Tuesday, 5 July 2016

What can video games tell us about the law?

The Moral Choice of inFAMOUS: Law and morality in video games 

Michael Barnett and Cassandra Sharp 

24(3) GLR 482



Photo taken from Giantbomb.com
In this article, which is part of the Special Issue of the Griffith Law Review I mentioned in my last post, Michael Barnett and I explore the unique popular medium of video games - and we use inFamous as a case study. This article had its genesis in a final research project that Michael produced for my Law and Popular Culture elective in 2014 (which he then presented at the Through the Looking Glass symposium that same year). Following the symposium, we together crafted his idea into a greater analysis of the Infamous series, which positions Cole McGrath as the superpowered protagonist in a self-contained post-apocalyptic world that is chaotic, broken and absent of legal sanction and protection. Reading both the bifurcated narrative, and ‘moral mechanic’ jurisprudentially, in this article, we demonstrate that the game (through both mechanic and narrative) reinforces a legal consciousness that requires morality to be fulfilled in the law, and we argue that Infamous reflects a normative privileging of natural law that reinforces understandings of the relationship between power, law and morality. 

Here is an extract of the introduction (footnotes removed) - but you can access the full version here.

'In a world where technology is exponentially advancing, video games are certainly keeping apace. With increasing capacity for real-life simulation, high definition graphics, and complex interactive narrativity, video games now offer a high level of sophisticated engagement for players, which contribute significantly to their widespread popular support. Contemporary video games are no longer controlled by ‘mindlessly’ pushing buttons, but are instead navigated by complex problem solving and strategic decision-making within the bounds set by the mechanics of the game. Choices by players are a pivotal element of gameplay, and so while ‘players engage rich narrative storylines and employ complex discursive practices and problem solving strategies in order to understand and master underlying game mechanics’, they do so within a simulated environment that has its own rules, narratives, and ethics constituted within the game’s ideological framework. As an extremely prevalent sub-culture of new media, video games can perform an interesting function of provoking thought on issues of law, justice and crime. Exploring video games then, from within a cultural legal studies framework, acknowledges not only the culturally constructed nature of ‘playing’ video games, but also the normative expectations of law that are facilitated by the narrative structures inherent within the game itself. This article looks at one game series within this framework (Infamous), and asks what meaning can be transformed about issues of law, morality and power from playing these games. Specifically, the article seeks to analyse and critique the combined effect of the narrative and ‘moral mechanic’ of the game to explore connections between law and morality from a jurisprudential point of view. Our argument is that this connected narrative and moral mechanic of the Infamous video game series, provokes an application of normative value to the ethical choices a player might make that are inevitably underscored by natural law theory.'

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Introducing:

Through the Looking Glass - the Framing of Law through Popular Imagination
Special Issue – GLR 24(3)

[This is an extract from my Introduction to this special issue of the Griffith Law Review 2015]


It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.
- Alice [1]

It has been 150 years since the first publication of Lewis Carroll’s acclaimed children’s fiction Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and it remains a book that is appreciated widely across culture for its unique representation of the world. Indeed, the enduring quality of both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, is evident in the way they have inspired creations of art, theatrical performances, judicial decision-making, cinematic portrayals, videogame plot development, and of course, the desire for adventure. The 150th anniversary reminds us of, not only the mesmeric impact of reading Alice’s adventures, but also the cultural ubiquity of ‘wonderland’ within the public imaginary.

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.
- Red Queen [2]

When Alice falls through the rabbit hole or steps through the looking glass, she becomes lost in worlds that provoke mystification and the abandonment of common sense. It is a moment of transition, a movement between that which is ‘real’, knowable and explicable, and that which is nonsensical, chaotic and potentially incomprehensible. It is a moment of encounter that requires Alice to abandon traditional assumptions and logic if she is to begin to comprehend the adventure that awaits. The reward for this abandonment is entrance to these bizarre and fascinating worlds, where everything seems to be inverted or refracted from what she once knew – time is personified and made unreliable, decisions precede events, and punishments are served before crimes are committed. As Alice struggles to understand these new constructed existences and orient herself in connection with the constructs of time, space and memory, she discovers that the familiar concepts of logic, predictability, and rationality can be so easily taken for granted.


