How to (dis)solve the Gamer’s Dilemma

  • Erick Jose RamirezEmail author


The Gamer’s Dilemma challenges us to find a distinction between virtual murder and virtual pedophilia. Without such a distinction, we are forced to conclude that either both actions are morally acceptable or that both should be morally illicit. This paper argues that the best way to solve the dilemma is, in one sense, to dissolve it. The Gamer’s Dilemma rests on a misunderstanding in the sense that it does not distinguish between the effects that the form of a simulation can have on moral judgment apart from its surface content. A greater appreciation of the way structural features of a simulation affect subject experience will help us see why only simulations of murder and pedophilia generating virtually real experiences are likely to be seen as wrong. I argue that a simulation’s structural elements powerfully affect how subjects experience simulated content and hence is an important, and previously neglected, variable necessary to dissolve the Gamer’s Dilemma. Properly understood, virtually real simulations of murder and pedophilia are both likely to be treated by players as morally wrong. Similarly, virtually unreal murder and pedophilia will be less likely to be judged as wrong. Subject judgments are thus consistent once a simulation’s structural variables are accounted for. The Gamer’s Dilemma dissolves as a dilemma once we acknowledge these structural features of simulations and how they affect experience and moral judgment.


Applied ethics Ethics and technology Gamer’s dilemma Simulation ethics Simulated wrongs Virtual harm 



I would like to thank Phillip Cori, Miles Elliott, Jordan Wolf, Mohit Gandhi, Lia Petronio, Scott LaBarge, the journal's anonymous reviewers, and those in attendance at the Pacific Division meeting of the APA in Vancouver in 2019 for their helpful comments on this article, all of which improved it in countless ways.


  1. Aardema F, O’Connor K, Côte’ S, Taillon A (2010) Virtual reality induces dissociation and lowers sense of presence in objective reality. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw 13(4):429–435CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ali R (2015) A new solution to the gamer’s dilemma. Ethics Inf Technol 17:267–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mentaldisorders, 5th edn, Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric PublishingGoogle Scholar
  4. Artaud A (1958) The theater and its double. Grove. Trans. Mary Caroline Richards, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Bartel C (2012) Resolving the gamer’s dilemma. Ethics Inf Technol 14(1):11–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chalmers D (2017) The virtual and the real. Disputatio 9(46):309–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cogburn J, Silcox M (2012) Against brain-in-a-vatism: on the value of virtual reality. Philos. Technol. 27(4):561–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cummings J, Bailenson J (2016) How immersive is enough? A meta-analysis of the effect of immersive technology on user presence. Media Psychol 19(2):272–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Davis M (2012) Imaginary cases in ethics: A critique. Int J Appl Philos 26(1):1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. de Raad B, Perugini M (eds) (2002) Big five assessment. Hogrefe & Hubner, AshlandGoogle Scholar
  11. Díez Gutiérrez EJ (2014) Video games and gender-based violence. Procedia Soc Behav Sci 132(15):58–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ferguson CJ, Kilburn J (2010) Much ado about nothing: the misestimation and overinterpretation of violent video game effects in eastern and western nations: comment on Anderson et al. (2010). Psychol Bull 136(2):174–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fischer JM, Ravizza M (1998) Responsibility and control: A theory of moral responsibility. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Galbraith PW (2017) RapeLay and the return of the sex wars in Japan. Porn Studies 4(1):105–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Greene JD (2009) Dual-process morality and the personal/ impersonal distinction: A reply to McGuire, Langdon, Coltheart, and Mackenzie. J Exp Soc Psychol 45(3):581–584CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Greene JD, Sommerville RB, Nystrom LE, Darley JM, Cohen JD (2001) An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment. Science 293:2105–2108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Haidt J (2001) The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychol Rev 108(4):814–834CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Haidt J (2003) The emotional dog does learn new tricks: A reply to Pizarro and bloom (2003). Psychol Rev 110(1):197–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Huesmann LR (2010) Nailing the coffin shut on doubts that violent video games stimulate aggression ∼comment on Anderson et al. (2010). Psychol Bull 136(2):179–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Illusion (2006) RapeLay. Illusion Software. PCGoogle Scholar
  21. Jayaraj L, Wood J, Gibson M (2018) Improving the immersion in virtual reality with real-time avatar and haptic feedback in a cricket simulation. 2017 IEEE international symposium on mixed and augmented reality (ISMAR-adjunct).
  22. Lejacq Y (2013) ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ torture episode sparks controversy. NBC News. Accessed 10 Aug 2018
  23. Levy N (2002) Virtual child pornography: the eroticization of inequality. Ethics Inf Technol 4(4):319–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Luck M (2009) The gamer’s dilemma: an analysis of the arguments for the moral distinction between virtual murder and virtual paedophilia. Ethics Inf Technol 11:31–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Martinez M, Manolovitz T (2009) Incest, sexual violence, and rape in video games. Videogame cultures & the future of interactive entertainment. Oxford University, 2010: http:// Accessed 14 July 2018
  26. McCormack M (2001) Is it wrong to play violent video games? Ethics Inf Technol 3(4):277–287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Milgram S (1963) Behavioral study of obedience. J Abnorm Soc Psychol 67:371–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Noe A (2004) Action in perception. MIT Press, BradfordGoogle Scholar
  29. Partridge S (2013) Pornography, ethics and video games. Ethics Inf Technol 15:25–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Patil I, Cogoni C, Zangrando N, Chittaro L, Silani G (2014) Affective basis of judgment-behavior discrepancy in virtual experiences of moral dilemmas. Soc Neurosci 9(1):94–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ramirez E (2018) Ecological and ethical issues in virtual reality research: A call for increased scrutiny. Philos Psychol 32(2):211–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ramirez E, LaBarge S (2018) Real moral problems in the use of virtual reality. Ethics Inf Technol 20:249–263. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sanchez-Vives MV, Slater M (2005) From presence to consciousness through virtual reality. Nat Rev Neurosci 6:332–339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Seligmann R, Kirmayer LJ (2008) Dissociative experience and cultural neuroscience: narrative, metaphor and mechanism. Cult Med Psychiatry 32(1):31–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Slater M, Antley A, Davison D, Swapp D, Guger C, Barker C, Pistrang N, Sanchez-Vives MV (2006) A virtual reprise of the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments. PLoS One 1:e39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Snodgrass M (2004) The dissociation paradigm and its discontents: how can unconscious perception or memory be inferred? Conscious Cogn 13(1):107–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Stone RJ (2000) Haptic feedback: A brief history from telepresence to virtual reality. International Workshop on Haptic Human-Computer Interaction, pp 1–16Google Scholar
  38. Tillson J (2018) Is it distinctively wrong to simulate doing wrong?. Ethics and Information Technology 20 (3):205-217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Toast (2018) Ritchie’s plank experience. Toast VR. PCGoogle Scholar
  40. Webster MA, Kay P (2012) Color categories and color appearance. Cognition 122:375–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Weibel D, Wissmath B, Mast FW (2010) Immersion in mediated environments: the role of personality traits. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw 13(3):251–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Witt JK, South SC, Sugovic M (2014) A perceiver's own abilities influence perception, even when observing others. Psychon Bull Rev 21:384–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Young G (2016) Resolving the gamer’s dilemma: examining the moral and psychological differences between virtual murder and virtual paedophilia. Palgrave, ChamCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Zendle D, Kudenko D, Cairns P (2018) Behavioural realism and the activation of aggressive concepts in violent video games. Entertain Comput 24:21–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Santa Clara UniversitySanta ClaraUSA

Personalised recommendations