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Resolving the gamer’s dilemma

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Morgan Luck raises a potentially troubling problem for gamers who enjoy video games that allow the player to commit acts of virtual murder. The problem simply is that the arguments typically advanced to defend virtual murder in video games would appear to also support video games that allowed gamers to commit acts of virtual paedophilia. Luck’s arguments are persuasive, however, there is one line of argument that he does not consider, which may provide the relevant distinction: as virtual paedophilia involves the depiction of sexual acts involving children, it is therefore an instance of child pornography. I argue that virtual paedophilia involves the depiction of sexual acts involving children, which amounts to child pornography. I then draw on arguments to show that child pornography is morally objectionable. Finally, depictions of virtual murder are not instances of pornography, and so are not morally objectionable for this reason. So, there is a relevant moral distinction to draw between virtual murder and virtual paedophilia that is able to justify the former but not the latter.

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  1. Luck (2009, p. 35).

  2. Ibid., p. 33.

  3. Ibid., p. 34.

  4. Ibid., p. 35.

  5. A similar rating system is featured in various versions of Grand Theft Auto—such as the Respect rating system in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas—however, it is important to note that these rating systems are often measures of gang loyalty. While the Honor rating in Red Dead Redemption carries an inherent moral aspect as honor is a moral concept, the Respect rating in Grand Theft Auto does not.

  6. In making this claim, I do not mean to suggest that virtual paedophilia involves an actual child. Rather, I mean to point out that, whether the depicted child is virtual or not, the depiction of sexual acts involving a child constitutes child pornography of a kind. Given this, it may be more accurate to say that each instance of virtual paedophilia is an actual instance of virtual child pornography.

  7. I am grateful to an anonymous reader for this journal for this suggestion.

  8. Levinson (2005, p. 230).

  9. Certainly, one might think that these publications are produced with the intention to be sexually interesting, but Levinson (2005) argues that this is insufficient to count these publications as pornographic. Levinson defends a three-part distinction between pornography, which is produced with the intention to be sexually arousing in the interest of sexual release, erotic art, which is intended to sexually stimulate while also rewarding some artistic interest, and erotica, which is intended to sexually stimulate without rewarding any artistic interest. So, on Levinson’s account, a Victoria’s Secret catalog might fall into the category of erotica, not pornography.

  10. Rea (2001, p. 120).

  11. Levy (2002, p. 322).

  12. Ibid.

  13. I am grateful to an anonymous reader for this journal for posing this problem.

  14. I leave it open whether some depictions of virtual murder are morally objectionable for other reasons. I trust that those cases which are morally objectionable for some other reason fall outside of the scope of Luck’s dilemma.


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Correspondence to Christopher Bartel.

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Bartel, C. Resolving the gamer’s dilemma. Ethics Inf Technol 14, 11–16 (2012).

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