Cheating and Hacking in Video Games
This entry was created by a student in Stanford's Rhetoric of Gaming class. For more about the class and the assignment, click here.
Published by Feross Aboukhadijeh.
For my research, I will be investigating the phenomenon of cheating in video games.
Almost every type of game—online and offline, single player and multiplayer—has cheaters. However, not all cheaters are the same. It’s impossible to fit all cheaters—or gamers, for that matter—into a single stereotype or definition. The variety and differences among gamers in today’s society is simply too great to allow such a blanket categorization. Mia Consalvo, author of Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames (pictured at right), agrees. She argues that identifying cheaters as having a unique subculture does not “adequately explain the broader world of gamers and game players that currently exists.”
Everyone cheats for different reasons. Some players cheat to make games easier during solo play. Cheat codes that generate extra lives, allow players to skip levels, or grant God mode (invulnerability) are common examples of harmless cheats that players use to make the game easier. Cheat codes are typically harmless and are often programmed into the game by the developers as “Easter eggs” for dedicated players to discover. Other players cheat to ruin the game experience for other players. This typically occurs online in the form of aimbots (software that assists the player in aiming), twinking (passing on powerful items to players who would not typically have such items), and the illicit sale of in-game currency. Other players cheat for the technical challenge of “hacking” the game and defeating the anti-cheating mechanisms built into the game.
Part of my job as researcher will be to examine these differing reasons for cheating to discover how each distinct type (and there are any more than the ones I touched on here) affects the game experience for other players and even the cheater himself.
Another interesting argument that Consalvo advances in the opening pages of her book is the notion that successful gameplay is dependent on rules. If these predetermined game rules are broken, she argues, then “the whole play world collapses. The game is over.” I feel that this definition of games is too shallow and fails to take into account the recent trend towards open-ended, sandbox, and emergent gameplay—games largely without rules or objectives. Games like Electroplankton, SimCity, and Little Big Planet are examples of emergent games that stretch the traditional definition of “videogames” by proving players with gameplay free of rules, missions, or clearly defined goals. Are these not games? Similarly, what if a gamer behaves in a way that the developer does not anticipate? Is this “cheating” because the gamer is breaking the implied “rules” of the game?
Simcity was one of the first sandbox games.
Her argument also has implications for “hacking” as a form of gaming. Hacking has no well-defined rules or goals—although it usually involves obtaining items of value or increasing one’s in-game rank—the methods by which to accomplish these goals are up to the hacker to decide. I argue that this can be seen a unique form of metagaming. Contrary to Consalvo’s argument, the game actually begins for a hacker the moment they start to cheat and break the rules.
From my cursory examination of Consalvo’s research in Cheating thus far, I have gained great insight into the wide variety of experiences of players of videogames. I have also seen interesting arguments about what makes a videogame a game. Indeed, the definition of this term is still up for debate. I hope that my research will help to shed some light on this frequently debated topic.
Book cover is © MIT Press, found at their website.
SimCity screenshot is © Electronic Arts Inc., found through Google Image Search.
I believe in good faith that my usage of the above copyrighted images, which are low-resolution, and illustrate the subject of my article, and are used for a scholastic pursuit, qualifies as fair use in the United States.