Marcus Johansson


In my paper, I explore the possibilities for legitimately punishing a virtual character. I propose a plausible example, where John (a physical person) develops a close emotional relation to Dante (his virtual character). If a moral wrongdoing is done, either in real life or in the virtual world, I argue that there could be instances where a retributive punishment should be measured out to the virtual character. The argument goes as follows: as John and Dante affects each other to a high degree, there are reasons to view the two as a singular moral agent, in which John and Dante are both contributive parts. While John carries the moral component, the moral agent as such cannot be accurately described without Dante, just as a moral agent cannot be properly described without any extension such as a body. John and Dante thus constitute an organic whole. Arguing from our commonly held conviction about appropriate punishment, I then conclude that there would be nothing extraordinary, in terms or reasonableness, to punish a virtual character – such conclusion seems to be in line with our everyday reasoning in questions regarding punishments. Punishing Dante could be either a part of punishing John and Dante as an organic whole, or it could be a pragmatic way of punishing the physical person John. However, there are reasons to believe that the first view is to be preferred, since the second, pragmatic view collides with some deeply held convictions. If this reasoning – which I believe could have some force – is correct, then it would imply new demands on legislation and judicial reasoning in order to handle questions concerning retribution in the virtual sphere.]