What if I play a bad person in a computer game, cheating people. Or I play an assassin who kills people. Or my character in a game belongs to some evil cult. Or I roleplay a thief and steal. Or my character has an affair with a woman without being married.

How are all these actions in a virtual reality close to actions in a real world from a buddhist point of view? Yes, I do not do them for real, but I still make these choices using my free will. So is it the same if I did all this in real life from? Are they bad for my karma?

  • 3
    Like Grand Theft Auto? :) Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 13:55
  • 1
    You didn't specify if this is offline or online. If it's the latter, you'd also better specify if in that game you are supposed to behave like that, or if you would be actually be "harming" someone else (i.e. attacking someone in a war game is quite different from griefing in Minecraft, and even in both of those cases, it would heavily depend on the specific server).
    – o0'.
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 17:24
  • I understand that griefing in online games is actually dealing bad things to a real person, not to a character.
    – user5463
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 17:53
  • 1
    Good meditation with lots of metta bhavana makes one very sensitive to violence. One who has enjoyed realistically violent war movies may no longer like even the fights in cartoons. One who has felt completely unaffected by the violence in a first person shooter game may even shudder at the non-obvious violence in a RPG like Civilization. Meditation will change the person in deep ways if it is proper.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 18:29
  • Now this question and @Buddho's comment made me wonder whether there are any computer games that are "good" with respect to Karma (or Buddhism in general) Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 19:19

9 Answers 9


As Andrei Volkov aptly put it

Actually, when it comes to karma, "subtle" does not mean "weak". Some of our deepest hung-ups come from our subtlest preconceptions.

There are already plenty of answers on this question, but I felt the need to add my two cents, as my view on this is slightly different.

In Tibetan Buddhism there is an emphasis on purifying ones karma. In a common mantra OM AH HUM is contained within it a load of symbolism and varied traditions. The order in which to purify ones behaviors was in these 3 syllables.

OM - Body

AH - Speech

HUM - Mind

Within these 3 "bodies" as they referred to them, one must purify the actions of... The body is considered the easiest of the 3 to control. The speech the second easiest. The mind of course, is the most difficult to master.

The kind of karma that video games would create, if any, would fall under HUM. Except some fringe conditions of course, like if you swear at relatives when you miss a re-spawn point. That would fall under AH.

If you punch your dog because you got head shot in match of Call of Duty, then that would fall under an action of OM.

If those prior two examples resonate with you, you might want to take a step back to the basics. If however they do not (I will just take your word for it) you might be concerned with the subtle aspects of mind. In which I would argue that video games can be used as a tool, just like any other tool.

Roleplaying games allow you to see your mind act as if it would if you were in situations you cannot be in within real life. If you observe your mind while you play, in a way it could become a kind of meditation. If for example there was a hypothetical video game called "Bodhisattva" or "Monk" where one played those roles. Bodhisattva would essentially be the opposite of Call of Duty, think magical monks running around blocking bullets. (Keep in mind this is a hypothetical)

Would these games have benefit ? Depends on who develops them.

But all this brings me to the point I want to make. A game like Bodhisattva is just simulation. You aren't saving lives, you are pretending to do so. Same with Call of Duty. Doing and pretending are not equal.

In fact if playing GTA is the worst thing you have done in your life, your karma is quite nice in comparison.

So let's be reasonable, yes there is an influence that like any other art form, book, music, painting, etc will have. However Buddhism is about neither acceptance nor rejection. The dharmakaya as described by Chogyam Trungpa is what I refer to here.

The video game is empty of any inherent being. Our interaction with it is what we must watch. The video games influence on you might be null, it might be vast. You must be aware of what influence it has on you. The karma that you reap from those moments could be good or bad. Your reaction to it is what matters.

In conclusion I will more directly answer the 3 questions you asked:

How close are all these actions in a virtual reality to actions in a real world from a Buddhist point of view?

Slightly reworded your question, but the answer is they are not close at all. Those scenarios would require action of body, speech, and mind. Doing them in real life would have much vaster karmic effect.

Yes, I do not do them for real, but I still make these choices using my free will. So is it the same if I did all this in real life from?

It is not the same.

Are they bad for my karma?

It really just depends. There are so many factors, the game, your thoughts while playing it, and the influence it has on you. If you are playing Professor Layton games, I'd say the answer is most certainly a no. Call of Duty is more likely a yes. But it is still not necessarily so...