In her search for meaning, order and reason, it would seem that in both worlds she encounters, law is prima facie absent. However, it is curious to recognize the familiar threads of law, weaved throughout Alice’s encounters within these beautifully chaotic worlds. In the worlds of Wonderland and the Looking Glass, there is an ever present concern about law, represented in the conflict between order and disorder, chaos and predictability, authority and arbitrariness. This concern stems from a fear that law might at times (or even frequently) be arbitrarily administered, or that justice might indeed be illogical, disjointed, or counterintuitive. Lewis Carroll works this anxiety to perfection in Alice’s juxtaposition between reality and the imaginary, and still 150 years later, his work continues to demonstrate the mutually constitutive relationship between law and popular culture.

Give your evidence,’ said the King; `and don’t be nervous, or I’ll have you executed on the spot.’
This did not seem to encourage the witness at all: he kept shifting from one foot to the other, looking uneasily at the Queen, and in his confusion he bit a large piece out of his teacup instead of the bread-and-butter. [3]


Just as Alice contemplated, and then explored, the worlds down the rabbit hole, and on the other side of the looking glass, this Special Issue of the Griffith Law Review (GLR) calls upon us to reflect on and encounter the concepts of law and justice as broadly framed within popular imagination, and to expose the inversions, mirrorings and refractions of law across which we stumble. In seeking to engage critically with contemporary cultural legal studies scholarship, this special issue showcases innovative methodologies and practices that contextualize the role of legal storytelling in the popular imagination. The articles are inter-disciplinary and methodologically diverse – yet each contribute to the greater discussion surrounding the transformation of legal meaning that resonates within the popular imaginary, and in combination, this special issue exhibits an incredibly diverse and rich interaction with law and humanities scholarship.


To read more from my Introduction to the Special Issue click here:

The wonderful contributions to the Special Issue are as follows:

Penny Crofts demonstrates how horror films can function as the cultural window through which to investigate criminal law’s transgressive concept of voluntariness. In a reading of the influential 1970s film The Exorcist, Crofts uses Regan’s transformation through possession as a mechanism by which to interrogate law’s expression and transgression of order.

Thomas Giddens provides a jurisprudential reading of Morrison and McKean's graphic novel Arkham Asylum. In his contribution, Giddens critically analyses the juxtaposition of law’s reason with the ‘madness’ of Arkham, and describes a paradoxical encounter of ‘the meeting of reason and unreason in the context of justice’.

Timothy Peters convinces us to appreciate the complexities of popular cultural narratives that demand a re-reading and re-encountering of legality. In exploring Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy as a narrative that opens the possibility for a different grounding of trust, law, and justice, Peters reads Batman as a Christological figure that ‘makes strange’ the traditional superhero mythos as well as the narratives they tell of justice, law and legality.

Dale Mitchell provides a thorough and detailed critical examination of the legal and feminist dimensions of She-Hulk. Mitchell argues that, defined by binaries and constructed through real world and imagined patriarchal forces, She-Hulk (as lawyer and ‘hulking green enforcer’) by necessity splinters the law to protect her client's interests, thereby demonstrating her resistance to law’s patriarchal order. Mitchell argues that by embodying the monstrous feminine, Jen represents the promise of a different encounter with law – one that turns rejection by the law into something that challenges it.

Michael Barnett and Cassandra Sharp take their moment of encounter to the world of video games. In analysing the Infamous series, which positions Cole McGrath as the superpowered protagonist in a self-contained post-apocalyptic world that is chaotic, broken and absent of legal sanction and protection, Barnett and Sharp demonstrate that the game (through both mechanic and narrative) reinforces a legal consciousness that requires morality to be fulfilled in the law. Reading both the bifurcated narrative, and ‘moral mechanic’ jurisprudentially, they argue that Infamous reflects a normative privileging of natural law, and that this reinforces understandings of the relationship between power, law and morality. Click here to access this article.

