Ethics versus Morality in Netrunner

Someone posted this comment on a Channel Fireball article about the notion of ethics in Magic: the Gathering:

"There’s a difference between ethics (satisfying a responsibility to support the rules) and morality (valuations of right and wrong), and equating the two is a common source of problems. Magic doesn’t care about you acting morally, just ethically, and it isn’t super debatable that he acted ethically. In fact, going the other way and operating under what his opponent obviously intended rather than what he said under the rules is not ethical.

Again, ethics is not about right and wrong. Ethics is about the rules."

Now, I don’t know this person at all, and this is definitely one person’s opinion against another’s, but while he is definitely correct, the fact that he’s correct bothers me. Here’s the part that bothers me:

“Magic doesn’t care about you acting morally, just ethically…”

This implies to me that morals are immaterial in a tournament setting (in this case, in Magic). Unfortunately, I cannot see a way to enforce any sort of morality, even if a list of moral rules were created that participants agree upon prior to participation in events.

That large competitive communities come to see this distinction between morals and ethics bothers me, since the Android: Netrunner community is generally rather nice. That said, I know I’m guilty of at least one morally and ethically reprehensible act in a tournament, so I hope I’m not being too much of a hypocrite.

The more I think about it, the more I blame the system that creates an incentive for this type of behaviour: prizes. I cannot help but admire Fantasy Flight Games’ emphasis on minimal prizes to foster a specific type of player base. I totally wish there was a way to get more people to tournaments and events, but at the end of the day, I’d like to play a fun game against an opponent that I can be reasonably sure won’t try to cheat me in some way.

So, here’s a thought. A question. Is it good to forego ethics for the sake of morality? Should we, so long as no new information is given to the acting side, choose to allow for the player’s intention to be the deciding factor? Should we allow a player who played a program to take it back because they meant to play Sure Gamble? Should we allow players to take back runs so that they can click for credits first? Where is the line?

For me, I have no idea where to draw it. I move the line based on my opinion of my opponent, whether they act sportsmanlike and charitable, or they act more in the name of ethics than morality.

I have no idea if this kind of topic was discussed elsewhere except perhaps in tangents. but if it is, please tell me. Otherwise, I think this is a good thing to discuss, especially since we don’t yet have a real judge system in place. (Do we? I haven’t heard anything about the judge program in over a year.)


There are judges. Judging happens.

I think you should be able to take back a Sure Gamble if you haven’t moved onto your next click. Technically you haven’t passed priority on your opportunity to activate abilities first between clicks as runner, so since the corp should have been withholding any reactions to the Sure Gamble, there is 0 advantage gained by going back.

Clicking for enough credits to make a good faceup run is something we need an official shortcut for. Like, “I make a -/routine/- run on R&D” = “I make a run on R&D provided that when we count it up together, I have enough faceup credits and breakers to break all subroutines and succeed in the run without using abilities that cost Trash: . If I do not have enough such credits and breakers, it as though I did not declare the run at all”. It’s pretty frequent that that sort of declaration can save time in the round. It slows down the game if I have to triple check whether I’ll be one credit short after breaking the pups in front of the Architect, yet without an official shortcut I’d have to say all that for a corp to not technically be within his rights to fire his Architect when I’m off slightly on a totally faceup run.

I think it’s possible to codify an awful lot of these takebacks that the hivemind kind of finds to be good for the game. There will always be takebacks where the rules dictate you can hold someone to something but it seems like it’s worth allowing a takeback, and it will be up to the player and what he thinks is moral in his life or whatever. It’s definitely not fun to play “gotcha” and it’s good to make “ethics and morality” (I think that’s kinda strong language) overlap as much as possible so the game is pleasant to play

1 Like

The game itself operates solely on ethics, and not morality. It’s a card game; it can not possibly have morals. The rules on the cards, however, creates a system of ethics if they’re going to be followed. Players are the ones with morality.

To use some of the examples you gave, if someone makes a run, then realizes that they should have clicked for a credit beforehand, I’ll make the call to let them differently in different situations. In a casual game, sure, take the credit! There’s nothing on the line, and we’re doing this for fun. In a tournament? Probably not. If there’s no new information gained on the run (ICE is rezzed, you’re reasonably sure the upgrade is an ASH, etc), then it’s up to the player to correctly math the run out before making it. You’re in a tournament, where the goal of it is to have the person who played the best win the tournament, and part of playing your best is to correctly assess situations, and to do the basic math before making your run. However, there’s not much morality at play here. There’s the slight nuances between what’s expected at a casual game vs a tournament setting, but it’s really on a pretty minute moral scale.

