How to (dis)solve the Gamer’s Dilemma
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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.
KeywordsApplied 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.
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