The Bramble Bush of Forking Paths: Digital Narrative, Procedural Rhetoric, and the Law

Lucille A. Jewel
14 Yale J.L. & Tech. 66

This Article explores ways to harness the persuasive and narrative power of computer games for practical legal purposes. The mental experiences we have when we play computer games relate to what attorneys do every day. Playing computer games and practicing law both require engagement with interactive plots where the outcomes depend on a series of choices in a complex system.
The analogues between computer games and the practice of law are one reason that lawyers should take a deeper look at this emerging narrative theory. The other reason has to do with the fact that millions of people play computer games and thus engage with digital narratives every day. Digital narrative, if it can be implemented in the context of a legal argument, might provide attorneys with a new way to persuade. Indeed, there are already quite a few examples of computer games that have been built with persuasive purposes in mind.
The similarities between legal thinking and digital narrative as well as digital narrative’s unique power to engage are two compelling reasons why legal practitioners should consider employing digital narrative approaches for advocacy purposes. This Article seeks to show, with examples and hypotheticals, how advocates might use digital narrative’s interactivity and systemic procedures to persuade in a revolutionary way.
This Article looks to the past, by looking at how the practice of law in its analog text-based form retains many interactive aspects; the present, by reviewing the current persuasive ends that online games are being used for; and the future, by thinking about where computer games might fit into the practice of law in the coming years. Part I of this Article provides a general introduction to digital narrative theory, which holds that computer games are a platform for sharing and experiencing stories. Building upon the narrative theory exposited in Part I, Part II explores the emerging genre of the persuasive game and how procedural rhetoric works. Part III then addresses the parallels and applications that computer games have to legal analysis and authorship.