Cassandra Sharp interrogates the way 'revenge' and 'justice' are entwined in the television series Revenge. Just as Alice quickly realises that in a world without meaning, the search for truth and order is misguided and futile, the character of Emily Thorne progressively demonstrates that in a world that values retribution, the search for justice is often atavistic yet pathologised. Using Revenge as case study, Sharp contends that it is the consistent Hollywood apposition of retribution and revenge as divergent forms of ‘justice’ that belies a conspiracy with law to pathologise the human desire for payback. Click here to access this article. 

To check out the full Special Issue click here.




[1] Carroll (1865), Chapter 10: ‘The Lobster Quadrille’.
[2] Carroll (1871), Chapter 2: ‘The Garden of Live Flowers’.
[3] Carroll (1865), Chapter 10: ‘Who Stole the Tarts’.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Not sure exactly what constitutes Cultural Legal Studies?

Check out our new edited collection: 

Cassandra Sharp and Marett Leiboff (eds) Cultural Legal Studies: Law's Popular Cultures and the Metamorphosis of Law (Routledge, 2015) 

Now available: Check it out here


What can law’s popular cultures do for law, as a constitutive and interrogative critical practice? This collection explores such a question through the lens of the ‘cultural legal studies’ movement, which proffers a new encounter with the ‘cultural turn’ in law and legal theory. Moving beyond the ‘law ands’ (literature, humanities, culture, film, visual and aesthetics) on which it is based, this book demonstrates how the techniques and practices of cultural legal studies can be used to metamorphose law and the legalities that underpin its popular imaginary. By drawing on three different modes of cultural legal studies – storytelling, technology and jurisprudence – the collection showcases the intersectional practices of cultural legal studies, and law in its popular cultural mode.










The contributors to the collection deploy differentiated modes of cultural legal studies practice, adopting diverse philosophical, disciplinary, methodological and theoretical approaches and subjects of examination. The collection draws on this mix of diversity and homogeneity to thread together its overarching theme: that we must take seriously an interrogation of law as culture and in its cultural form. That is, it does not ask how a text ‘represents’ law; but rather how the representational nature of both law and culture intersect so that the ‘juridical’ become visible in various cultural manifestations. In short, it asks: how law’s popular cultures actively effect the metamorphosis of law.

Cassandra Sharp and Marett Leiboff
Legal Intersections Research Centre
Faculty of Law Humanities and the Arts
University of Wollongong

Sunday, 22 February 2015


Call For Papers – GLR (2015) 24(3)

Griffith Law Review
A Review Dedicated to the
Socio-Legal, Inter-disciplinary, Critical and Theoretical Study of Law

Editor-in-Chief – Professor William MacNeil
Managing Editors – Dr Edward Mussawir & Dr Timothy Peters

The Griffith Law Review: Law Theory Society has a proud history of publishing innovative and engaging socio-legal, inter-disciplinary and critical legal research. Our focus is international and we engage with worldwide issues and agendas. In recognition of the Review’s standing as a leading journal, it was ranked A* by the Australian Research Council for the 2010 Excellence in Research for Australia Initiative.
The Review is pleased to announce the following publishing opportunity for 2015.
 (2015) 24(3) Symposium
Through the Looking Glass: the Framing of Law and Justice through Popular Imagination
Symposium Editor: Cassandra Sharp
Deadline for manuscripts: 30 March 2015
This special edition is designed to explore the connected themes of legal storytelling and the visual image of law and justice in popular culture.  Following Alice, who contemplates, and then explores, the world on the other side of the looking glass, this special edition calls upon scholars to reflect on and encounter the concepts of law and justice as broadly framed within popular imagination via the portal of popular cultural texts. Alice goes through the looking glass to find a world both clear and recognizable yet inverted, or refracted, and so too, this symposium sought to explore stories and images of law in popular culture that are familiar, yet at the same time often turned strange.

