Free will and moral responsibility in video games

Ethics and Information Technology 17 (4):285-293 (2015)
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Can a player be held morally responsible for the choices that she makes within a videogame? Do the moral choices that the player makes reflect in any way on the player’s actual moral sensibilities? Many videogames offer players the options to make numerous choices within the game, including moral choices. But the scope of these choices is quite limited. I attempt to analyze these issues by drawing on philosophical debates about the nature of free will. Many philosophers worry that, if our actions are predetermined, then we cannot be held morally responsible for them. However, Harry Frankfurt’s compatibilist account of free will suggests that an agent can be held morally responsible for actions that she wills, even if the agent is not free to act otherwise. Using Frankfurt’s analysis, I suggest that videogames represent deterministic worlds in which players lack the ability to freely choose what they do, and yet players can be held morally responsible for some of their actions, specifically those actions that the player wants to do. Finally, I offer some speculative comments on how these considerations might impact our understanding of the player’s moral psychology as it relates to the ethics of imagined fictional events.



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Christopher Bartel
Appalachian State University

Citations of this work

Players, Characters, and the Gamer's Dilemma.Craig Bourne & Emily Caddick Bourne - 2019 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 77 (2):133-143.
Value, violence, and the ethics of gaming.Michael Goerger - 2017 - Ethics and Information Technology 19 (2):95-105.
Ludic resistance: a new solution to the gamer’s paradox.Louis Rouillé - 2024 - Ethics and Information Technology 26 (2):1-11.
The amoralist challenge to gaming and the gamer’s moral obligation.Sebastian Ostritsch - 2017 - Ethics and Information Technology 19 (2):117-128.

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