There was a game I saw viewing on, however, where I think someone was morally pretty shitty. This was a situation where I think a takeback was correct, and it was interesting because it was the online setting that caused the situation to occur. A MaxX player was hammering R&D with a Medium installed, and had just Parasited the only ICE over R&D down before making a couple runs to see cards and build medium counters. On the corp’s turn, they draw, instantly throw a second ICE over HQ, click for two credits (seeing as they were poor-ish), and pass the turn. The runner immediately runs R&D, seeing as it’s open and he has a Medium down.

Here’s the morality issue. The corp says something along the lines of “Oh, crap, that ICE was supposed to be over R&D.” The thing is, the dude misclicked a button and didn’t realize his mistake before passing the turn. This is something that would never, ever happen in a real game of Netrunner. Because there’s buttons on J-net, though, it occurred. And the runner simply says “Successful?” The corp clarifies his position, repeating what he said. The runner says “Yeah, but you ICE’d HQ. Is the run successful?”

And that’s bullshit. At that point, you care more about wining Netrunner than you do about playing Netrunner, because you’re not actually playing Netrunner at that point. You’re exploiting something that could never actually happen in a real game of Netrunner. And I think at that point, yes, there’s an actual morality issue.

The sad part is that the person who did this is a regular poster here on Stimhack, which is shitty. The game of Netrunner can not have morals, because it is a game. If an issue like this - one that happens during a game of Netrunner, but falls outside of it - happens, then it is a moral issue, and it’s up to the players to be good people. Be a better person, dude who did this. And everyone else, be better than they were.


So ethics are largely determined by the environment. At one point in human history it was totally ethical to drown people as a form of punishment. While there may have been those who opposed these actions morally, they wouldn’t be acting ethically unless they punish a criminal by drowning him.

The point being that the community is going to dictate ethics. Your morals may say that the “spirit” of the game is the most important thing. Perhaps you would implement your morals and allow an opponent to take back a decision. This would be acting unethically as the rules do not allow for you to make this decision.

Unless everyone is allowing people to take back moves, people who aren’t allowed to take back moves are at a disadvantage because the weight of their mistakes is much greater. While your individual morals say the right thing is to let people take back plays, this undermines the ethics of the community and creates an unfair advantage for people who play against you.

Personally: card laid is a card played. In the case of this game, if you have placed a card on the table or started interacting with ICE the action is started and that is that. Sure, this isn’t the nicest thing to do and carries the downside that I can’t run back plays either if I make mistakes. But, the tournament is meant to be somewhat stressful and is for all participants. Part of the game becomes making good decisions and paying attention to your ordering, lest you find yourself 1 credit short of stealing an NAPD.

1 Like

The game’s already moved well past this point, imo. At worlds people were far more into rules lawyering than enjoying the game in the middling seats. Floor rules kind of pushed us in that direction, but it went further than that.

I know people who will let people take something back, but I’ve also been denied a take-back in a tournament setting.

I know people who were given game losses for accessing too many cards on accident from HQ.


That’s part of the floor rules.

Personally I’ll let people use abilities that are already available to them in the middle of an all-face-up run. If they had a Mimic in hand and ran the rezzed Architect before installing, I’ll generally let them lose a click and install the Mimic. It’s something they obviously meant to do, and probably built a mental gamestate where they’d already done it and simply forgot to change the physical gamestate. I won’t let you try and draw a card to get your Mimic in the middle of that run, even if you had just Test Run one back to the top of your deck.

Side note: This feels like “Ethical” is being conflated with “Legal” where “Ethics” is what is right vs. wrong to do, as opposed to “Legal” which is what the rules say you are or are not allowed to do. What is unethical is not always illegal etc etc etc


Further sidenote: This feels like the same damn discussion that comes up any time you get a big room full of intelligent, awkward people together who have too much free-time to contemplate things they imagine correspond to philosophy.

Debating the concepts of “ethics vs. morality” or “strategy vs. tactics” have been exactly the kind of useless navel-gazing that drives casual fans of something bat shit crazy screaming in the opposite direction.

