Law Without Accountability is DOOM

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that there are four essential components to the concept of a law: 1) an ordinance of reason 2) for the common good 3) given by the entity who has charge (or authority) over those subject to the law, and 4) promulgated, so that those subject to the law are aware of the law. For example: It would be an ordinance of reason, for the common good, for government to promulgate rules against turning humans into demonically possessed hellspawn when you are supposed to be mining supernatural energy from the bowels of the underworld. It seems so obvious- so what happened in this year’s reboot of the classic game DOOM?

Aside from a contract with the rulers of hell, it doesn’t look like there’s much law in DOOM. Though there are several types of law from a certain perspective, the absence of common legal structures is both understandable and important.

Lessig’s Four Flavors of Law

In an effort to explain the problem of copyright infringement in the context of the digital era, Lawrence Lessig suggested that there are really four categories of law: statutory (the laws “on the books”), economic (market incentives and disincentives), cultural (social norms, traditions, etc), and architectural (limits of physical possibility). Through this lens, we see an abundance of law in DOOM.  Each of the four main characters presents each of these types of law:

VEGA, the non-judgmental AI Architecture

Created by Hayden, VEGA is an artificial intelligence that monitors and operates the facility. He explains state of affairs and limits of possibility and explains the architectural laws that govern the situation they face. VEGA does not have his own agenda, but only wishes to serve by providing factual information.

“Dr.” Samuel Hayden, Economics and market

The President and CEO of the Union Aerospace Corporation, Hayden is concerned with the economic impacts of the Doom Slayer’s choices. The massive loss of human life at the facility is secondary to his focus on efficiency and scientific progress.

Olivia Pierce: Corporate Cult-ture

The antagonist Olivia creates and enforces cultural law throughout her cult and her corporation. Hologramatic announcements and documents gathered in the game reveal the overlap between Olivia’s demonic cult and the corporate policies and guidelines at the UAC. Presumably, Hayden allowed this culture because it served his economic interests. Olivia maintained this culture because it served her interests of climbing Hell’s social ladder… or descending into Hell’s cesspool. I don’t know how that metaphor works for demons.

The Doom Slayer: Statute, Adjudication, and Enforcement

The Doom Slayer is the embodiment of statutory law. He is there to fix the runaway obsessions of cults and markets. He is there to ensure a fundamental floor of safety. As a bonus, he’s going to take care of the enforcement, too. In the first iteration of Doom, the player was a Marine stationed on Mars as part of a United Nations force. In this year’s version, he is an eternal killer of demons. In both versions, his purpose to ensure the safety of humanity and balance the risks and dangers of the UAC’s activities. His role is both to decide what the rule should be, and then ensure that the rule is followed.


Energy Law: Laws of physics, laws of people.

The core principle behind energy law is preventing energy extraction and distribution from wrecking needless destruction. Energy law works closely with limits of science and technology, and recognizes certain risks and dangers that are likely or inherent in certain situations. This is why there are rules about where and how oil companies can drill, or what levels of hazardous emissions are permissible for factories. Laws have to be adapted to the relevant circumstances. Sensible energy policies facilitate the extraction, processing, and use of fuels while minimizing risk and harm to the environment and humanity. In DOOM, this might include regulations and safety measures against unleashing extra-dimensional monstrosities upon mankind.


Conclusion: The Need For Enforcement and Monitoring.

Americans tend to fervently and piously believe in law as an institution – and that belief alone goes a long way to creating a stable society. However, the mere existence of a set of laws is not enough to bring order or safety. The laws must also be followed and enforced. Having laws that permit or forbid actions isn’t enough to change how people feel about the subject matter. Without proper enforcement, people will just act in whichever ways seem most convenient.

Upholding the law isn’t just abiding by it individually – it’s also the social effort of maintaining institutions and practices that hold people accountable. That’s why we monitor, audit, and certify. Someone needs to actually go check secret laboratories for secret underground catacombs for ritualistic sacrifices and 10-story high cyberdemons. Rules against opening up transdimensional portals to fulfill blood contracts with demonic powers are an important start, but they are not enough. Even obviously important laws can be ignored, and they are likely to be ignored if there is no enforcement or accountability.

Year-End Special Four-Part Special: Methods of Power in and around StarCraft II

One of the central questions in both Philosophy of Law and Social and Political Philosophy is “What is power?” Quite a bit of philosophy is interested in understanding the concept of power, often before making value judgments about its use and limits. StarCraft II is a multi-leveled study in power, through gameplay, story, and the impact of the game on the world.

As a real-time strategy game StarCraft II is about controlling and using resources to gain power. Furthermore, each of the three races within the game explores this theme in a unique way, and each of those different explorations illustrates a piece of the way that StarCraft II explains and demonstrates South Korea’s pioneering and excellence in e-sports.

