Gaming at the Margins of Law or, Niko Bellic’s (Critical) Theory of Justice

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Law, Video Games, Virtual Realities: Playing Law


Thirty years ago, Étienne Balibar denounced the emergence of a mass of disposable human beings (for example, individuals who are permanently unemployed, immigrants, or members of disadvantaged ethnic groups) in advanced capitalist democracies. These individuals, according to Balibar, are contained in ghetto spaces through internal frontiers erected within the states by constituting the satisfaction of determinate levels of consumption as a condition to access full citizenship and the distribution of social goods it entails. Grand Theft Auto IV cunningly deploys its ludic narrative along such internal frontiers. Players control Niko Bellic, a Serbian war veteran who is in search of the American Dream. Players constantly hear Bellic bemoaning his violent past and dreaming hopefully about peace and prosperity. His reality, however, is quite different. There are no jobs for him except as a thug or a hitman, occupations in which his military training represents a significant asset. Bellic is driven back to his past, to violence and crime as the only way not to prosper, but simply to survive. As he gets involved with criminals at the base of mafia ranks, Bellic incarnates the great criminal as both Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida have defined it: not someone who has committed this or that specific crime for which one feels a secret admiration, but someone who, in defying the law, lays bare the violence of the juridical order itself. The story with no redemption that is told in Grand Theft Auto IV can therefore be ‘read’ (or played) as a cautionary tale: Balibar’s internal frontiers are a mirror that reflects those individuals who are thrown to the margins of society by blurring the monopoly of legitimate violence that, according to Max Weber, constitutes the main feature of modern state.

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