Bottom line / TL;DR : Analyze your life before your video games. Changes there are more likely to have karmic impact. But do not deceive your self, if video games are part of your life, you must include them in the analysis.

  • @SergZ. I'd like to get the rest of the stacks view on it as well.
    – hellyale
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 13:05

There are two parts to karma: 1) external forces/energies you set in motion with your action and 2) latent tendencies and inclinations in your psyche - that later become your action and reaction, that then sets external forces in motion.

If you step away and look at it from a distance, there is really no hard line between "external" and "internal"; karma is a network of subtle potentialities.

Some of the potentialities are pretty subtle, yeah - like the ones involved in playing videogames - but they are still real. Very few of them translate 1:1 to analogous actions in real life though.

For example, mass-shooting in games is not even remotely the same karma as real murder, but you still separate "yourself" from "others", and you still desire good for one's own character at the expense of everyone else's. Amassing golden coins in game is not real, but you still go after "fruits", get frustrated when things you like a taken away and so on and so forth. Guess what kind of latent potentialities, however subtle, all this creates/reinforces?

Actually, when it comes to karma, "subtle" does not mean "weak". Some of our deepest hung-ups come from our subtlest preconceptions.

So I'd say in general the games you play may not create a lot of new karma, but they certainly reinforce your inner tendencies and preconceptions that keep you chained in samsara.

  • 1
    "Very few of them translate 1:1 to analogous actions in real life though." Wondering if you had examples of these few? Great job pointing out the subtle/weak distinction.
    – hellyale
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 3:45
  • I meant statistically, not by type. Couple years ago there was a news of a guy murdering his father after a week of binge-playing an FPS, but these are few and far between.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 16:03
  • It might be worth adding to this wonderful answer the idea that karma is accrued in proportion to the awareness one has of doing harm. A person who is in a state of delusion (a dreamer, child, or someone who has lost mental capabilities) may hardly be aware they are doing harm, and will create less negative karma than someone who should know better. Perhaps a gamer is acting in a state of delusion. Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 4:57
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    @QuinnComendant what you said is the opposite of Buddhist traditional position, which assigns greater demerit to action of an ignorant/deluded person. So Dalai Lama playing a violent videogame may create less negative consequences than an ignorant/confused teenager playing the same game.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 12:58
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    Thubten Yeshe's response boils down to "it has the potency to lay down karmic seeds in the mental continuum especially when the intention is strong." - which is my main point above. I'm afraid Alan Wallace did not quote Dalai Lama very precisely, I think he's just saying with more clarity comes more power and hence more responsibility. I believe the traditional point is that a wise person proceeds carefully, and therefore can minimize effects of a mistake, while the fool misbehaves eagerly and full-steam - hence the different amount of negative karma.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 18:41

There weren't PC games in the Buddha's time, but there were stage shows and music, and he asked people to eschew them both.

One time an actor approached the Buddha and asked him if he would go to heaven with the devas because he made people happy and forget their worries The Buddha tried to dodge answering, but at the actor's insistence, he had to tell him that he'd probably go to hell or the animal realms. Talaputra Sutta. See also this question: (Will actors really go to hell?).

This seems pretty odd and incompatible with our age of ubiquitous entertainment and distraction - would the Buddha say the same of Facebook?

"So you're happy your selfie just got a 1000 likes eh? Consider this, You're going to hell!" :-)

I am sure the Buddha would have phrased it better, but this is pretty much the same thing.

Karma theory says one's dreams can also affect karma - if we harbor evil intentions towards someone in our dreams, that is enough to destroy accumulated merits.

This is a fundamental question about all entertainment - why must entertainment be eschewed?

First, the nature of boredom is that it arises out of a mind that isn't at ease with itself. The nature of thought at the moment a bored mind arises is to gravitate towards the outside world - towards sense pleasures.

Distracted thought gets reinforced with every application of distraction.

A hundred years ago people read 700 page books for entertainment, today people find twitter too verbose and send each other Vine videos.

If we make a habit of mindfulness, then the opposite is true, at every opportunity the mind will seek mindfulness.

Second, the nature of boredom is that it gets excited by violence rather than peace - it is an existential threat mechanism that is woken up and makes us come alive. Thus entertainment is the enemy of equanimity.

