The Daily Grind: Are alts and mules a form of cheating?

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The Daily Grind: Are alts and mules a form of cheating?
Mule Photograph by Einar Faanes
In response to Beau's recent Free For All column on the topic of botters and cheaters, reader Keith wrote in to suggest that there's another form of cheating much more common and pervasive: the use of alternate characters. In games like EVE Online or Star Wars Galaxies, which limit the number of characters players can create, extra accounts are manipulated to allow a single player access to more skills through alts ("skill mules"), more storage space ("bank mules" and "auction mules"), or more avenues for safe PvP scouting. But the problem occurs in alt-friendly games too, like World of Warcraft, where it's not uncommon to see someone five-boxing an entire team of Shamans, or Ultima Online, where it's standard practice for every player to have a "craft mule" who loads up on tradeskills (to the detriment of the player economy).

What do you think? Are alts and mules just another form of cheating, one that allows players with excess character slots or extra accounts unfair advantages? Or are "slave" characters just a natural and necessary part of online gaming?

Every morning, the Massively bloggers probe the minds of their readers with deep, thought-provoking questions about that most serious of topics: massively online gaming. We crave your opinions, so grab your caffeinated beverage of choice and chime in on today's Daily Grind!
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