Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Phoenix Wright and the Fallacy of Infallibility

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
System: Nintendo DS
Developer: Capcom
NA Release: October 2005

Ace Attorney is a series I would follow to the grave. I freely admit that its logic can feel a little spacey at times its representation of the modern justice system is about as solid as Taco Bell's representation of Mexican food, but engaging mysteries, a cast of extremely likable characters and the exciting back-and-forth nature of its courtroom battles more than makes up for any shortcomings.

Ace Attorney is obviously not a “standard” game series in terms of action, but it's still easy to assume some basic tropes. Each case is primarily a “Point A to Point B” affair, with the end goal being the acquittal of your client, the defendant. You accomplish this by “defeating” your opponent, the prosecutor, in the legendary ways of defense passed down by your forebears, Perry Mason and Matlock.

Pictured: The former face of edge-of-your-seat courtroom action.
Of course, as this is a game, you always want to win, right? And since earning the freedom of an actual murderer would besmirch the essential nobility of your character, that means all of your clients have to be innocent, right?

It would have been easy enough for that to have been the case. A course of constant victory is so expected in the medium that hardly anyone would have ever batted an eye if a flawless record was in fact the goal.

But then a case comes up (I will not go into specifics as to which) that threatens to throw this concept out the window. It's a powerfully played twist that drives home the stories and connections between the characters—by far one of the series' strongest points—over simple criteria for winning. Playing Ace Attorney is not so much about reaching specific endpoints as it is about uncovering the truth in each case and the threads that tie them together and to the characters; and often the very rivals you face, by serving as the voice of opposition against your imperfect character, ultimately become partners in arriving at this greater good once they eschew their own desires to be perfect.
Which is not to say you won't still take sass from them.
Now, let me pull back and give you a number: 1,071. It probably doesn't ring a bell, but it's a big, shameful figure. This is the number of days (as of April 4, 2012) since Congress has passed a real budget for the United States instead of a steady stream of stop-gap measures. Being unable to work out something so essential to one's country for nearly 3 years is horribly embarrassing—or you would think so, at least. However, Republicans felt wise in trumpeting the 1,000-day mark without a budget in an attempt to hurt Democrats, even though they are very much responsible for this mess as well.

Ideally, the government system was set up as a means of debate and resolution with the greatest good in mind. Today we're lucky if we get a few bi-partisan bills on weak subjects, and are even luckier if they actually make it through the legislative houses. Instead, both parties seem so locked on being “the ones who are right” and scoring superficial zings on their opponents that they can't see their self-made arena is collapsing in on them.

So yeah. A video game starring a bumbling defense attorney and his burger-loving assistant understands more about tact and compromise than the most powerful government in the world and its parties' most stalwart supporters. Think about that this November--or heck, just the next time you're arguing with someone.

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