Monday, February 14, 2011

February 2011: Cheats

What an odd day to be writing about Cheats!  Sorry.  Sorry for the delay and the unintended timing.

About a year ago, I prepared a presentation on the topic of Cheats for the NYU Game Theory Seminar Series.  It struck me that colloquially, cheats or codes, as we sometimes call them, are commonly accepted by players as part of the game.  Look up any game and the word 'cheats' on Google and there are sure to be a number of websites and videos on the topic.  There are even magazines solely devoted to game cheats.  What does it mean to cheat in a game?  How does that affect the ludic contract?

For certain, a lot of it is tied to marketing.  What used to be a shortcut is now collapsed into a code that gives you an item for buying a certain product.  You may get an in-game item that helps you or a way to skip through the roadblocks to get to an unlimited mode of play.

When I was working on Siege of Avalon, a single-player RPG, the designers did not care if the player chose to be unheroic and slay everyone in the castle instead of the orcs outside.  Clearly, that was unintended behavior, especially since every NPC you met hailed you as the mighty hero of the homeland.  We were also aware that players could jigger the numbers so that they were so powerful, so stealthy, so charismatic, etc that they could sneak up to mobs and slay them without any sort of effort but pressing the Attack button.  This was a single-player game, so such behavior did not affect anyone but the player.

In a multiplayer game, it certainly becomes more complicated and even more so when there are real money transactions for in-game currency.  There was a recent article about cheating on a Zynga game, so not even social games are exempt from this kind of behavior.  But even when there is no real money involved, just prestige and competition, players can have strong feelings about cheating.  In an article from last year, a player accused of cheating at Counterstrike was knifed through the head.  Clearly, there are levels of cheating that are considered acceptable by players and levels of cheating that are unacceptable.

So what are your thoughts?
  • How does this affect the ludic contract?
  • What is it about game culture that promotes the use of cheats?
  • How does the use of cheats affect the game?
  • What should be done about cheats? 


Distilled said...

As stated above - in a singleplayer environment I don't believe cheats to be a problem at all. If a player wants to play a game in a certain way, and has fun doing it then so be it. But if its in a multiplayer environment, where their laziness and lack of moral fortitude gives them an advantage over other players, thats when it really grinds my gears.

There is a distinction to be made, however, between exploits and cheats.

In Guild Wars, there have been several "builds" (combinations of skills) over the years which have been overpowered, each time a build like this crops up it is used to breaking point and then ANet will nerf it. I actually don't see anything wrong with the people using builds such as these, they are exploiting what the game has given them to their full potential. They are following the rules, it just so happens that the game has allowed them to play in this way. Cheating implies breaking the rules of the game.

There is one exception to the exploits idea I've stated above: glitches. If the game itself is broken, then it is up to the player to recognise this and to use their own judgement. An example of a glitch which gave an advantage could be the rock glitch on the Modern Warfare 2 map "Fuel". If the player walked into the rock, they couldn't be shot at or seen, but they could see and shoot out. Its difficult to argue that these players were "cheating" as they didn't break the rules, they only used what the game had given them. However, they were "glitching" which some regard as just as bad.

Anthony said...

I think the "fuel" case you mention is an explot and not a cheat, by your definitions as I understand them. A cheat would be using something other then what is presented in the games, for example a moddified client to send fake location messages to a server to effectively teleport around.

Brandon said...

Cheating defines the boundary between public and private space. All individuals in all societies engage in image management, the careful dance of presenting a particular front so that other members of society cannot easily control them or punish them. As the individual embarks upon a narrative of personal power, it is of little consequence if he does so alone. When done in the public sphere, however, it rapidly becomes the difference between the alpha males and females of a primate band, or between historical kings and queens, and the rest of the rabble. The individuals best suited to such engagement find their way into politics.

If everybody cheats, is it still cheating? It may be, if the dialectic of public vs. private control remains paramount. When people profess to believe in public control, but routinely subvert it, it's still cheating. Mores only change when the instruments of public control are challenged and abolished.

Distilled said...

Exactly, I'd defined it as more of a "glitch" - still not a "cheat", but not quite an "exploit".

As you say, a cheat is something which breaks the rules.

An exploit uses the games parameters (whether overpowered or not) to achieve an advantage.

A glitch uses a mistake of the game-producers part to their advantage.

I'm sure infinity ward didn't MEAN the rock to be enterable (is that a word?!), but its in the game and people use it. Its not cheating, its glitching.

Michael Lubker said...

Haven't had time to write on this yet, but wanted to bring up the big cheat/exploit issue going on now (GeoHotz). Knowing that gamers can and will do things like this, is there anything designers can do to exploit the exploiters?

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