Defending the morality of violent video games

Abstract

The effect of violent video games is among the most widely discussed topics in media studies, and for good reason. These games are immensely popular, but many seem morally objectionable. Critics attack them for a number of reasons ranging from their capacity to teach players weapons skills to their ability to directly cause violent actions. This essay shows that many of these criticisms are misguided. Theoretical and empirical arguments against violent video games often suffer from a number of significant shortcomings that make them ineffective. This essay argues that video games are defensible from the perspective of Kantian, Aristotelian, and utilitarian moral theories.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    McCormick (2001).

  2. 2.

    Kant (1999).

  3. 3.

    Waddington (2007) p. 125.

  4. 4.

    A demarcation line would likewise be difficult because the standards of what is considered violent change over time. “Using today’s standards, “Pac-Man”, and other early videogames like “Space Invaders”, “Defender”, and “Asteroids” appear relatively non-threatening, however, in the early 1980s these games were characterized as violent.” Newman (2004) p. 66. Standards would have to be revisable and arbitrary, and these are not characteristics of deontological moral rules.

  5. 5.

    Waddington, p. 125.

  6. 6.

    Kant, p. 86.

  7. 7.

    Chappell et al. (2006), Simon et al. (2009), Taylor (2006).

  8. 8.

    Wolfendale (2007) p. 112.

  9. 9.

    Wolfendale, p. 114.

  10. 10.

    Klastrup (2009).

  11. 11.

    Clark and Chalmers (1998).

  12. 12.

    Johansson (2000 p. 76.

  13. 13.

    Jilted Woman 'Murdered Avatar' (2008).

  14. 14.

    McCormick, p. 286.

  15. 15.

    Sicart (2009) p. 13.

  16. 16.

    Cogburn and Silcox (2009) p. 51.

  17. 17.

    Aristotle (1999) p. 45–50.

  18. 18.

    Here “good” and “evil” only refer to the quality of the actions within the virtual world. Virtual murder is not evil, but it is in the context of the game, as judged by the other players or non-player characters. The good and evil actions in the game do not have any real moral meaning, but from an Aristotelian perspective they can still be meaningful forms of practice in cultivating a virtuous character.

  19. 19.

    Schulzke (2009).

  20. 20.

    Tavinor (2009).

  21. 21.

    McCormick, p. 280.

  22. 22.

    Reynolds (2002) p. 4.

  23. 23.

    Ferguson (2007a, b), Green and Bavelier (2007).

  24. 24.

    Green.

  25. 25.

    Jansz (2006).

  26. 26.

    Martin (2008).

  27. 27.

    Rosser et al. (2007).

  28. 28.

    Ferguson (2007a, b).

  29. 29.

    McCormick.

  30. 30.

    Grossman and DeGaetano (1999).

  31. 31.

    Leonard (2007).

  32. 32.

    Galloway (2004).

  33. 33.

    Gibson (2004), Steven J. Kirsh (2006), James W. Potter (2003).

  34. 34.

    Chalmers (2009) p. 76.

  35. 35.

    Gibbs and Timothy Roche (1999).

  36. 36.

    Galloway.

  37. 37.

    Wonderly (2007).

  38. 38.

    Funk et al. (2003), Bartholow et al. (2006), Carnagey et al. (2007)).

  39. 39.

    Mathiak and Weber (2006).

  40. 40.

    Carnagey, Anderson, and Bushman.

  41. 41.

    Bureau of Justice Statistics (2009).

  42. 42.

    Johnson (2006).

  43. 43.

    Ove (2009).

  44. 44.

    Durkin and Barber (2002), Fleming and Rick Wood (2001).

  45. 45.

    Anderson and Dill (2000).

  46. 46.

    Sakamoto (2000).

  47. 47.

    Singer (2007).

  48. 48.

    Langman (2009).

  49. 49.

    Kutner and Olson (2008) p. 85.

  50. 50.

    Singer’s claim draws attention to an important oversight in the studies critical of violent games: the cases that are relied on as examples of game-induced aggression are always given different explanations by law enforcement officials. This is true for Singer’s use of the Columbine Shooting, Grossman’s discussion of Michael Carneal, and Chalmers’ example, Lee Boyd Malvo. In each of these cases video games were not found to be significant. Where there is disagreement, we should favor the explanations of investigators who have the training and access to information to form sound judgments. .

  51. 51.

    Dunlop (2009).

  52. 52.

    Associated Press (2001).

  53. 53.

    Singer.

  54. 54.

    McCormick, p. 286.

  55. 55.

    Balkin (2004).

  56. 56.

    Sicart, p. 111.

  57. 57.

    Hourigan (2008).

  58. 58.

    Miller (2008).

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Correspondence to Marcus Schulzke.

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Schulzke, M. Defending the morality of violent video games. Ethics Inf Technol 12, 127–138 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-010-9222-x

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Keywords

  • Aristotle
  • Computer game
  • Kant
  • Utilitarianism
  • Video game
  • Violence
  • Virtual world