Is It OK to Hurt Characters Who Don’t Play Video Games?


REQUEST REQUEST: I play a sim style game, and the non -player characters you send have specific skills, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes. That’s why I put them sometimes in situations I know they’re uncomfortable with, like sending a scared guy into space outside of an asteroid. The results can be fun. But I also felt a little uncomfortable that I wouldn’t let them live their best lives. Don’t I have manners?

Dungeon Master


Dear Dungeon Master,

Games like these allow earthly people to live out the imagination of playing God. You become the demiurge of your own digital cosmos, dictating the fate of characters whose life, like this, remains subject to your will. Playing it is likely to raise different questions that have long been taken up in theological and terrifying literature.

Ever since we humans started writing, it seems, we suspect that we are pawns in the games of higher beings. on Iliad, Hector, realizing that he was facing death, complained that the men were games of the gods, that the changes would pass from one day to the next. This is a conclusion echoed by Gloucester in King Lear knew, as he wandered around the tomb after a brutal blindness. “As flies of unwanted men we are of the gods. / They killed us for their sport. ”

In the book of Job, Satan and God bet that Job, a most righteous man, would curse God if enough suffering and hardship came to him. After securing God’s permission, Satan killed Job’s children, his servants, and his livestock and burned his body. Job, who had no indication that his suffering was merely a subject at the stake of a lord, could only think that his misfortunes were a divine punishment. “My flesh is covered with worms and dust mites,” he cried. “My skin is broken, and turned into disgust.… My life is a breeze.”

It is difficult to read such passages without sympathy for human victims. And I imagine that the bad feeling when you awaken your characters means that you suspect that you are both suffering them for your own amusement. Of course, non -player characters – NPCs – are just algorithms that have no mind and no feeling, so there is no ability to feel pain or discomfort. That is, at any rate, the consensus. But humans, as you know, have a bad record of despising the feelings of other creatures (Descartes believed that animals are simple machines and do not feel pain), so it is worth taking a moments to really figure out the probability of the algorithm suffering.

Many NPCs rely on tree behavior algorithms that follow the rule when then-ruled, or-in more advanced characters-machine learning models that develop their own adaptation techniques. The ability to suffer is often tied to things like nociceptors, prostaglandins, and neuronal opioid receptors, so it seems that video game characters lack the neurological hardware needed for the disease response. Emotional distress (our ability to feel fear, anxiety, discomfort) is more complex, from a neurological point of view, even if the emotions of humans and other animals often depend to some degree on external stimuli processed in the five senses. Because these algorithms have no sensory access to the world-they cannot see, feel, or hear-they are unlikely to experience negative emotions.

However, when it comes to the behavior of suffering, neurology is not the only relevant consideration. Some ethical philosophers argue that the ability to hold on to desires – the capacity to see the world in terms of positive and negative consequences and to improve decision -making processes about these consequences – a specific standard for real suffering. An advantage of expressing desires over pain is that while pain is in the whole subject, only felt by the person suffering, desires are followed. We know that cats have a preference because they come out of the bathtub water and sometimes scamper when approached by dogs. The fact that your NPCs have, as you say, “specific skills, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes” suggests that they actually have likes, although it’s also something you can try by simply observation. If you put them in unwanted situations do they resist or struggle? Do they display facial expressions or body movements that you associate with fear? You could argue that such behavior is simply programmed by their inventors, but animal preferences are equally regarded as a kind of algorithm programmed in evolutionary history.



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