Dear Philosophers,

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Dear Philosophers, My question is about the morality of actions in games. Can our behaviors in a game - however friendly or cruel if they are inside the borders of the game's rules - be regarded as immoral acts? For example, is hitting a person during a game a sort of immoral act? (in this case I know that it might be punished by the referee but is the act in itself immoral?) What about deceiving your rival in a game? Is it lie and thus an immoral behavior? and killing (suppose there is a game in which two people agree on a fight which would end in one side's death)? Thanks.

Great set of quetions. I think the concept of a game has shifted. In Ancient Rome, "games" included gladiator fights to the death, but today any intentional killing in the course of a game would be seen as no longer a game. If in the middle of a baseball game the batter beat the short stop to death with his bat we would think the game was at least interrupted. And in a case when two people agree to fight to the death this appears to be a duel and thus (at least in many countries) illegal. My colleague, who also serves on this panel, Gordon Marino, is a great boxer and defender of the virtues of this sport, so at least he would defend the permissibility of hitting other persons under controlled conditions. (Check out some of his answers to questions on this site.) I personally have reservations about games in which intentional harm is a goal (hence I prefer tennis to boxing, personally), but Marino makes a good case for how boxing can be done to build up self-repect and can be done while respecting one's opponent. As for deception and lying, some games explicitly build into them a reward for success at both, but only in defined areas. Actually, we might be quite hesitant to equate deception and lying in a game that calls for craft. A tennis player who makes her opponent think she will hit long but then only taps the ball over the net is considered smart. But some forms of deception seem at least to be bad sportsmanship. Although I doubt there is any rule against it, but I would think ill of a tennis player who made everyone think he has a severe injury when in fact he is perfectly fit and simply trying to lull his opponent into a state of reckless self-confidence.

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