For the Terrans, power is about building and controlling infrastructure—the media and information are key elements in the story and game. For the Zerg, power comes largely through infestation—through being present and connecting with sources of power and with the general Zerg population. For the Protoss, power is considered to be the result of knowledge and wisdom. All of these different approaches can be used to understand why South Korea is such a consistently dominant force in e-Sports.

Ownership of Digital Material: I own it, so why don’t I have it?

This topic has been well-addressed by a lot of games journalists. The 4th-to-last panel in this comic summarizes the perspectives of many:

Usually, we think owning something is having something. Even for claims to IP, which isn’t tangible, we have a unique and specific claim to the use of something. With some games, I seem to have a claim to use the software, but only at the discretion and convenience of the service; if the service is not functioning for some reason, I cannot play the game. I also cannot transfer the claim to play the game, as I could in the olden days of 2001 when we bought video games in physical format. One might argue that even buying a book was never an absolute claim over the book’s intellectual property. A copyright means that a bundle of rights are reserved for the author/artist/publisher/developer/creator/whoever owns them, and as such are off-limits to everyone else. Yet there is something different here: I could always resell my single copy of the book after I finished enjoying it. I cannot pass on the joy of a used copy of some games managed by certain species of DRM (or at least, with nowhere near the ease one might expect).

It seems that 99% of arguments about rights to own physical vs. digital objects are centered around the right to republish and redistribute (in one way or another). With only circumstantial evidence, I speculate that the overwhelming impetus behind software developers’ decisions to use digital rights management procedures and mechanisms is to curtail the economically harmful practices of the reproduction of their works.

While some may argue the business practices of EA and Blizzard are not economically sustainable, my question is about the legal sustainability of DRM: “Do practices like ‘always-online DRM’ violate fundamental legal principles of ownership?” While they seem to violate some ethical and cultural notions of ownership, they do seem legally permissible.

One of the early lessons in first year contracts in law school is that you can contract out of, or around, almost anything. If you sign (or click accept) a contract that says you agree to limited circumstances of ownership, there isn’t much of a case that you are entitled to more than your contract permits. For example, Steam’s EULA reads: “All… ownership rights … to the Software and any and all copies thereof, are owned by Valve US and/or its or its affiliates’ licensors.” (Section 2, paragraph E: Ownership). Valve owns the software; we humble peons are merely licensed to play with their toys when Steam feels ok with it.

Illegal contracts are not recognized by courts, but consent to not sell a legal videogame is not an illegal contract because neither the subject matter nor the nature of the contract violates the law. So long as the publisher includes some kind of contractual agreement that you acknowledge and accept the DRM restrictions placed on your game, it seems entirely unlikely that there is any legal recourse available to fight these restrictions.

So let’s hope these practices prove economically unfeasible very, very quickly.

Two “Oughts” Of Law and Who “Ought” To Decide Them

There are two types of “ought” in US Law. The first type is in reference stare decisis and precedent: if a previous decision handled a situation in manner X, then a similar situation should also be handled in manner X because of that previous decision. For areas of law without a clear and certain statute, this is the essence of how legal issues are decided. (It is called “Common Law.”)

The second type of “ought” is the normative, moral ought we often when discussing law: the government ought to adopt policy X, because it is good for the economy; the court ought to decide the case in manner X because it is the right way to treat people’s property rights. It is based in our sense of right and wrong, good or bad, and not in what has previously been decided or enacted (unless, by coincidence, we base our sense of good and bad on legal continuity and reliability).

Political debates can be confusing when each party is using different meanings of the word “ought” (or similar word, like “should” or “must” or “needs to”). It is often disturbing, yet none the less true, that the legally required answer to a problem may differ or even conflict with what we consider the morally required answer.

Some have felt that it should be the obligation of the courts to alter the law so that the legally required answer aligns with the moral sensibilities of the community. This poses a problem in the face of US governmental structure because judges (all Federal and many state ones, at least) are not elected and as such lack the kind of connection to the voting democratic population that we associate with legislatures and executives (governors and presidents). The issue is this: In a democratic republic, should the unelected branch of government have veto power over the elected branch of government? This issue was brought to public attention last year in the 9th Circuit (mostly, California) when a ballot initiative passed popular vote but was struck down by a federal judge.

Some focus too much on the substance of the law in question, but that approach can’t provide categorical answers. If we think it is ok for the judiciary to strike down laws passed by the people, we must seriously question whether we are really true to the notion of democracy. If we think that the only check on the voice of the people should be the voice of the people, we might be concerned that if 51% of the people vote to kill/imprison/beat up the other 49% of the people just because they feel like it, there can be no kind of recourse or justice for that 49%.

This becomes the problem that is described in academic literature as the countermajoritarian difficulty vs. the tyranny of the majority. Should we allow the majority to be countered, or should we risk the majority abusing their power of the ballot? The Constitution establishes a framework for government, but it does not establish a meta-framework for itself.