How to (dis)solve the Gamer’s Dilemma

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (1):1-21 (2020)
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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 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 form of a simulation and 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.

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Erick José Ramirez
Santa Clara University