What are the rules of play, and what do they tell us about ethics in real life?
Let's suppose for simplicity that the "real" universe is the physical one, that there's only one physical universe, and that's the one that we're in. I don't think any of the following arguments rests on that, but we can set aside a vast chunk of questions by supposing that.
Virtual universes often have their own rules and ethics. They have their own economies and codes of conducts, and the creators of the virtual universes often dictate what these are.
Consider the types of actions:
- Only Real: actions in the physical universe that has consequences in only the physical universe
- Real to Virtual: actions in the physical universe that has consequences in virtual universes
- Only Virtual: actions in a virtual universe that has consequences in only virtual universes
- Virtual to Real: actions in a virtual universe that has consequences in the physical universe
We can consider the ethics of each type of action. Actions are Inter-Universe if they are physical to virtual or virtual to physical. Actions are Intra-Universe if they are only physical or only virtual.
Ethical truths depend on empirical facts. The right thing to do depends on where you do it and why.
Actions in a virtual universe can affect the physical universe, but the physical universe is more important than any virtual one to the extent that the state of the consequences in the physical universe are more important than the state of the virtual universes.
For example, it might be wrong to lie, cheat, swear, or use people as means in the physical universe, but if such actions create better consequences in the physical universe, then they may be acceptable in the virtual universe.
Consider the economies in universes:
- Some virtual universes reward people with items or currency that they can exchange for currency in the real universe.
- Some virtual universes cost items that people must forfeit or pay in the real universe.
- In some games, the universes are independent.
Consider the ways we interact with the virtual universe in the physical universe:
- It's usually wrong or against some rules to use a bot.
- It's usually wrong or against some rules to steal accounts to virtual universes.