This article explores whether and under which circumstances it is ethically viable to include artificial beings worthy of moral consideration in virtual environments. In particular, the article focuses on virtual environments such as those in digital games and training simulations – interactive and persistent digital artifacts designed to fulfill specific purposes, such as entertainment, education, training, or persuasion.
The article introduces the criteria for moral consideration that serve as a framework for this analysis.
Adopting this framework, the article tackles the question of whether including artificial intelligences that are entitled to moral consideration in virtual environments constitutes an immoral action on the part of human creators. To address this problem, the article draws on three conceptual lenses from the philosophical branch of ethics: the problem of parenthood and procreation, the question concerning the moral status of animals, and the classical problem of evil.
Using a thought experiment, the concluding section proposes a contractualist answer to the question posed in this article. The same section also emphasizes the potential need to reframe our understanding of the design of virtual environments and their future stakeholders.