Third, entertainment reinforces duality, of the entertainer and the entertained. It makes us lapse into being controlled by external forces, rather than taking control of our mind.

It is thus a quality of mind to be safe guarded against.

  • I am still struggling with your explanation for "Why must entertainment be eschewed?" Is not any action we take, even mentally, technically a source of entertainment - even practicing mindfulness? (even though it is a much healthier choice) Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 17:42
  • Fundamentally we all fear knowing that there is no self, and no inherent existence, yet even if we cannot notice this explicitly, our unenlightened actions betray this knowledge. Entertainment is the distractive cure for fear masked as boredom. Even in mindfulness of breath, if one keeps at it for a long while without getting into the piti/sukha one can get bored, this is why some beginner meditators keep switching their object of attention. Thus one of the marks of insight is when fear grips the meditator after noticing nothing has a separate existence.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 18:49
  • I think its the definition that causes me to struggle. "Entertainment is the distractive cure for fear masked as boredom" - I consider boredom and entertainment to be opposites, but that definition suggests otherwise. If one was doing nothing, yet was fine (not bored) - I would consider that as being entertained. If it is not one or the other, what is it when one is not bored, and not being entertained? Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 20:06
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    I made my own question, and asked these same questions there. I figured they would require more than the comments could allow. Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 21:15
  • @Buddo "So you're happy your selfie just got a 1000 likes eh? Consider this, You're going to hell!" :-)" Great line. Very funny. The specific realm though would probably be the hungry ghost realm for the vainity of 1000 selfies, and it all depends on what the agent was thinking and intending at the time right? The hell realms are caused primarily by anger and violence.
    – hellyale
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 13:03

The important thing to keep in mind is our own mind state. We try to purify ourselves of the three poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion. That's not really going to happen in a typical video game where our mind states can spike into intense feelings of:

greed - (I should have won that loot! I deserved it!)

hatred - (I can't stand that guy! He's such a jerk!)

delusion - (I should have been at the top of the chart, I am the best in this group, the meter must be broken.)

When we open ourselves up to knowingly experiencing these intensely unwholesome mind states while we are trying to purify ourselves of the same; it really doesn't make much sense. It's also not Right Effort which specifies "The effort to prevent future disadvantageous mental states from arising.."

Lastly, it's a waste of time. There is a colorful quote from the Buddha about putting out effort "as if your head was on fire". Here is the whole sutta, Sacitta Sutta: One's Own Mind. It's short and well worth reading to understand the priority of choosing how to direct your efforts.

  • this answer is a good case for celibacy - what are your thoughts on that ?
    – breath
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 21:48


The mind-state one is in is crucial, if not the most important thing.

A mind-state that is free from the Three Poisons and the Six Root Afflictions is good.

One that is practicing Three Poisons and afflictions, even in a virtual setting, will retain those seeds in his mind, attitude, and neurology.

Unless that is of course one is mindful and detached from such gaming in the first place and is doing it for exercise purposes (for example playing a puzzle game). It is hard to be detached for longer, more immersive video games.

  • Who downvoted this and why?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 0:07

If one performs negative actions against another soul, like another video game player, then yes, there would be karmic consequences. If it's regular competition during the course of a game, like player versus player combat, you're all willing participants, so very likely there would be no adverse consequences. But bad sportsmanship, bullying, mean spirited communications, etc. would be bad karma.

One should consider the effects on your consciousness of protraying villains. Actions performed in a game may have an effect on one's self. I'm not one of those people who condemns violent video games, but I believe engaging in villainous, murderous acts continually in a video game will inevitably form a samskara within the person.


Here is the thing about games and violence (I am a life long gamer too).

Violence causes a bad stream of thoughts like anger,vendetta,enmity.So if you are one of those people who slam the controller/keyboard on the table when you get killed or defeated i would not recommend games with violence to you.

I am quite sure you are referring to games like GTA, Sleeping Dogs, Castlevania etc.

So the one thing you need to realize is if you are not in it to get out of boring life. If you feel good when thing go down and burn or when that guy who killed you in Battlefield take a head shot from you.That is not healthy for the path.Not to mention games are very addictive.And that is not good because it creates a bond.

