About an hour into your trance, as you meander your way up a sidewalk to your next checkpoint, you stop in a moment of confusion. Which building were you supposed to go to? Oh right, there’s a blip on the map showing where you’re supposed to be, but…going to it does nothing. You look closer, seeing that your destination is up, like up a few floors in a building. But you can’t find a way to get up. The building’s doors don’t open and there’s no discernible climbing apparatus in a suitable location. So you start jumping up to whatever platforms you can, hoping that you’ll end up where you need to be so the scene can start. But you soon reach a point where you can climb no further. In frustration, you climb back down and step out to survey the situation. It doesn’t seem like the game glitched, but you know you’re missing or not seeing something, yet you just can’t figure out what it is. You sure don’t want to start over, even if the last autosave occurred recently, and you’ve been in such a groove with the game up to this point that it seems a shame to simply give up. After flinging forth a few choice expletives, you resign yourself to the Internet. You hate to do it, but a walkthrough may be your only hope.
After perusing a few sites, you stupidly stumble upon that perfect piece of advice you need to progress. You head back to the game with that knowledge and progress with ease through that seemingly insurmountable checkpoint.
Did you just cheat?
Some might say no, that’s not cheating! That’s looking for a way out of a confusing situation. Besides, getting a snippet of help is better than rage quitting a game over a silly checkpoint.
Others might say yes, you cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater! You totally cheated! You went out and looked for information that you couldn’t figure out on your own in order to succeed. That’s cheating.
What does it mean to cheat at games these days?
Some of you might remember the Game Genie (pictured above) and later the Game Shark peripherals for systems such as the NES, SNES, Gameboy, Sega Genesis, and others. These cheat systems (billed as “game enhancers,” but who were they kidding?) allowed players to enter codes for things that made games easier and more fun: unlimited lives, unlimited ammo, special moves; and harder and less fun: starting with 1 life or less energy. We had a Game Genie for our SNES. I don’t recall off-hand if the thing came with a code book, but my brother and I found codes in magazines like Nintendo Power, which regularly published them. It didn’t take long for us to amass a variety of codes — I remember using the infinite lives codes in Super Mario World and Mega Man X pretty frequently. And yes, that was considered cheating at the time. Having infinite lives (or infinite anything/invincibility) at a time when most games only allowed a set number of lives gave the players the upper hand. And frankly, it made some games more enjoyable. Not having that fear of starting all over again meant that playthroughs, even on difficult levels, didn’t feel like maddening grindfests.
But these days, most games have infinite lives. With the exception of survivalist games, ammo and health is generally plentiful. Easy settings allow for more casual play. The old-school idea of “cheating” seems to be built into modern games. And yet real cheating, giving oneself an unfair advantage over other players, is a big deal today — much bigger than it was back in the SNES days. Sure, there are still cheat codes and game guides that offer up some of the answers, but players with the technological know-how are finding new ways to hack into games and invent new mods. (And not all mods are cheats.) Identified cheaters are regularly kicked off networks and banned from play. Real cheating is much more of an issue with online multiplayer while cheating at a game in the privacy of one’s own home is only “cheating” if the player considers it so.
At the risk of oversimplifying, I guess today there’s cheating and there’s cheating, and the distinction between the two boils down to advantages and affects on other players. But it’s far from a black and white issue. Personally, I’d rather get a little extra help than give up on a game entirely because I can’t progress. Or break a controller in frustration…which, of course, has never happened.