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Deep Dive: Burdening players with the power of the system in Legal Dungeon

Korean game developer Somi's latest game Legal Dungeon has players organizing police investigation documents - and having to decide whether to indict the accused criminals or not. Here's how Somi did it.

Joel Couture, Contributor

July 24, 2019

8 Min Read

The Gamasutra Deep Dives are an ongoing series with the goal of shedding light on specific design, art, or technical features within a video game, in order to show how seemingly simple, fundamental design decisions aren't really that simple at all.

Check out earlier installments, including creating the gorgeous voxel creatures of Fugldesigning the  UI for VR strategy game Skyworld, building an adaptive tech tree in Dawn of Man, and achieving seamless branching in Watch Dogs 2’s Invasion of Privacy missions.

Who: Somi

Hi. I’m Somi, a lone game developer based in Korea. I’m the developer of police paperwork game Legal Dungeon, which released in May 2019.

I majored in law in university and am still working in an office related to law enforcement. Within my working life, I’ve aspired to share all of my thoughts and feelings, especially the sense of guilt I feel every day in my life in law enforcement, with someone else.

I find games are a very useful and appropriate medium to convey what’s inside of me, and I’ve released four games while studying game development since 2014. In 2016, I made Replica, which is a game about peeping at someone’s cell phone to find clues about potential terrorism. It got many awards, including the Impact Award at IndieCade 2016.

Legal Dungeon is the latest game of mine in which players organize police investigation documents. In it, players will review criminal case files (poring over documents that can be seven pages long, or upwards of 40) and decide whether to indict the accused criminals or not. All choices can be made by players, but it has a very clear limitation.

What: Game design that oppresses players with the power of the system

Basically, the role of players of Legal Dungeon is filling out a new document called ‘Investigation Verdicts’ after looking through a bunch of information gathered through previous investigations. Because the investigation of each case has already closed by your teammates, there are no dynamic parts like revealing clues or chasing down criminals. Players have to read documents and find out how people testified, what clues the police found, what charge their behavior should be accused of, what factors are needed to complete the crime, and how the verdict was decided in the precedent of similar cases.

This procedure is very similar to the real role of team leaders of crime investigation divisions in Korea. Moreover, CIS, the criminal information system in the game, is almost the same as KICS which is used by real Korean police made by the Korean Ministry of Justice. Each criminal case that builds the game’s storyline is based on real issues happening in the real world. As a result, players can experience the same feelings and work the average police officer would have to conduct, and decide on pressing charges in a similar way. It means that the game is reproducing the logic of decision-making of real police officers.

Of course, I thought that the reproduction process needed transformation to fit in the game. The process of typing texts in documents is replaced by drag-n-drop. The goal of the police organization, common atmosphere in the system, unspoken pressure, and prevailing biases are also infused into the player’s mind by the tutorial of the screenmate in the game.

Why did I make this boring paperwork simulation game? I wanted to ask to players if they really believe they have a choice. I wanted to ask them whether they can choose other options which were different from the mindset of the average officer if they experienced the exact same environment in the real world.

Why: How far is the area of player’s own judgement?

Beginning : Can you say you are different from an average officer?

The idea for the game came from one news article about the chief of YangCheon police station in Korea calling for Seoul police chief’s resignation in June 2010. He felt that the commissioner of the Seoul Police commanded an unreasonable focus on results. At that time in that police station, 4 police officers were arrested on charges of torturing and abusing innocent suspects just to raise arrest numbers. After that affair, the whistle blower was fired and the commissioner didn’t resign. Nothing was changed, and the focus on arrest numbers is still the most important criteria in performance assessments of police officers.

Episode 1 of Legal Dungeon is about an old man who struggles to survive by gathering and selling free papers. He’s being charged with theft because even free papers can be objects of theft when they belongs to others. In that chapter, you have to make a choice: Indictment or Non-indictment. Or you can prosecute even the young granddaughter of the suspect as an accomplice because she helped carry the free papers.

No matter which way you want to choose, the correct answer is already fixed. Because, like most police officers who investigate similar cases in the real world, players are pressured by points they have to get. Orders from higher-ups and incitement from your teammates will naturally make the old man as a 5-points-monster. He’s the most valuable one to indict, and you need those numbers to keep your job.

When I made a prototype which gave players just two simple option buttons - ‘Attack’ and ‘Mercy’ - most of the players’ answers were different from a real police officer’s. They wanted to release the old man. Because this is just a game. They are not desperate to get points no matter how much the game tried to show the necessity of gaining arrest points in the result-oriented system. Moreover, in the real world, choices are not simply made by a single click. It is much more complicated in real life, and people tend to follow the direction and atmosphere of the majority. So, I had to find an alternative game system.

Each moment of choice decides the life of other person

At last, Legal Dungeon had been changed to not show players the exact moment of choice. There are no buttons simply saying Prosecution or Release, but players can choose which clues to drag to the final verdict document. It means that if you collect clues proving the criminal’s guilt, it ends up as an indictment. If you drag more clues showing his innocence, you can release him. I made each moment of dragging words into unwitting choices.

Even the moment of choosing the applicable law clause can make differences in a suspect’s destiny. When writing the law applicable to the old man, you probably look for the word ’Theft’ using the Search Window while researching the crime.

And then you likely put in ‘Special Theft’ as the name of the crime. Why? Because your teammate told you that Special Theft is the right answer in an in-game message. Because that clause is located in a higher position than the normal Theft clause in search. Because it’s easy to find and use. After all, you will make even his granddaughter as an accomplice. This is the usual flow of a normal police investigation.

Through this process, I thought these feelings can be brought out: a sense of guilt, helplessness, shame coming from the decision you made by prosecuting a poor family as a special thieves to get 5 points.

The game works in this way. So, if there are players who want to think proactively and choose independently, they should read the whole case file more carefully. Law demands logic and sophistication to approve each clue.

Timeline that shows the real criminal

Legal Dungeon is a story about a system. There were police officers in Korea who abandoned law and morality by torturing an innocent suspect to get more points. Who used drunken civilians lying on the street as a bait to catch thieves, far from helping them. Who didn’t arrest repeat sex offenders because high re-conviction rates lowers their scores. The thing is that they are not devils with horns. They are just workers who do not think and just follow orders like Adolf Eichmann. Then, what made them to ignore humanity? Who is the real criminal?

This game comes with 14 endings and six achievements. And players can buy in-game screen mates using coins. Every ending and achievement can be acquired by changing the final verdicts of suspects, and coins are provided by arresting criminals. If you follow the timeline of the game, you can be one of the average police officers who commit evil behaviors unwittingly. And then, I’m sure that you can understand what makes you evil and what you should change to make things better.

But I’m not sure that the real criminal is outside of us. Like Hanna Arendt said, banality of evil comes from lack of thinking. If you THINK and follow your own conscience, you can’t beat the game. Moral decisions lead to a Game Over. If you got all achievements and coins by weighing and manipulating each suspect, you should think about the difference between you and the policeman who tortured suspects for their points.


Stories about moral decisions should be based on the reality. And even I felt lost while creating Legal Dungeon. I worried if I was using the suffering of others for my creative endeavors, and edited the story time and time again for the fear of becoming another assailant by mentioning cases and situations that might remind others of their pain. I know the pain of others lies outside of us, and that sympathy is incomplete and fleeting.

Yet I still made this game so that the deaths of real people were not in vain, and the true criminals can be revealed. With hope that I can reach you, despite the implausibility of understanding.

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