Rules versus Laws and the Breaking Thereof

So, back in November I posted this thought for the day:

There is a significant difference between breaking the rules and breaking the law. One is a key factor in progress and innovation; the other is a breach of morality and trust.

I deliberately didn’t provide any context for the statement, partly because it was an idea still so fresh in my brain I hadn’t had a chance to determine the scope or the validity of the idea. Part of it, too, was that I wanted to see who chimed in on it and what thoughts they would come up with. Hey, psychology major here, remember? Sometimes I care about observing the process of people thinking through things more than I care about the final outcome of that process.

Here’s the context for that statement.

I’ve been thinking long and hard lately about what kinds of games I like to play and, more specifically, what kinds of characters I like to play in those games. One upcoming title that I’m extremely excited about is Bungie’s Destiny, a first-person shooter with heavy MMO overtones and a robust backstory. One of the classes of Guardian you can play in the game is the Hunter. Bungie describes the Hunter thusly:

Hunters once prowled the wilderness and wastelands, taking big risks for even bigger rewards. You’re no outlaw—at least, not anymore—but making your own luck has always meant bending the rules. Your unique brand of daring and ingenuity is needed now more than ever.

I have to admit that the Hunter appeals to me in part because of this penchant for bending, or even breaking, the rules. It appeals to the artist in me, since a lot of creative expression involves taking established processes and finding new ways to use them, ways that might be viewed by some as breaking the rules of the format. It’s the free spirit in me that is drawn to the Hunter, to the type of Guardian that is most likely to do things his own way.

Compare that, then, to a game like Grand Theft Auto (GTA), where the character you play is a criminal, the type of person that is highly likely to break the rules. The gameplay, in fact, demands that you break the rules, violate laws, and be otherwise disruptive in order to expand your criminal empire. For this reason, GTA appeals to me not at all, despite the dozens of rave reviews I’ve heard about the game.

This gave me pause to consider what was different about the two types of characters represented by these games. Both are rule-breakers with a tendency toward lawlessness. Why then does the Hunter in Destiny appeal to me while the gangster in GTA doesn’t?

The difference comes down to the thought stated above. The Hunter breaks the rules of established tradition in such a way that leads to progress and innovation. His process provides creative solutions to difficult problems. If he breaks a law established by a governing body, he does so with the end goal of protection and the establishment of order. The gangster, however, breaks the law, often just for the sake of lawlessness itself and always for greater personal gain. It is a violation of morality and trust that serves to do little more than push society further toward entropy and chaos. The Hunter pushes toward the greater good, even if his methods may sometimes be ethically questionable; the gangster pushes toward greed and self-indulgence, caring little for those he hurts along the way.

It at least the first part of an explanation why games like Destiny appeal so much to me and games like GTA never will.

2 thoughts on “Rules versus Laws and the Breaking Thereof”

  1. Leaving aside that Destiny’s gameplay doesn’t exactly centre around lawbreaking, a cynic would point out that Destiny allows you to justify your lawbreaking with some kind of higher purpose; it rules that anyone can break the law if they feel sufficient personal justification to do so.

    Which may or may not be acceptable, according to your personal views on the matter.

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