Playing “The Accused”: It’s More than Just a Game

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Antidote Games, a group that produces educational and entertaining simulations of “complex realities,” has teamed up with the Innocence Project to create The Accused, a game about investigative tactics and accusation. To get a better look at the game’s educational possibilities, I decided to play.

The game begins with a simulated phone call from a police detective, summoning the player for questioning. The game fast-forwards to the police station, where the detective told me that I had been implicated in an assault. The game let me choose how to respond to each question. Dialogue bubbles from the investigators pile up and disappear quickly—it scrolled so fast that I had trouble remembering and processing everything that was said. There are no back buttons.

A witness had seen me nearby. The victim had money, I had student loans, and the detectives had a motive. They called me arrogant. They called me a psychopath. They said I’d be “massacred” in court.

With the distance afforded by the computer, I was able to restrain my indignant, frantic impulses. I was able to act with a calm I most likely could never replicate in reality. I got a few seconds to think about my responses that I know were a luxury of the game. As the conversation with the detective went on, the logic became circular and the detective began to repeat his questions. The insults got repetitive. The evidence against me mounted on a sidebar. I really had to get back to work, but I didn’t want to fail.

Just about when my attention waned, I was relieved to see an exit button. When I hovered, ready to click out, “EXIT” changed to read “CONFESS.”

But that didn’t seem right. I wanted to stop the conversation, but I certainly didn’t want to confess! Should I close the browser? The idea made me peculiarly sad, to have the option in virtual reality that no one would in real life.

I confess—I did it. No, not by closing the browser; I had enough respect for the law to follow procedure, hit the “Confess” button, give them the answers they were looking for. From what I could tell, it was the only way out.

By being coerced into a confession, I joined the ranks of those profiled on the Innocence Project, and spent a few minutes looking at the happy faces of freed prisoners who were wrongfully incarcerated.  I learned that the Innocence Project assists with DNA testing, and reality sunk in. The Innocence Project is undoing mistakes in the investigative process; it can’t stop them from happening in the first place.

The game offers a perspective of the law—that of the accused—that few lawyers will ever experience firsthand. Playing The Accused is a way to interact with the law from the perspective of the average citizen and see the Fifth Amendment play out in practice. More importantly, the eerie emotional dissonance cultivates a facet of legal education often overlooked: emotional intelligence. The game is a compelling and simple addition to ethics, professional responsibility, legal profession, prosecutorial discretion, evidence, and even constitutional law.

Can you win The Accused? Can anyone? I wish I could tell you. I don’t have any more information, but the investigation’s already closed.