"It's Just a Game": An Empirical and Ethical Analysis of Virtual Actions Open Access

Stoiber, Matthew John (2014)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/tb09j630g?locale=en


This thesis examines the significance of virtual actions from empirical and ethical standpoints, and considers the implications of these findings on legal policy. First, four key characteristics of virtual scenes that contribute to the moral significance of virtual spaces are identified: violence, verisimilitude, perspective, and participation. Each of these factors plays a part in determining the degree to which virtual actions affect individuals. Participation is particularly relevant in its allowance for player immersion in the virtual world and role in distinguishing video games and virtual reality systems from other electronic media. Next, empirical studies that link engagement with violent video games to negative effects on players are evaluated and defended from criticism, revealing that violent video games have a subtle, habit-forming effect on players. The trends in research suggest that future virtual media will produce even more substantial results. Within this discussion on empirical research, the Supreme Court's 2011 response to a law banning violent video games is criticized for its dismissal of the differences between video games and other media and failure to recognize the importance of empirical research, especially in light of new virtual reality technology. The thesis concludes with a consideration of virtual actions through the lenses of various ethical theories, finding virtue ethics to be the most adequate approach to evaluating virtual actions. Virtue ethics complements the empirical findings that suggest that violent video games result in gradual damage to players, and adds the idea that such virtual experiences can also harm an individual's practical reason. Together, these empirical and ethical findings call for an imminent legal response.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1: Modes of Media 4

Violence 4

Verisimilitude 8

Perspective 11

Participation 12

A Look Into the Future: Virtual Reality 21

Chapter 2: The Empirical Response 25

Anderson's Meta-Analysis and Other Studies 26

Ferguson's Criticisms 30

Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association 36

Alito's Concern for the Future 40

A Turn Toward Ethics 41

Chapter 3: Assessing the Moral Issue 44

A Deontological Approach 45

An Appeal to Bentham's Utility 53

From Ethical Intuitionism to Evolutionary Biology 56

Virtue Ethics and the Aristotelian Answer 60

Conclusion 69

References 72

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