Utility Monsters and Skyrim

As I exited the mine through the prisonbreak exit and entered the digital sun. I was confronted by a distraught man called Silverblood who seemed intent on goring me and my new Forsworn friends for killing his wife. Oh well, I shrugged, and began zapping away. My arm rose and his men disintegrated, subjected to the unpleasant experience of having their molecules turned into plasma soup. But here is where things began to go wrong: the Forsworn began attacking the Markarth guards and the Markarth guards began attacking me. Instead of booking it out of Markarth I instead decided to help the Forsworn so I could sack the town.

Why? Mostly out of philosophical perversion, actually. About a week ago, I was confronted with the thought experiment concerning a “utility monster,” that is, someone who can consume without diminishing returns on their happiness. If such a utility monster truly existed, simple-minded versions of utilitarianism can be tossed out because to maximize happiness all happiness must be concentrated in the utility monster. I myself am a devout utilitarian, and I am disturbed that my philosophy can be so easily refuted. I decided to test out this thought experiment and no where can this be done in real life except in the medium of video games.

In Skyrim, I am the utility monster. Of course, I am still human and still subject to diminishing returns on my happiness, but I am an adequate approximation of a utility monster because I am the only person in my digital world that can actually feel happiness. Everyone else is a well scripted c++ sprite. My happiness can only go up if I given things, so that is why I decided to begin attacking Markarth guards and civilians on my capricious whim. My victims do not feel things, I do, and I feel that I want their stuff so I’m taking it. Under the premise of any utilitarian theory, this is the right thing to do.

Several piles of dead bodies later, it is clearly apparent that utilitarianism taken to its most logical conclusions is not a good idea in the real world. Sure I have about a thousand pounds worth of equipment which will make me several thousand gold richer, and my avatar would be really happy right now if he had absolutely no value for NPC lives. But imagine if such a true utility monster actually existed, where my happiness and your happiness are nothing compared to his happiness. Under a utilitarian philosophy, we would be forced to give him more and more because it could only get happier and happier. In a world full of scarcity, we would eventually run out of items to give it, and the rest of the world would be rendered into poverty in order to let the utility monster maximize happiness. The maximum happiness of a society could be achieved where the median person had arbitrarily negative happiness. Clearly then, simple-minded utilitarian theories have an inherent unfairness because there is a failure to distribute happiness to all individuals due to an unbalanced attempt to concentrate it.

Anyways, time to sell my loot.





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