Screenshot from Namco's 2003 video game, Kill Switch.
Researchers in Munich are studying the ethics of behaviour when people interact with video games. They are running a one day conference, Kill Switch: The Ethics of Simulation, this November to discuss the morality of so-called 'simulated acts.' From their H-Net announcement:
One key to their inquiries must be the component of simulation, of separation, the lack of social consensus to set common standards, the divorce from real consequences. The study of ethics of gamers is a short step from the ethics of how people behave when dealing on the Internet, on social networks and Cyberspace.How can one adequately address the ethics of a video game player's actions? There is a field of rapidly growing importance in ethics that has not yet been mapped sufficiently, a whole category of acts that has not yet been the focus of ethical theory, acts that are neither actually performed nor merely contemplated: simulated acts. Ethical theory has spent considerable energy investigating performed or contemplated actions, with some of the major ethical theories like consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics divided along these lines. Even the ethical interest in (passively) contemplated acts has recently increased with the rise of ethical criticism in literary studies. But our culture today is increasingly influenced by advanced systems of simulation that provide their users with a sense of agency that is as interesting as it is problematic for ethics. ... This conference wants to approach the question of how ethics can adequately deal with the special status of simulated acts.
Another aspect of this is the problem of how our actions define us. Do simulated acts now define our identities? Simulated acts include a component of the unknown, a lack of awareness of karmic feedback. As a result, we can't know exactly how these acts shape us or our identities. And trying to find that unknown quantity is equally mystifying. Another conference in Paris is set to examine how anamnesis (Plato's speculation on how we can know the unknown, and his assumption that we always knew the unknown inside ourselves, in our souls, and merely must find it or recover it) shapes contemporary identities. How will this mystery bear out as we cross Cyberspace? One thing that we must come to terms with, surely, is that simulated acts are neither without real meaning nor moral consequences.
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