The Soapbox: No sympathy for cheating

Assuming no one can get through a test without cheating because you can't implies that you're the smartest person in the room.  Which is invalidated when you're not smart enough to figure out a way to do things without cheating.
Some years ago, a good friend of mine was chatting with me after he had received a three-day suspension from Final Fantasy XI. "I don't see why they suspended me," he said, with what I assume was an exaggerated shrug and a hang-dog expression. "I mean, I was using FleeTool, but I was just hacking my movement to be faster in cities. It's not like I was really cheating."

"So you were using a known cheating tool."

"Yeah, but just in the cities."

What followed were several sentences from my end filled with so much profanity that attempting to type them out here would make it look as if my vocabulary consisted almost solely of the word "redacted." He had been expecting some sympathy from me, some compassion for his plight. As it turned out, I didn't have any. If you get nailed for cheating, you deserve exactly what you get.

Going through this with a saw doesn't make you clever, it makes you someone with a poor understanding of the purpose behind mazes.Why cheating screws everything up

Let's start with a basic law of games that no one really likes to talk about. Games need rules -- everyone knows that, but no one likes to think that the rules of a game are generally in place to make your life harder. Yet when you think about it, that's really why they exist.

Consider World of Warcraft, which most of you have probably played. There's no real reason plate armor should be restricted to a handful of classes or tanking classes should be able to derive more defense from their armor. The reason for that rule's existence is that if you let everyone wear the heaviest armor without restrictions, there's no reason to slum it in weaker armor. Why defend yourself with cloth when you can defend yourself with plates of metal? Heck, why not play a Druid and become a bear wearing plate armor, at which point most mega-death attacks will just bounce off your head?

But you can't do that. You have to equip weaker armor if you're a Druid, and as such you have to do other things to become stronger. You have an obstacle to the obvious plan. Rules in games create obstacles that require more work to overcome. The game itself is all about overcoming those obstacles in sequence. There's more to it than that, but that's a fundamental portion.

Cheating, meanwhile, ignores those rules. Cheaters are the people who play rock-paper-scissors by declaring that they throw dynamite, which blows up everything. They refuse to play along with the rules, which is kind of a jerk move when you consider that rules are the whole thing making the game work. Instead of overcoming the rules by cleverness, skill, and comprehension, they're bypassing the rules altogether and trying to get the same end result.

So no, you don't deserve sympathy when you get nailed for cheating. You broke the rules, you got caught, you got punished.

Degrees of cheaters

"But I didn't know it was cheating!" comes the rejoinder. And to that I once again dip into my bucket of redacted profanity because that statement is the leftovers of a bull's meal.

There are times when you can legitimately fail to understand that you're cheating, and that's when you're a little kid still grasping the concept of rules. Past that? You have a pretty good idea when you're cheating. It's not hard to tell that you're exploiting something because it always has the distinct feel that something is just not quite right. There's a sense of surprise, like things are a little too easy or you're getting too much reward for too little effort.

Guild Wars 2 had a whole issue with snowflakes that prompted several cries of players not knowing they were exploiting the system. It even caught a couple of people I liked, people who were good players and roleplayers. And they deserved what they got because I can't believe that these demonstrably intelligent people thought that there was nothing odd going on around them. This isn't "I didn't know I was cheating"; this is "you never specifically said this was cheating and so you can't call me on it."

You never specifically said I couldn't put a rock in a snowball!
More insidious, of course, are the claims that your cheating didn't particularly matter. "I was just using this bot for X purpose," you say. Or "I was just duping all those items for the heck of it." It all comes down to the same end point: "I wasn't cheating for personal gain; I was just having fun."

First of all, the whole reason you're playing this game is to have fun. Fun is personal gain. So that's deflated anyway.

But even on the off chance that you really didn't intend to get anything out of it in terms of long-standing advantages, how does that make you less of a cheater? How does that change the fact that you willfully said, "Screw the rules"? If anything, cheating when you're not looking for personal gain is actively dumber than other sorts of cheating. You're not just breaking the rules; you're breaking the rules just to break them. It's like taking a swing at a cop just to see what it's like to be locked in a cell overnight.

The peril of defending

Let's go back to the story I used to open this article, in which I berated my friend for having cheated at all. And it should be said here that I was not gentle. We're talking about someone who had been there with me through several rough points in my life, someone for whom I had a great deal of respect and affection. I could have just been a sympathetic ear and been much more gentle.

Except that being harsh made something clear: If you cheat, I am not in your corner.

We gamers tend to be prone to cliquishness and to standing shoulder to shoulder even when we shouldn't. This is one of those times when we shouldn't. When we should make it clear to our friends that cheating is just plain not cool. Don't care why you're doing it, don't care if you're thinking about it, but if you cheat, you're not our friend. Simple and easy.

Why? Because saying that it's all right means that we're encouraging people to cheat. We're shrugging and accepting that cheating is just going to happen while creating a social scenario where it's Us Against The Evil Game Company. It means that people think that their friends will just sort of shrug and say, "Well, he cheated, but it doesn't really count."

Or you can stigmatize it. You can make it clear that cheating isn't all right, no matter what your excuses are, and if you cheat, you're not part of the group any more. You can take a stand against allowing cheaters, and if a friend gets caught for cheating, he knows he's on his own. Suddenly there's even less reason to cheat than before. You're not just risking being caught; you're risking being caught and isolated.

So, you know, don't cheat. It's pretty straightforward.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews and not necessarily shared by Massively as a whole. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
This article was originally published on Massively.