Within this theme, scholars can investigate and revisit issues that map the contemporary discipline of law and pop culture – with its different dimensions and relations to legal knowledge, law practice and jurisprudence. The special edition seeks to allow for broad coverage under topics such as:

·       The role of legal storytelling in transforming, mirroring, creating, and sustaining legal consciousness.
·       The framing and/or distortion of law within popular images and narratives.
·    The transformation and circulation of meaning in relation to perceptions of justice, and/or how justice (dis)connects with law.
·       The (de)mystification of law through popular stories.

Submissions are invited for this Symposium Edition, which can be between 8,000 and 10,000 words in length, addressing any issue broadly conceived within this theme.

Dr Cassandra Sharp (Symposium Editor)

Submissions to the journal can be made at the following web address:

For more information concerning the GLR contact:
Dr Ed Mussawir & Dr Tim Peters
Managing Editors
Griffith Law Review
Email:
glr@griffith.edu.au
Website:
www.griffith.edu.au/criminology-law/griffith-law-review




Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A burglar meets his victim? How would you respond to this story?


In this extremely visual age, I had the recent opportunity to simply listen to a story of justice through the medium of radio documentary. I had the privilege of reviewing for UOW's RadioDoc Review, a documentary produced by BBC Radio 4 in the UK, and I was amazed at my own response to not only the transformative effect of a burglar meeting his victim, but also to the way the radio medium so piqued my attention and provoked emotion. Reproduced below is a small extract from my review...


Stories of justice as presented in media reports play an important role in provoking responses to issues such as ethics, crime, punishment and social responsibility. With the punishment of criminal activity frequently attracting public attention and media reporting on sentencing contributing to an increasingly punitive public (Gelb 2008), it is rare to be invited to think differently about how ‘justicemight be achieved (whether for the victim or the offender). And yet, this is exactly what A Different Kind of Justice does. To listen to this documentary produced by Russell Finch for BBC Radio 4, is to take part in a review of ones own perspective on what should be the purpose of ‘justice. It is a challenge to extend what might ordinarily be our primary natural desire for offenders to be punished, into a connected desire for the restoration of relationships and healed lives.  

A Different Kind of Justice, narrated by dialogue expert Karl James, explores the impact of a restorative justice program from a deeply empirical perspective. In interviewing, and then facilitating discussion between a burglar and his victim, James provides an exquisitely emotional look into the cathartic and potentially transformative impact of one particular restorative justice encounter in Blackburn, UK. A Different Kind of Justice, uses three distinct movements to re-tell a crime story by weaving together victim and offender perspectives, and in the process reveals not only the profound transformative effects of restorative justice on those participants, but also the impact it can have on the listener.

With recent studies suggesting that meetings between victims of crime and their perpetrators can both reduce reoffending rates and provide pyschological healing for victims (Bolitho et al, 2012), there has been a significant increase of these ‘restorative justice’ meetings in the UK. In this program, the story is narratively crafted using the interweaving of articulated memories – both Margaret (the victim) and Ian (the offender) describe their memories of the crime and their subsequent ‘restorative interaction’. It is in hearing these descriptions of juxtaposed and personalized memories that the listener is keenly aware of the raw emotion constituting this crime narrative. But, what is the particular story that has seemingly entwined their lives? As described in the Somethin’ Else Program Information, the essence of their story is this:

In November 2008, Margaret interrupted a burglary in her own home. As she came through the backdoor, the burglar left through the front. He had taken a laptop full of photos commemorating her daughter Jessica's 18th birthday. Eight months later her daughter was killed in a tragic car accident. The theft of the laptop meant her parents were deprived of any recent family photos of their daughter. …. inspired by the memory of her daughter, Margaret agreed to meet the offender in a restorative justice conference in Preston Prison. Ian was that burglar.

However, this is more than just a narrative of burglar meets victim. It becomes a gripping, metaphorical looking glass through which we can explore the practical realities of restorative justice, and the listener quickly realizes that this is a story of restoration, forgiveness, guilt, and burden. It is indeed a story of a different kind of justice.

To read my full review at RadioDoc Review click here


I encourage you to listen to the documentary for yourself - which you can do by clicking here and scrolling to the very end (after all the comments) to listen via soundcloud.