Admittedly this is a far larger competition than Sanest Man, but here’s one convincing finalist.
A professor in England is worrying about the moral implications of “virtual characters”.
The question is actually moot, though. If we create our characters to be free-thinking beings, then we must treat them as if they are such – regardless of how they might appear to an external observer.
That being the case, then, can we switch our virtual worlds off? Doing so could be condemning billions of intelligent creatures to non-existence. Would it nevertheless be OK if we saved a copy of their world at the moment we ended it? Does the theoretical possibility that we may switch their world back on exactly as it was mean we’re not actually murdering them? What if we don’t have the original game software?
Can we legitimately cause these characters suffering?
Fantastically stupid. We’ve been creating virtual characters forever. Other intelligent mammals seem to create virtual characters in play. There’s NO DIFFERENCE between a character in a story and a character in “virtual reality”. You can draw a timeline from verbal legends to written stories to scripted plays to movies to TV shows to video games. The form of expression and storage is different, but the stories and characters are the same type of entity.
When we say “The End” on a verbal story we don’t kill the characters in it. When we close a book we don’t kill the characters in it. When we bring down the curtain on a stageplay we don’t kill the characters in it. When we turn off a virtual reality we don’t kill the characters in it.
This question has always bothered some narrators, which is why some old stories end with and they lived happily forever and ever.
I should really describe this professor as dangerous, not stupid. If we enshrine “rights” for characters as a basis for litigation, storytelling and imagination will be illegal. Every story ends, so every story is unethical.
Ethics professors are the leading edge of holocausts.