No one’s immune from the (video) gamification of life. Games populate our Facebook pages, home screens, and even (still) once per week family gatherings. You can be a marine, a real estate tycoon, an environmentalist, a football coach, or even a fruit ninja. Recently, I downloaded a game to my iPhone called Landlord 2. It’s a basic buy property and get rich game. In this game there are several “skills” the player may purchase to improve their money-making: Tycoon (increase property slots), Lawyer (increase properties waiting for paperwork), Innovator (reduce property cost), Landlord (increase property rent), Accountant (reduce taxes), and Speculator (increase property valuations).
All of these skills are interesting in their own right; they all simplify the complexities of property acquisition. But, what might be of most interest to readers of this blog is the Lawyer skill. There are two problems with this skill attribute: 1) the lawyer only functions transactionally, increasing the amount of space available for the processing of land deals, and, relatedly, 2) that the lawyer’s primary function is “paperwork.” Both of those points cut deeply into the importance of lawyers, law, and legal knowledge.
Practitioners and scholars alike will note that while lawyers function in transactional roles they also do much more on a variety of issues. Lawyers are often involved in the beginning, middle, and end of legal agreements, provide counsel and engage in negotiations, and represent clients of all types in court and other proceedings. Simply put, there’s a lot more to law than moving things through a nebulous system from one’s desk chair. Even if transactional lawyering is understood as synonymous with corporate or business lawyering, that still denies the complexities of that wide-ranging practice area. The only business of business law isn't sitting at one's desk.
Secondly, the abstract notion of paperwork seems to demean just how important legal documentation is. Paperwork would seem to include contracts, memos, briefs, and maybe emails, professional publications, etc. Rather than discuss contracts or filing motions, Landlord 2 gives the Lawyer the job of paperwork. This risks positioning lawyers as paperwork pushers rather than advocates, allies, and important participants in legal actions.
Of course, television, movies, and music have all had their problems in reasonably representing law and lawyering, but now that our students, friends, family, and colleagues are on their iPads, iPhones, and other devices, we should turn our attention to the video gamification of law. I’d be interested in readers adding their experience with lawyers and law firms in video games or apps. What role do these organizations and characters serve? Do they represent law firms, prosecutors, defense attorneys, etc. fairly or as best they can given the constraints of the game or app? What games or apps seem particularly successful or particularly disastrous? Have representations in video games changed over time?
Other folks have written about gamification, but not video gamification. Gamification describes a broader concept of incentivizing action through rewards. Imagine leveling up for turning in a report to your dean or memo to a senior partner. Of course, leveling up might involve more free time, better case assignments, an extra day off, or increased research budgets, and not a Super Mario Bros. 3 Raccoon tail.
Readers might find these stories interesting on the debate about gamification, generally: “Improve your legal practice through gamification,” “What can ‘gamification’ do for lawyers?,” “Gamification of law: Good idea or game over?,” and for a scholarly take from Austria, “Gamification and law: On the legal implications of using gamified elements.”
When we start to address these issues, we’ll be in a better place to assess what I’ve called “coming to the law,” or how people because of their social experiences construct the legal world and their interactions with it. If our clients and students are learning from video games and apps, then we’ll need to work with them to not only understand them and their ideas, but also to better understand law and lawyering ourselves.