If people weren’t such try-hards to make everyone else here think they’re so smart, wise, philosophical, etc, this topic would be boiled down to the same concepts that my 5 and 8 year old sons ask everytime they play a game together… “Can I get a do-over?” “Is there take-backsies in this game?”

It’s not really an ‘ethical or moral’ debate to determine how much of a hard-ass rules-lawyer you can act like in a tournament. It’s an internal debate where you get to ask yourself, in a fraction of a second, whether the edge you gain from that mistake your opponent just made is worth the risk of being socially ostracized because you had a screaming fit in the middle of a game store while everyone else is trying to have an enjoyable weekend.

The game’s rule book doesn’t have anything to do with it. The global community as a whole doesn’t really have much worthwhile to say about it either. It’s a decision point you have to make for yourself. Just because Netrunner players have a reputation for being “nicer” than Magic players doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hold your opponent to a reasonable expectation of fair play. Likewise, you don’t need to be pretending like this is the World Series of Poker and there’s a million dollars on the line.


I’m not sure we should look to Magic: the Gathering for precedents on how to comport ourselves at our community’s events.

I think that the bottom line is that games of Netrunner take place between two people. I don’t believe that following the “ethical” guidelines of a rules framework ought to absolve us of our person-to-person moral responsibilities toward each other. What exactly this means will vary from situation to situation, because life is messy and it’s a rare rules set that can cover every possible scenario or exception, but I think if we remember to treat each other well, the things we enjoy about our community will continue to define our events. I don’t think it’s prizes that turn a community sour; a toxic, win-at-all-costs mentality doesn’t require prizes.


I fully admit that the title is pretentious and attention-seeking.

To be fair, I only started this discussion because I was curious to know at what point it was generally considered to be “acting like a dick.” Besides, even in competitive play I like ask my opponent for clarity in their actions so that we don’t get too many sticky situations (from a rules context), even if that might lead to them noticing things about the board state that I’d rather them forget about.

Yeah, I agree. I only mentioned Magic because this discussion was happening over there, and I wanted to see if their arguments apply in Netrunner. When I read the Magic article, there were a lot of opinions stated about whether a given action was ethical that I very much disagreed with, and they did not even say they were close. For instance, when a card is ambiguously named, they say that not asking for clarification is still ethical since the onus is on the one naming the card, even though both parties knew what was being referenced. I’ll drop that now though, since I think it’s clear where I stand on it, and it’s entirely a matter of opinion.

The hidden information in Netrunner makes judging this stuff pretty difficult though. I once had an opponent install an asset in a server. I did not run it. The next turn, they installed an agenda in that server without trashing their unrezzed asset. I had to assume one of them was an upgrade. Since they were playing HB, I assumed the asset was Ash, and since I could not run the remote twice, I did not contest it. He then scored his ABT (I can’t remember if he fired it) and passed the turn to me. On his next turn, he rezzed his asset, a Jackson, and drew. I called him on it, called a judge, and we had to set the game state back a bit with stipulations on what we could do (my opponent claimed that he had meant to trash the Jackson).This was from last Regionals season, so I can’t remember exactly what those stipulations were, but I remember the Jackson was trashed, the ABT was in the server, and I couldn’t run that server or something. I couldn’t disagree since this was the head judge’s ruling, but no matter how we may have fixed it, the game still felt compromised. This incident made me super cautious about what my opponent was doing and may have influenced my decision making in the process.

That is the kind of situation where I worry about people doing the right thing, and whether we can trust that they had no intent to cheat. Likewise, if a player makes an honest mistake that cannot be easily fixed, like accidentally keeping an opponent’s agenda in their runner deck for over a round (I have seen this happen), I worry that the rules we have in place may sour an otherwise fun experience.

Actually, I’m reminded of certain people that make me inclined to agree with this. I revoke my prior statement with regards to prizes.

If I understood your definitions, morality is essentially codified in the rules of the game. Immoral actions are those which would break the rules. Ethics then boils down to how much you are willing to enforce morality, how much you want to stick to the rules and play by the book.

