • Alice: “I submit into evidence this bloody knife that was found in the defendant’s apartment.“
  • Bob: “Ah, but that evidence was found by a detective who searched the defendant‘s apartment without a warrant, so the knife is inadmissible by the ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ rule.”
  • Alice: “You might think so, but the apartment was on fire and the detective heard someone screaming, so when he kicked the door in, it was totally legitimate due to the immediate danger of the situation. Finding the knife was just incidental.”
  • Bob: “Ok, but the reason the apartment was on fire was because the Chief of Police set the fire in order to provide a flimsy justification for an illegal search!”
  • Alice: “Yes, but the Chief of Police was possessed by a ghost, so he was technically acting as a normal citizen, not as a member of the police. So the search is still valid.”
  • Bob: “But according to this divination, the ghost was a former Supreme Court justice, so actually the possessed-by-a-ghost Chief of Police is still a state actor. Thus, I contend that this search remains illegal.”

Fig. 1: Several cards that could be part of a deck in “United States Criminal Justice System: The Gathering.” Note that players with more money are able to buy rarer and more effective cards, so this card game mirrors most legal systems in more ways than one. (There could be a “public defender” deck with a deliberately under-provisioned set of cards.)

Conclusion:

This style of card game could apply to criminal law, contract law, patent law, or really any kind of law you can think of. How many kinds even are there? Is “bird law” a real thing? Anyway, it could be very educational, is the point.

PROS: Could spur interest in the legal system and shine the spotlight on weird legal loopholes and injustices that are hidden away among tens of thousands of pages of laws.

CONS: Might give players enough (over)confidence in their legal skills to encourage them to represent themselves in court, which historically has questionable results at best.