In the Nintendo 64 classic Goldeneye 007 you get to play as famous fictional spy James Bond and reenact moments from the movie released two years earlier, Goldeneye. Espionage is clearly illegal in almost every country. I am not sure of a country that does not have a law making it illegal. The events depicted in James Bond films seem to take place in the same world we live in, so let’s see just how many laws you break while playing a game of Goldeneye 007. The list should be long and is probably incomplete.

The first mission takes place in a chemical weapon factory in the Soviet Union. The mission ends with you planting explosives on the chemical vats and blowing up the factory. There are quite a few Soviet soldiers and a few scientists in the factory. The Library of Congress states that the Soviet Union gave the KGB the power to investigate acts of treason, espionage, terrorism, and sabotage. It looks like James Bond could be guilty of three of those just for his actions in the first mission. He is obtaining secret information, so that can likely get us espionage, and he blows up the chemical weapon factory, which can probably get us terrorism and sabotage. This is three quick crimes, and that doesn’t even talk about main thing Bond does in every mission, kill people.

Bond and his partner in the chemical weapon plant
Bond and his partner in the chemical weapon plant

In the James Bond film series we learn that he has been granted a license to kill by the British government. Any agent that is a Double O gets the license when they get their title. We have even learned that these licenses to kill were handed out in real life. But the idea of a license to kill is a bit ludicrous. Sure, James Bond has a license to kill given to him by the British Government. He then flies into the Soviet Union with another agent, Alec Trevelyan, who also has a license to kill. Then as you play the mission in the chemical weapon factory as James Bond you kill a horde of Soviet soldiers, and if you choose to, you could shoot the scientists as well. Imagine you, James Bond, get caught before escaping the factory. You show your captors your license to kill and try to explain to them that everything you’ve done is perfectly legal because of your special license. They will not care. You are not in the United Kingdom. Your special license does not let you just enter different countries and assassinate whomever you please. The Soviet Union had laws that said you could not murder people. They did not have a law that said that Soviet law would be overruled if you had permission from another country. Not a single mission in the game takes place in the United Kingdom, where the legality of the license to kill might actually be respected. You kill people in the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan, several locations in Russia, and finally Cuba, (with bonus missions in Egypt and Central Mexico) but never in the United Kingdom. The nature of a spy’s work is almost wholly illegal, but this one crime is the most important. Henchmen have human rights just like everyone else.

In most missions at least one of those four crimes we already have will be broken. But you might be thinking to yourself, “Hey Andrew, what about those times where people are already shooting James Bond? He has to defend himself!” Let’s look at self-defense, and level twelve of Goldeneye 007 which takes place in the streets of St. Petersburg. You have just broken out of jail after being arrested by Russian police. The soldiers throughout the city are shooting on sight. In this mission James still does not have an excuse. In general, you have a right to self defense when you believe you need to protect yourself from unlawful force by another person. You have just broken out of jail, are armed, and have killed a bunch of people already. It is likely not unlawful force by the Russian soldiers when they are shooting at you. Another factor when looking at self defense is whether you use proportional force. Deadly force can be met with deadly force, but a threat of minor injury cannot be met with deadly force. If you remember this mission, it is probably because you have a chance to ride a tank through the streets of St. Petersburg, just like Bond does in the movie. But in the game you then just start firing the tank at anything and everyone in the city. You can blow up cars and cause wanton destruction. Now you’ve got more crimes to add to your list, vandalism and disturbing the peace at just the bottom of this list.

Tank Destruction Tour '95
Bond Tank Destruction Tour ’95

This would be somewhat different if, at the beginning of the game, Great Britain was actually at war with the Soviet Union, or if, later in the game, they would have stated that Janus was a terrorist organization. But major powers did not declare war on each other during the Cold War, and Bond never phoned home to tell MI6 what he was dealing with. Members of regular armed forces are given combatant immunity when there is an international armed conflict. But this probably does not help James Bond much because what he does is clandestine and probably does not fall into the realm of regular armed forces. Regular armed forces wear insignia showing who they work for and they have a clear chain of command. In order to do his job well James Bond should not be advertising who he works for, though in the movies he often does to make personal connections with all sorts of women. No, the main benefit Bond would have if there were a war or if Great Britain had decided Janus was a terrorist organization would be the rules of engagement being opened up for James Bond. Some of the soldiers/terrorists Bond killed would have been acceptable under international law of war. But at this point we are really splitting hairs. Bond would still have a litany of other crimes and murders to account for. This change in circumstances would not help get him out of most of the killings.

The work of a spy is inherently illegal work. Often times you go into another country and break their laws or try to topple their government all together. Sometimes you work to protect your country from a madman with a plan. James Bond has saved the world countless times (well I guess twenty five movies, both official and unofficial, so far). His actions in the movies are mostly illegal, but entertaining. His actions in the video game Goldeneye 007 are mostly murderous and entertaining. Game developer Rare decided that there had to be a lot more bad guys to kill in order to make a video game based off of a movie about a spy. So you traipse around the world shooting everyone in front of you to win the game. You also commit other crimes while doing this such as sabotage and espionage. It really is a great game.


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