Is Pokémon Go immoral?

Ben brought back an English newspaper from Russia. He thought I might be interested because there’s an article about Pokémon Go in it. Here’s an excerpt:

Nintendo refuses to reveal when the game will be released in Russia. But Russia’s traditional values crusaders are already worried nonetheless. “It feels like the devil arrived through [Pokémon] and is trying to tear our morality apart from the inside,” said Frants Klintsevich, a senator of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper chamber of parliament. Klintsevich has called for a list of “restricting measures” to help gamers avoid falling under Pokémon’s corrupting influence.

Is Pokémon Go immoral? If we say yes we have to give a reason. But Klintsevich doesn’t say why Pokémon is a “corrupting influence” or how it will “tear our morality apart”. It’s not enough to say it’s immoral because a politician said so or because our mothers said so or because some man who lived two thousand years ago said so.

Some people think moral judgements are subjective but I disagree. The philosopher, Derek Parfit, argues for the existence of objective ethics in his book, On What Matters. I tried reading it but it’s rather long and a bit over my head. However when someone says “Pokémon is immoral” or “Homosexuality is immoral” or “Women who don’t cover their heads with a burqa are immoral”, it’s worth asking them why?

If an individual’s actions do not cause harm or suffering to themselves or to anyone else then it’s hard to see how the action could be immoral. Indeed when we prevent homosexuals from marrying each other (I’m looking at you Australia) we cause them harm and suffering and you could say it is we who are being immoral rather than them. This is because we exercise power over them against their will, as John Stuart Mill famously said,

…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant….Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

The same is true when we force women to cover their faces in public: we are taking away their liberty for no good reason. I don’t think I can make the same argument for Pokémon Go because my kids wouldn’t suffer if I stopped them from playing it but equally they do not cause any harm and suffering to anyone else when they do. Put simply, it’s not a moral issue at all and neither is homosexuality or revealing our faces in public.

What does matter? According to Derek Parfit “What now matters most is that we rich people give up some of our luxuries, ceasing to overheat the Earth’s atmosphere, and taking care of this planet in other ways, so that it continues to support intelligent life.”

3 responses to “Is Pokémon Go immoral?”

  1. There have been several absurd stories about Pokemon Go players mobbing certain public areas where a rare Pokemon has been found, lol.

    You may have seen the stories about people getting hurt while playing the game, often because they were driving while their attention was focused on the game, or they didn’t notice they were being followed by people intent on robbing or hurting them. I suppose Mill would argue that they are only a danger to themselves and not to the greater society (so far!). Anecdotally, a couple of grown men almost ran straight into me as I was walking my daughter’s dog in a neighborhood park. If I hadn’t been alert and stepped out of their path, someone could have gotten hurt, most likely me, being the smaller person.

    I say all of this tongue in cheek. None of the above is a valid reason for declaring Pokemon Go immoral. I find such sweeping pronouncements to be illogical and often self-serving. (Nothing like making silly declarations in public to make yourself famous. Ask one presidential candidate here in the US. 😉 ) But I’m old enough to remember when Bible-thumping preachers declared rock n’ roll and The Beatles to be immoral, as were long hair on men and short skirts on women (who were routinely called “girls” back then). It all seems quaint by today’s standards, especially since now these sort of pronouncements are often laced with incitements to violence. That is truly immoral.

    1. There is an argument for some state interference in personal liberty and the usual example of this is car seat belts. However this type of interference is minimal and so is something most of us accept. I would also accept a ban on playing Pokémon Go when driving a car and in most places this is probably illegal anyway since using a mobile phone is illegal when behind the wheel for the reason that it can cause harm and suffering to others.

      It’s pretty funny to hear that once upon a time rock n’ roll and short skirts were considered immoral. I think this is a good lesson for us to always question the prevailing views of the day.

  2. Pokemon Go has been a lovely family bonding experience as Isabel’s phone is too old for her to access it.
    Maybe Russian moralists should look at their treatment of gay people in their country before decrying make believe worlds 😦

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