In this sense Netrunner morality should be well clear to all players, whereas the ethic lies where you draw the line. I personally allow all sorts of take-backs, even in a tournament setup, as long as no information has been revealed from the opposing side. For instance, I would allow a runner to take back a program to play a Sure Gamble first or, if no new Ice got razzed in the process, I would allow him/her to repeat a run after having clicked for enough credits. These are ‘stupid mistakes’ to me: I know that by the rules you could opt to not let them pass, but I fear that such an attitude would lead to unnecessary frustration. In magic, back in the days, I saw people winning games by advocating on the rules and that leaves you a bad feeling.

This is sad, as you and your opponent miss the whole point of a game, which, I believe, should be having some fun. Netrunner, as any other recreational activity, should not be used as a stick to judge who is more man. However I understand that “professional players” exist and that some of them might pick up Netrunner as a “job”, in which case I can see the origin of their strict ethic.

This is one of the hardest aspects. The hidden information is a privilege for a player, but it is also a big responsibility - maintaining the game state is entirely on their shoulders. I think if you violate the rules, even by accident, there’s not much recourse for salvaging those sorts of games. If it can be done (“Oh wait, sorry - I forgot to trash this asset. Okay, now start your go…”) rolling back the game sate is the best option, but several turns down the line many judges will probably rule on a game loss.

I find it frustrating that players in very emotionally charged situations are expected to decide what is allowed and what isn’t! But it’s unfeasible to ask a judge to spectate every game, so it’s a tough one.

I specifically gave a takeback that lost me a game.
And I was specifically denied such a takeback that would have won a game.

The first, I allowed a runner to continue a run that he’d expressly jacked out of. He ended up with game winning points because of it. We hadn’t moved on. No new information had been given. I felt bad that I lost this game, but I left the table amiably and in a friendly manner.

The second, it was getting later in the day and I meant to spend Multithreader credits, but had apparently just spent them from my pool. My opponent wouldn’t let me take the NAPD at the end of the server. I’d just fogged out. But its the kind of thing I likely would have forgiven in a game. I felt horrible when I lost this game and dwelled on it way too long. It dragged down my entire mood and tilted me for rounds. The game did not end amiably or friendly.

I think there’s a lot of people in this game who have the scrub/winner mentality. I noticed it a lot more this year. I don’t plan on returning to worlds next year, but I do plan on continuing to play locally.


I don’t really have much to weigh in here about Netrunner – overall, I’ve found the community quite friendly and supportive, even in tournament settings – but I just wanted to note that the author of that Channel Fireball article has a tortured understanding of the term ethics (hint: it is, indeed, very much about right and wrong). My hunch is that somewhere along the way, someone heard a description of some specific subset of ethics (e.g. professional ethics as taught in law school) and a) likely misunderstood it, and b) misapplied that to the entire field.


I am trying to keep my local community clean from this people, after all this is netrunner, not magic :wink:


I think its a lost cause; Its an individual decision, and frankly not allowing your opponent any leeway is a winning strategy, so we’re more likely to see more of it as time goes on.

Morality/Ethics/Whachmacalics doesn’t belong in games so much. If you’re playing for prizes and people have put a lot on the line to get where they’ve gone its great to see friendly competition, but its not something you can guarantee when the incentive and pressures are so large.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a ton of great players that aren’t like this. No one that I know from this site was a problem. KoS was wonderful. But there were people who weren’t a part of of this community that were there to win at any cost and it was their only interest. Those people aren’t fun to be around all of the time, but you can’t kick them out of the game. Nor can you really blame them for wanting to play the game by its rules.


Are you allowed to use credits from your pool while you have Multithreader installed? The wording sounds more mandatory than Ghost Runner.

There’s nothing wrong with playing by the rules, but using the rules as a stick to win games rather than playing a good game seems to be the main line to not cross. Lord knows half the games on I play either my opponent or I need to make some adjustment over some minor misplay (misplaced ICE, starting a run on the wrong server, playing the wrong card, etc). Not forgiving minor mistakes made by your opponent seems contrary to the entire point of playing a game in the first place (particularly when playing on


True, but ‘abusing’ the enforcement of rules seems almost an unsportsmanlike behaviour to me. I think I’ll open a poll for my local community to decide once for all whether these minor take-backs we are talking about should be allowed in a tournament setup. If some sort of majority agrees, the fact that such take-backs are allowed will be clearly stated in the details of every event that we will organise. This might not prevent annoying players from showing up (not that we had many so far) but, at least for the events we host, it should inhibit ‘unfriendly’ behaviour.

1 Like

I hope you let us know how that turns out.