Just mention cheating in a game forum, and you can start a flame war in no time at all. It’s a topic on which many gamers hold strong opinions, pro and con. But what, exactly, do we mean by “cheating”? There are those who believe just asking someone else for help with a game is cheating, never mind buying a strategy guide or reading a walkthrough.

Before going further, keep in mind I’m writing about solo play. The one instance where cheating is totally inexcusable is in multiplayer PvP games.

For purposes of this article, cheating is defined as going outside the game rules and/or mechanics to give your characters advantages that were not intended by the designers, usually in one of the following ways:

Seams Like A Bug: Taking advantage of unintended flaws or oversights in the code. We can all think of many examples. For instance, there was that ever-full treasure chest in Might & Magic VI. And more recently, the infamous “Jathil Quest” in Wizards & Warriors, that never turned off and so gave experience over and over again. Seams like these I usually refer to as “undocumented features”. Heh.

Hex Magic – Deliberately diddling the data, by using a hex editor (for do-it-yourselfers) or grabbing a trainer or editor off the ‘net. These methods are for what you might call the “serious cheaters”, as typically they allow you to alter almost every aspect of your characters, from gold to stats to items. I often call this method “Tepees”: Third Part Enhancement Software. Ahem.

Say The Secret Word – Or, cheat codes. This is really a special situation, as the codes are deliberately left activated by the designers. Thus they are giving implicit permission for players to cheat. Then again, the codes are left in because there is great demand for them. So we could look at this one either way, but as they do put the character(s) outside the mechanics, we will consider this to be cheating.

With that settled, we come to the obvious question: Why do players cheat in the first place? Most gamers agree that building up your party (or solo character) over time is one of the pleasures of playing. Watching them grow in power as they reach new levels gives one a sense of achievement, not to mention, success.

Beyond that, a good number of players also feel a certain obligation to the designers, and so play the game as it was intended. They are paying respect to the creators of the product by following the rules.

Not everyone feels that way, however, and chief among the rebels is the Munchkin. Munchkins waste a couple of Orcs and expect the +50 Sword of Instant Death; smear a few hapless Kobolds and look for the Invulnerable Coat Of Arnd; pulverize some wimpy mage and demand a Robe Of The Archmagi and a Ring of Unlimited Wishes.

In a nutshell, Munchkins want power. They want to stroll through a game annihilating all opposition. They have no interest in any other aspects besides smashing enemies and grabbing treasure.

Yet there are reasons for cheating that do not depend on the juvenile approach. Not every game is a winner; not every game is well-designed; and not one game in ten is really in shape to be released.

Sometimes it is easier to cheat to circumvent a game-stopping bug, especially if the patch requires restarting from the beginning, or when a patch does not yet exist.

More to the point, the condition of some products is so bad that it shows little respect for the gamers. No matter that developers say “well, we had the patch ready!”. We may well ask, “If that’s the case, why not hold back another week or so, incorporate the patch, and then release the game?”.

This situation is all too common. Yet gamers have hope, and when that hope is proven false, some feel cheated, and have no qualms about cheating in return.

There are also players who like the game, but who find some aspect of it too frustrating. They want to get on with it, and cheating is the only way they can do so.

Essentially then, different people play the same game for different reasons and with different expectations. When we plunk down anywhere from $40-$60 for a product, we want our money’s worth. For some – whether the reason be power, revenge, frustration, or something else – cheating is the only way to recoup the time, money, and effort spent on the product.

And why not? You bought the game, you’re entitled to get pleasure out of playing it. Better to cheat, and obtain some recompense, than to toss it aside as a total waste. In the “good old days”, there were few resources for the stymied gamer, and many products ended up on the shelf, unfinished. I doubt gaming would be quite so popular as it is if there were no cheat codes, cheat programs, strategy guides, walkthrus, and message groups. Cheating, whatever one may think of it, has had a large part in helping people to play games to completion. It may not be the best thing, but it certainly isn’t the worst, either.miniscorp

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