Ethics and Information Technology 23 (3):317-330 (2020)

Jan-Hendrik Heinrichs
Forschungszentrum Jülich
In the debate about actions in virtual environments two interdependent types of question have been pondered: What is a person doing who acts in a virtual environment? Second, can virtual actions be evaluated morally? These questions have been discussed using examples from morally dubious computer games, which seem to revel in atrocities. The examples were introduced using the terminology of “virtual murder” “virtual rape” and “virtual pedophilia”. The terminological choice had a lasting impact on the debate, on the way action types are assigned and on how moral evaluation is supposed to be conducted. However, this terminology and its theoretical consequences, while sometimes resulting in correct results, lead to absurd results when applied across the board. It will be suggested that these absurd consequences can be avoided by a different answer to the question what people in virtual worlds are doing. Alleged virtual actions are first and foremost the creation and modification of data-structures and the resulting output in computer hardware. Such modifications of data structure and imagery can be performed with different intentions, purposes and styles, which will influence the type and moral evaluation of a user’s actions. This reinterpretation allows for a more complex analysis of the moral reasons for praiseworthiness or blameworthiness of actions in virtual environments. This analysis takes not just harm and effects on character into account but the peculiar ways in which speech acts can be morally wrong: e.g. agitatory, deceptive, bullshitting.
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DOI 10.1007/s10676-020-09574-8
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References found in this work BETA

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