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Violent computer games, empathy, and cosmopolitanism

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Many philosophical and public discussions of the ethical aspects of violent computer games typically centre on the relation between playing violent videogames and its supposed direct consequences on violent behaviour. But such an approach rests on a controversial empirical claim, is often one-sided in the range of moral theories used, and remains on a general level with its focus on content alone. In response to these problems, I pick up Matt McCormick’s thesis that potential harm from playing computer games is best construed as harm to one’s character, and propose to redirect our attention to the question how violent computer games influence the moral character of players. Inspired by the work of Martha Nussbaum, I sketch a positive account of how computer games can stimulate an empathetic and cosmopolitan moral development. Moreover, rather than making a general argument applicable to a wide spectrum of media, my concern is with specific features of violent computer games that make them especially morally problematic in terms of empathy and cosmopolitanism, features that have to do with the connections between content and medium, and between virtuality and reality. I also discuss some remaining problems. In this way I hope contribute to a less polarised discussion about computer games that does justice to the complexity of their moral dimension, and to offer an account that is helpful to designers, parents, and other stakeholders.

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Correspondence to Mark Coeckelbergh.

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An earlier version of this paper was presented at the ACLA 2006 conference in Princeton, 25 March 2006.

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Coeckelbergh, M. Violent computer games, empathy, and cosmopolitanism. Ethics Inf Technol 9, 219–231 (2007).

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