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The Ethics of Choice in Single-Player Video Games

Book chapter
Erica L. Neely
In D. Berkich and M. V. d’Alfonso (Eds.) On the Cognitive, Ethical, and Scientific Dimensions of Artificial Intelligence: Themes from IACAP 2016. Springer.
Publication year: 2019

Abstract: Video games are a specific kind of virtual world which many engage with on a daily basis; as such, we cannot ignore the values they embody. In this paper I argue that it is possible to cause moral harm or benefit within a video game, specifically by drawing attention to the nature of the choices both players and designers make. I discuss ways in which games attempt to represent morality, arguing that while flawed, even games with seemingly superficial devices such as morality meters can attempt to promote moral reflection. Ultimately, I argue that the moral status of the actions depends on the effects of those actions on the player herself; if those actions make us less ethical then the actions are wrong. Unfortunately, it is not clear to me that players are always in a position to tell whether this is the case.

The final publication is available at Springer via

The Care of the Reaper Man: Death, the Auditors, and the Importance of Individuality

Book chapter
Erica L. Neely
In J. Held & J. South (Eds.) Philosophy and Terry Pratchett. Palgrave MacMillan. (2014)
Publication year: 2014

Abstract: In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, there is an ongoing battle between Death and a group of beings known as the Auditors.  These beings strive to maintain order in the universe and dislike humanity and all its inherent messiness.  Death, on the other hand, is rather fascinated by humans and sees value in the individuality humans exhibit.  This illustrates a more general tension between the individual and the collective.  One place this tension emerges is in ethical theorizing.  While traditionally there is a push towards universalization in ethics, recently many have come to believe that our ethical thinking must recognize the embodied and individual nature of humans.  This position is echoed by Death in his battle with the Auditors; he knows that humans are inherently individual and this cannot be stifled without destroying humanity.  Death thus becomes the unexpected champion of humanity and individuality, explicitly committed to the importance of care.  I argue that Death’s actions in their various skirmishes demonstrate that the only way to do justice to the group is by fairly treating the individual; to care for the individual in the way he does is to enable justice to occur.  While Death may claim that “THERE IS NO JUSTICE.  THERE IS JUST US”, his care is the catalyst for justice to occur.