‘Avatar Identity Realism, Virtual Ethics, and Virtual Realism’

This article motivates and explores the ethical implications of avatar identity realism, the view that virtual avatars can be a constitutive part of one’s personal identity. Avatar identity realism is congruent with recent work on the extended self (Heersmink, 2020) and relevant to burgeoning research in the ethics of video games and virtual reality. First, I argue that avatar identity realism is true according to both psychological and narrative theories of personal identity. Then, I explore some ethical implications of avatar identity realism related to the topics of virtual sexual assault (Danaher, 2023), virtual theft (Wildman & McDonnell, 2020), panoptic gaslighting (Rini & Cohen, 2022) and the right to interoperability in virtual worlds (McStay, 2023). I contend that, on avatar identity realism, virtual actions involving one’s avatar have ethical salience even if virtual realism is false. It is natural to assume that virtual actions have ethical salience only if such actions have an ontological status comparable to physical actions (Chalmers, 2022). However, I show that one can maintain that virtual objects and actions, in general, are not real in a metaphysical sense (i.e., reject virtual realism), while nevertheless upholding that avatars can be a real part of a person’s identity (i.e., subscribe to avatar identity realism). In particular, I illustrate that virtual ethics is not beholden to virtual metaphysics because the ethical implications of avatar identity realism stem from the psychological and narrative significance of virtual avatars rather than the ontological status of virtual objects.


Cody Turner

Don’t want to miss out on the symposium? Sign up is now open.

Digital Humanities Tilburg