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The Ethics of Gaming (PHIL90041)

Graduate courseworkPoints: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelGraduate coursework
Subject codePHIL90041
Semester 2
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

Within the context of video games, is it appropriate to judge a legitimate action or even a more sustained gaming strategy as morally good or bad? Should virtual enactments within video games be something to warrant moral interest? If so, should there be a limit to what can be enacted or represented within these games, and how do we arrive at this limit? If not, why not? In short, why might the indignant cry of “It’s just a game” not be sufficient to stave off those who would insist on the enactment of virtual taboos being the subject of moral scrutiny?

Students will be afforded an opportunity to cast a critical eye over the applicability of traditional and more contemporary theories of morality to the enactment of taboos within gamespace (inter alia Hume, Kant, Virtue Theory). Can these approaches be used to guide the selective prohibition of video game content by informing us about what should be permitted and what (if anything) should not within these playful arenas?

In addition, rather than endorsing the idea that video game content and enactments are either morally good or bad per se, as an alternative, students will be encouraged to evaluate psychological (and other) research / theory relating to what individuals are able to cope with when engaged in simulations of taboo activities. Might such research / theory provide the basis for a more informed metric of permissibility?

Students will tackle questions such as:

  • A priori, what justification is there for the selective prohibition of gaming content?
  • A posteriori, what justification is there for the selective prohibition of gaming content?
  • How important is player motivation for determining the morality of enacting virtual taboos, or the narrative and what it appears to be endorsing?
  • Should the virtual enactment of taboos be used to (i) identify those with a predilection for certain types of taboos (e.g., paedophilia) and (b) their treatment?

As noted above, students will encounter a variety of philosophical theories of morality, as well as interdisciplinary empirical research (e.g., psychology, media studies, sociology)

Intended learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this subject will:

  • be able to evaluate the applicability of traditional and contemporary moral theories to the debate over the permissibility of 'violent' or otherwise 'taboo' video game content;
  • be able to reflect critically on empirical, methodological and epistemological issues that have arisen within research on video game content;
  • have developed a critical understanding of the role of socio-cultural values, as well as the gamer as an ethical agent, in shaping attitudes towards video game content;
  • be able to engage with the ongoing debate over the permissibility of certain video game content in a coherent and informed manner.

Generic skills

Students who successfully complete this subject should be able to:

  • Select and analyse evidence and argument
  • Critique existing evidence and argument effectively
  • Present a reasoned argument (e.g., provide a clear, coherent and persuasive argument as a written presentation; effectively defend and challenge argument within group discussions)
  • Communicate effectively at different levels (e.g., specialists; peers and non-specialists)
  • Work independently
  • Manage time effectively

Last updated: 14 August 2019