All of this raises key questions about the ethics of near-term virtual worlds. How should users act in the virtual world? In such a space, what is the difference between right and wrong? What does justice look like in these societies?
Let’s start with Virtual world that already exists. Perhaps the simplest case is a single-player video game. You might think there are no moral issues with these games without anyone else involved, but sometimes there are ethical issues.
In his 2009 article “Gamer’s Dilemma,” the philosopher Morgan Luck observed that while most people think virtual murder (killing non-player characters) is morally permissible, they think virtual pedophilia isn’t. The same goes for virtual sexual assault. In the 1982 Atari game Custer’s Revenge, which targeted the sexual assault of a Native American woman. Most people think there is something morally wrong here.
This presents a philosophical conundrum. What are the relevant moral differences between virtual murder and virtual pedophilia? Neither act involves direct harm to another person. It would be a major harm if virtual pedophilia led to non-virtual pedophilia, but it seems that the evidence for this transfer is weak.
It is not easy for moral theory to explain the problem here. One possible explanation is virtue ethics, which explains the difference between right and wrong actions in terms of the virtues and vices of those who perform them. We believe that people who enjoy virtual pedophilia are morally flawed, so engaging in virtual pedophilia is itself a morally flawed act. The same may be true of virtual sexual assault, torture, and racism.Clearly, many had a similar moral reaction to the 2002 game ethnic cleansing, in which the protagonist is a white supremacist who kills members of other races. In contrast, we believe that “ordinary” virtual murder does not represent a moral flaw, so we see no problem with it. However, the ethical issues here are subtle.
Once we move to a multi-user video game environment (e.g. Fortnite), and then to a fully social virtual world (e.g. second Life), the ethical issues multiply. If these virtual worlds are only games or novels, then the ethics of virtual worlds will be limited to the ethics of games or novels. People can hurt each other while playing games, but it’s not as rich as in everyday life. However, once people take the virtual world as real reality, then the ethical principles of the virtual world become as serious as general ethics.
In many multiplayer game worlds, there are “malicious players” – malicious players who take pleasure in harassing other players, stealing their belongings, injuring or even killing them in the game world. This behavior is widely considered wrong because it interferes with the enjoyment of the game by other users. But is stealing other people’s belongings in the game the same as stealing in real life? Most of us would agree that in-game items are more important than possessions in non-virtual worlds. Nonetheless, in long-term gaming, especially in non-gaming environments, property can be important to the user, and damage can be correspondingly significant. In 2012, the Dutch Supreme Court upheld a verdict that two teenagers stole another teenager’s virtual amulet in an online game. Rune Escape. The court declared that the amulet had real value due to the time and effort it took to acquire it.