In this article, I investigate the ethics of freemium games, microtransactions, and loot boxes. Three distinctions are relevant. First, there is a difference between a fixed-reward microtransaction and a random one, such as a loot box. Second, there is a difference between cosmetic items and those which affect gameplay; this is particularly pronounced in multiplayer games, where a player might have an advantage over another through the expenditure of real money. Third, there is a difference between items which are obtainable both for real money and for in-game effort and items which are only obtainable for real money. Ultimately, all three of these distinctions will prove necessary to show that fixed cosmetic rewards are ethically permissible, random rewards of all types are ethically problematic, and fixed functional rewards can be acceptable, but only under certain conditions.
Augmented reality (AR) blends the virtual and physical worlds such that the virtual content experienced by a user of AR technology depends on the user’s geographical location. Games such as Pokémon GO and technologies such as HoloLens are introducing an increasing number of people to augmented reality. AR technologies raise a number of ethical concerns; I focus on ethical rights surrounding the augmentation of a particular physical space. To address this I distinguish public and private spaces; I also separate the case where we access augmentations via many different applications from the case where there is a more unified sphere of augmentation. Private property under a unified sphere of augmentation is akin to physical property; owners retain the right to augment their property and prevent others from augmenting it. Private property with competing apps is more complex; it is not clear that owners have a general right to prevent augmentations in this case, assuming those augmentations do not interfere with the owner’s use of the property. I raise several difficult cases, such as augmenting a daycare with explicit sexual or violent images. Public property with competing apps is relatively straightforward, and most augmentation is ethical; those apps simply function like different guidebooks. Under a unified sphere of augmentation it is unclear whether augmentations should be treated more like public speech (which we value) or graffiti (which we do not) or (most likely) some of each. Further consideration is needed to determine what kinds of augmentations we view as ethical.
As video games flourish, designers have a responsibility to treat players and potential players justly. In deontological terms, designers are obliged to treat all of them as having intrinsic worth. Since players are a diverse group, designers must not simply focus on an idealized gamer, who is typically a straight white male. This creates a duty to consider whether design choices place unnecessary barriers to the ability of certain groups of players to achieve their ends in playing a game. I examine the design implication of this for the gameworld, avatar design, and accessibility to players with disabilities. I also consider the limits of designers’ control by examining responses to abusive player chat in multiplayer games. Ultimately, a careful balance must be found between what is necessary to create the game a designer envisions and what is necessary for treating all players as having intrinsic worth.
Abstract: Additive manufacturing has spread widely over the past decade, especially with the availability of home 3D printers. In the future, many items may be manufactured at home, which raises two ethical issues. First, there are questions of safety. Our current safety regulations depend on centralized manufacturing assumptions; they will be difficult to enforce on this new model of manufacturing. Using current US law as an example, I argue that consumers are not capable of fully assessing all relevant risks and thus continue to require protection; any regulation will likely apply to plans, however, not physical objects. Second, there are intellectual property issues. In combination with a 3D scanner, it is now possible to scan items and print copies; many items are not protected from this by current intellectual property laws. I argue that these laws are ethically sufficient. Patent exists to protect what is innovative; the rest is properly not protected. Intellectual property rests on the notion of creativity, but what counts as creative changes with the rise of new technologies.
Abstract: A key distinction in ethics is between members and non-members of the moral community. Over time, our notion of this community has expanded as we have moved from a rationality criterion to a sentience criterion for membership. I argue that a sentience criterion is insufficient to accommodate all members of the moral community; the true underlying criterion can be understood in terms of whether a being has interests. This may be extended to conscious, self-aware machines, as well as to any autonomous intelligent machines. Such machines exhibit an ability to formulate desires for the course of their own existence; this gives them basic moral standing. While not all machines display autonomy, those which do must be treated as moral patients; to ignore their claims to moral recognition is to repeat past errors. I thus urge moral generosity with respect to the ethical claims of intelligent machines.
Abstract: Communities play an important role in many areas of philosophy, ranging from epistemology through social and political philosophy. However, two notions of community are often conflated. The descriptive concept of community takes a community to be a collection of individuals satisfying a particular description. The relational concept of community takes a community to consist of more than a set of members satisfying a particular trait; there must also be a relation of recognition among the members or between the members and the community as a whole. The descriptive concept is simpler, however, it does not provide a sufficiently robust concept of community. I argue instead that the relational notion is philosophically richer and more accurately captures the true nature of a community.