Between death and suffering: resolving the gamer’s dilemma

Thomas Coghlan*, Damian Cox*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
67 Downloads (Pure)


The gamer’s dilemma, initially proposed by Luck (Ethics and Information Technology 11(1):31–36, 2009) posits a moral comparison between in-game acts of murder and in-game acts of paedophilia within single-player videogames. Despite each activity lacking the obvious harms of their real-world equivalents, common intuitions suggest an important difference between them. Some responses to the dilemma suggest that intuitive responses to the two cases are based on important differences between the acts themselves or their social meaning. Others challenge the fundamental assumptions of the dilemma. In this paper, we identify and explore key imaginative and emotional differences in how certain types of in-game violence are experienced by players, consider how these differences factor into the moral lives of players, and use these insights to resolve the dilemma. The view we develop is that the key moral emotion in offensive video gameplay is self-repugnance. This is not repugnance of the act one directs a game character to perform in the game, nor repugnance of the character one plays. It is repugnance of oneself in playing the game. If self-repugnance is a fitting emotional response to playing a videogame, then this is prima facie grounds for thinking it is wrong to play the videogame. Our approach to the gamer’s dilemma is to distinguish the fittingness conditions of self-repugnance from the fittingness conditions of other moral emotions as they pertain to playing videogames. We argue that because of the virtual character of the actions performed in video games, self-repugnance is a fitting response to particular kinds of offensive gameplay. On the other hand, in-game murder is not invariably a fitting ground for self-repugnance. We argue that this difference is grounded in imaginative responses to the harm of death and the harms of profound suffering. Our task is to explain and justify this difference in fittingness conditions and use this to resolve the gamer’s dilemma.
Original languageEnglish
Article number37
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalEthics and Information Technology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


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