Video Game Spaces: Ace Attorney Courtroom

This is part of a series of posts exploring video games as spaces players inhabit. If you’re wondering what this is all about, I tried to explain myself here.

The Ace Attorney courtroom is a platonic ideal.

The Supreme Court of Judicature

Perhaps it is the image of justice. The room is an arena of truth. At its center there is a playing field, a boxing ring, maybe a battlefield upon which ideas are contested. At the top of the pitch there is a judge, impartial, a personification of the scales on the wall behind his head. On opposing sides of the pitch there are offense and defense, home and away, prosecution and defense. Opposite the judge, the witness–the panoptical eye of blind justice–sets the contest in motion. Justice is a game.

Perhaps it is the image of power. The room is a terrible mountain. At the summit there is the judge, a bearded demigod of the Upperworld here to enact the edicts of fate. At the mountain’s base, the adjudicated parties are encamped. The prosecution and defense camps struggle to climb, sweating and gloating in proportion to their standing with the inscrutable demigod. The witness camp, summoned against its will, struggles to avoid climbing. The witness is furthest from the steaming volcano, nearest the exit and consequently nearer to freedom. Power is a game.

Like any human architecture, the inhabitants subvert this platonic space. The judge is a fool, a branch leaning constantly with the prevailing wind. He is often powerless, his repeated gaveling as inconsequential as thunder without lightning. The opposing camps battle over context rather than content, surface rather than substance. Race, gender, colonialism, and every category of absurdity shape the proceedings. The witnesses are never impartial, always intertwined with the opposing camps. Justice is neither rehabilitative nor retributive.

The Ace Attorney courtroom is a postmodern ideal.

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