If you know what's evil don't do it,If you want to kill in a game go for it with mindfulness and you will see it is no longer exiting (Because what made it exiting was your ego getting fueled by anger).You can still play games without being evil.Choose a different genre.or play it knowing that it is just a game and keep your feelings checked at all times.

  • Please don't post links to mahamevnawa.lk/inenglish except in your profile. You can post links to specific pages or articles or resources within the mahamevnawa.lk site, if the page is relevant to the question and your answer.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 21:42
  • Sorry i did not saw your countess advises (I was not on the site),i stopped it,Can i mention those links in the comments section? please advice me on this issue. thank you for your kindness. May triple gems bless you.
    – Theravada
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 23:57

Consider it from the perspective of intention:

I once had a guru who explained it thusly...

Which intention will have the greatest effect on future actions?

Shooting a crossbow at a pumpkin sitting on a fencepost late at night, then realizing that it is actually a boy popping his head up over the fence..

Or shooting a crossbow at a boy's head popping up over a fencepost, then realizing it is only a pumpkin.

Different intentions, different end results. Christianity has a specific view of which is the sin (action) while buddhism considers more factors (right thought, right action, right intention etc)

You have to ask yourself honestly:

Does this thought or action, as it comes into being, lead to suffering. If it does, we should avoid doing it.

  • Hi Darren and welcome to Buddhism SE. We have a Guide and a Resource section for new users that you might find useful.
    – user2424
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 10:17

"So is it the same if I did all this in real life from a spiritual perspective?". I did not get that part of the question. There is no way of doing evil deeds from a spiritual perspective if I understood the question. “Discard all that is immoral, what should not be done

Take in what is moral by sorting out “san”

Do this by controlling one’s own thoughts (mind)

This is the doctrine of the Buddhas”

Clearing mind is a component of spirituality so "Discarding all that is immoral" is also a part of the teaching of all the Buddhas, no one can reach Nirvana while performing evil deeds.

I will give a detailed answer such that you can apply it in many other contexts too. Please first go through the list of ten evil deeds.
There are five conditions that must be fulfilled to happen the evil deed of killing. All of these should be fulfilled.
1. Being should be living.(From this point itself you don't do killing karma on the virtual life.)
2. Knowing the being is living
3. Will to kill
4. Planning to kill
5. Living being dying due to the plan
And the being should not be self, therefore suicide does not effect killing karma. But depending on the situation and in most of the times suicide comes with delusion.

For the evil deed stealing all below should be fulfilled.
1. Owned by someone else
2. Knowing someone else's property
3. Desire to take away
4. Planning to take away
5. Taking away
Simply things on games are not owned by someone, owners are not real. So no evil deed happens.

The third part, affair with a woman without being married. Actually in Buddhism unlawful sensual/sexual misconduct is not synonymous with marriage and affiliated although they have some in common. Men are not supposed to have sexual relationships with these women. (However rape is sexual misconduct and the strength of the evil deed is often high)
1. She being nurtured by her parents or other close relations(from this point itself no harm because the virtual women have no real owners)
2. She being nurtured and protected by another man.
There is only one instance of men where women can get sexual misconduct. If the woman has a protector, she cannot seek for another protector.
For a person to fulfill these conditions to have done sexual misconduct evil deed.
1. Man or woman should belong to the groups mentioned above
2. Desire to have sensual pleasures with him/her
3. Trying for pleasure
4. Undergoing and feeling the pleasure.
Different variables affect the strength of the karma described above.

  • Suicide does have a karmic effect in every place I've encountered in my studies. It is not the same as murder, but it is not "positive" either.
    – hellyale
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 16:52
  • It is not positive, and it is negative in most of the situations. but it is not completing the killing karma. It may do other karma such as delusion, but it does not complete the conditions for killing Karma. thank you for pointing it out, I will edit the answer so it can be more precise. You can read those conditions in midway of this article. dharmanet.org/DellaKarma.htm I could not find a good source in English which discusses on suicide. But in a handbook of lay followers written in Sinhalese, Most Venerable Rerukane Chandawimala thero clearly states suicide is not killing.
    – seeker
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 2:05
  • I think ending your own life when you are human carries with it some of the killing karma. You are removing a human life from living, even though it is your own. I will have to politely disagree with Most Venerable Rerukane Chandawimala on this matter.
    – hellyale
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 3:41

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