Ethics and Video Games

In James Harold (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Ethics and Aesthetics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press (forthcoming)

Christopher Bartel
Appalachian State University
Ethics in video gaming is broad topic that extends beyond the familiar instances of “moral panics”. This chapter will first divide ethical issues into internal and external moral questions. Roughly, this equates to a distinction between the ethics in games and the ethics of games. The ethical issues internal to video games arise due to both their status as fictions and their status as games. Many games afford players the opportunity to perform violent and vicious acts; however, these are of course fictional actions and are often contextualized as part of the game’s competitive play. This raises the general question whether it can ever be morally wrong to perform some fictional action in a video game. To approach this question, this section will first consider how moral values are inherent within games. Players engage with the embedded moral values of games both at the level of their narratives and their rules. Games become objects for moral reflection, not only through the stories that they tell, but also through the ways in which players are invited to engage actively with those stories. Next, external ethical issues are those that focus on the nature of the gaming industry and gaming cultures. The gaming industry has notoriously struggled with representations of gender and race, both in their workforce and in the games that they produce. Turning to the ecological impacts, the gaming industry is a major source of e-waste through the production of gaming technologies. The hardware used in gaming has a lifecycle that begins with the exploitation of resource-rich developing countries that produce the precious materials used in computer screens and processing chips and ends with those same products being dumped in toxic landfills in other developing countries. Additionally, gaming is a major source of energy consumption, particularly as cloud gaming servers are required to run continuously. When considering the ethics of games, such social and ecological concerns must surely figure in one’s moral calculation. Finally, some moral issues straddle the line between the above distinction between internal and external due to the porous nature of virtual interactivity, particularly regarding multiplayer games. Various gaming cultures struggle with their own ethical issues—from the failure to promote sportsmanship in e-sports to the widespread harassment of players in online platforms. This final section will briefly consider problems with multiplayer games, harassment, and trolling.
Keywords coltan mining  e-waste  gamer's dilemma  gender  griefing  harassment  trolling  virtual
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