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Serious Games Summit: The cheat's the thing

Kyle Orland

Cheating in games is a bad thing, right? Not necessarily says Mia Consalvo, a University of Ohio professor who has spent the past five years studying cheating and cheaters in video games.

Where cheating in an academic or professional setting is severely frowned upon, Consalvo found through her research that almost all gamers consider cheating a natural part of video games. By conducting interviews with gamers and game-makers, wide surveys of players and direct experience with cheating in Final Fantasy XI, Consalvo has broken down the spectrum of video game cheaters into three general groups:

  • Purists, who consider it unethical to complete a game using any outside help from codes, strategy guides or even advice from friends. Purists tend to think of these things as cheating themselves out of the full experience of the game, like peeking at a gift before Christmas morning
  • "Code is law" followers, who believe cheating is all right as long as it is integrated into the game code by the developers. God mode in Doom is all right, hacking into Counter-Strike to create a god mode is not.
  • "Cheaters," who will take any possible advantage against other players, who they often assume are cheating as well. This group will use hacks and outside programs to affect the game, and believe cheating doesn't hurt the cheater's enjoyment of the game experience.
Consalvo also discussed the various motivations players had for cheating: Many players use cheats and guides to get unstuck or to add value to a game, but some use hints and codes as a way of fast forwarding through tedious sections or just to "be an ass" as Consalvo put it.

Given the insatiable desire for players to cheat at games, Consalvo suggested that designers focus on making hints and exploits a natural part of single-player games rather than trying to force complete order. In multi-player games, she said that systems where players police themselves and punishments that take away prestige work better than technological solutions.

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