Fair Play: Why Gamers Cheat

By Vanessa Butler

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<p>We delve into the psyche of video game cheaters. </p>


One of my most vivid memories of my grandparents’ house is their packed shelf of NES games. We were a Tetris family. When I’d wake up in the middle of the night, my grandfather and father would be huddled in the glow of their big wood floor model television, hypnotized by the falling blocks and Hirokazu Tanaka’s musical arrangements (that still calm me to this day). We went through a lot of games there, spending hours inside with cousins on rainy days and eventually bringing our N64 along when we just couldn’t bear the thought of playing eight-bit in our teens.

Eventually, when I came back from college, I brought a boy home, an avid online gamer, to meet my grandparents for the weekend. Once everyone was heading to bed, we decided to play a few levels of Super Mario Bros. 2 before heading to the bar for a pint. My boyfriend got tired of playing after about 15 minutes because he “knew how to get to all of the levels already.”

Until that point I hadn’t realized that cheating your way through levels was even something you’d want to do. Was cheating such a foreign notion to me because I had grown up in a different gaming environmentthan my boyfriend? One study suggests that’s exactly so.

Nanyang Technological University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University recently released a study in the journal Behaviour and Information Technology. They studied Singaporean teenagers and concluded that “the frequency of gaming with online strangers (anonymous gaming) significantly predicted the frequency of cheating in online games.”

What do we mean by “cheating”? Cheating is generally thought of as breaking the rules, but in the case of rule-breaking in games, it’s not so black and white. In this study, cheating is defined as "strategies that a player uses to gain an unfair advantage over his/her peer players or to achieve a target which is not supposed to be achieved according to the game rules or at the discretion of the game operator.”

If you’re a fan of gaming history, the sentiment most likely rings a bell. Cheat codes were initially put in place for play-testing purposes. An early cheat code can be found in the 1983 game Manic Miner. When a player typed the developer’s driver’s license number, “6031769,” they could skip to the next level.

Since then, many developers have shared their cheat codes, like the Konami Code which appears in many Konami video games. Cheat codes are catalogued on websites, in magazines and, at one point, even on television; the show Cheat! ran on G4TV from 2002 to 2009.

Because game cheating, despite being an unstandardized concept, is already embedded in video game culture, “game cheating can be considered a predominant attribute of typical gaming community members. In this sense, cheating in games can be understood as a normative behavior among gamers who belong to the same gaming community,” explains the study. When playing in a largely anonymous gaming community, individuals tend to act according to perceived group norms and expectations. So if you know that your peers are cheating to outperform others, you’re more prone to do it yourself.

The study concludes that “deviant behaviors online such as game cheating are largely influenced by the online social groups people feel they belong to. An online group, despite its fluid, unstable and imaginary nature, is powerful in constructing and changing its members' attitudes and views on behaviors. Hence, a behavior that is perceived as problematic and deviant can be reconstructed with a different interpretation."

When we asked our followers on the @GamerNextDoor account about what they thought of cheating, they answered with resounding negativity on the subject. “In game cheats for offline: Okay. Use of 3rd party program to affect online play: Banhammer.” Tweeted @Wind_Shade, a QA tester and League of Legends summoner from Montreal. “I'm not ready to call the Konami code cheating.” Tweeted another follower who goes by the handle @locdogg18750, “Think of it as an 'odds improvement facilitator.'”

In layman’s terms, if we can alter the concept of “normal” in our online communities, we would most likely see a change in negative behaviors like cheating, flaming, trolling and all the other kinds of abuse people experience online and, hopefully, create a more level ground of online play.


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