Thoughts on Casual Gaming and Cheating

One of the many things gamers always have been and always will be divided on is the subject of cheating.  On one extreme end, you have those who believe cheats should never, ever, ever be used, for any reason, at any time.  On the other extreme end, you have those who say that it’s all in fun, so it shouldn’t matter.  Whether solo or in multi-player, whether just for kicks or to rack up a kill-score, the latter don’t see a problem.

Most of us lie somewhere in the middle.

I believe that cheating is only acceptable when playing solo or in a co-operative mode—the latter if and only if all players agree.  The reason any of us, any at all, play a video game is to have fun.  Whether that fun is found in exploring, solving puzzles, figuring out tactics against A.I. controlled enemies, or fragging the ever-loving heck out of our friends, we’re all in it for fun.

Personally, I’m more interested in cheats that tweak the game in humorous or just plain weird ways, and don’t see a problem with using them.  Take an old game like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.  You could “flip” a level (make it a mirror-image), give your skater a huge head, have everything rendered only so far as wire frames, and—my personal favorite—make everything in the game flash different colors like a disco.

Then you have the original Spider-Man for the PSOne.  That one had a “‘What If’ Mode”, which did things like alter some voice clips to more humorous ones, added nonsensical things like a submarine (which you could race) outside the underwater level, and other things.  Things like that are hilariously good fun.  Things like that make me want to replay the game just for the heck of it.

Then you have things like infinite health, infinite ammunition, and others, and when bundled together you get the game’s version of a “god mode”, whether they call it that or not.  I will actually defend “god modes”.  I, like a lot of my generation, are “casual gamers”.  Most of us, as kids, could (and happily did) spend all day playing games with insanely difficult bosses and no save function whatsoever for hours and hours on end (I’m looking at you, nearly every N.E.S. game ever), either trying to get past a particularly rough spot, to replay the game, or just because we, well, sucked.  We can’t afford that anymore.

Most of us of my generation now have jobs, families, other hobbies; things that eat up our precious time.  On top of that, for those of us who weren’t the “best” gamers in the first place, many of today’s games (and even the recent-ish ones I tend to review) are—I’ll say it—just too hard.

If we had the time and inclination, we, I am quite sure, we could get through most of today’s games sooner or later.  The problem is that most of us have neither the time nor inclination.  If it’s not a job we’re at eight-plus hours a day sucking up our time, it’s families and other hobbies that we simply want to devote time to, and thus are more inclined to spend a few hours, say, hiking or shopping or cobbling a computer together than to sit in front of the television playing video games.

That makes “god mode” quite attractive.  If you’re a younger gamer or one with a lot of free time, I’d like you to look around your home.  Whether you have your own house, you’re renting an apartment, or living with your family—look around.  Imagine your floor strewn with baby toys that you know you need to pick up but are procrastinating on because you just got home after having worked all day at a job you literally hate so much that Office Space seems more like a documentary or wish-fulfillment than a comedy.

Then you remember that your friends said they wanted to take you out for a few hours; maybe just pizza and a bad movie, or a club, or whatever else.  So that’s at least three to five hours of your evening gone already—and then you remember that your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse/Life Partner for Ever and Ever wanted to spend the evening with you after you got back from spending time with your friends—and that’s not to mention that novel you picked up two months ago but still haven’t found the time to read, though you want to because everyone you know talks about it constantly—then it hits you, oh crap, your five-hundred-word paper for your Sociology 100 course is due tomorrow and it completely slipped your mind…

Think about that.  Truly ponder that.  Then think about powering up a video game console (or booting up a game on your computer) and trying to slog through five different attempts to kill a boss or solve a puzzle, or trying to deal with the, shall we say, less than pleasant gamers over the Internet.  Your fingers will be hammering out up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A before you know it.

A related issue is beating a difficult game and wanting to play through it again, but remembering how it took you over a week of maybe, if you were lucky, a couple-few hours a night to get past that one boss, you end up putting the controller back down and finding something else to do.  What makes it worse is when there are different difficulties or certain other rewards for replaying it—but the rewards mean nothing (I’m looking at you, first God of War).

I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t—or shouldn’t—feel entitled to busting out a “god mode” after defeating a game without it.

There’s yet another reason one may cheat—sometimes, we seriously do not possess the skills.  For example, in The Punisher, there was a section I could not beat, no matter how I tried.  I simply could not figure it out after ninety minutes.  Ninety minutes on one level is ludicrous when you don’t have all evening to spend on a game.  So, I admit it, I cheated. I enabled that game’s version of a “god mode” and went through that level a few more times, each time noting how often I was hit (and by that point I was well aware of how many hits I would normally take before dying), and altering my strategy to overcome the enemies.  It took a few more tries, but I figured it out, then went back without cheating.

As I stated near the top, I’m sure anyone could develop the skills if they play long enough—but what’s “long enough” for some gamers may be an hour or two, while for others that could mean days.  On the face of it all, no aspect of cheating seems to really be all that contentious.

The problem arises when we get attacked by, of all things, other gamers.  “Cheating isn’t fun so you shouldn’t do it.” “Cheating means you’re a terrible player.” “You shouldn’t cheat, you should just get better.” Those are the nicer comments our fellow gamers throw at us.  I’ve seen plenty of posts in gaming forums and the like where anyone who even alluded to cheating was openly and derisively mocked, even outright banned.

This completely goes against the one thing—the one thing—that video games really are “about”: Fun.  If someone finds fun in something that isn’t harming you in the slightest, there’s no reason for such animosity.  Yet it exists, to the point where some people lie straight through their tuchus and say they never cheat, they hate cheaters, so on and so forth.  It becomes their “dirty little secret”, and they end up not having as much fun.

I think it comes down to one major issue—a fundamental ignorance (and that’s ignorance, not stupidity).  Gamers, especially younger, modern gamers, don’t understand a key point.

We grew up with Mario and Sonic.  Whatever else can be said about those games and their ilk, they were simplistic, game play-wise.  Mario was—two buttons.  In his first “super” installment, you could run, jump, and throw fireballs.  That was it.  Sonic, in his first incarnation, had—jump.  The second outing, he got the spin-dash, which was just button mashing one button.

These days, you have “context-sensitive” buttons, where you press a button and what it does is completely dependent on other buttons you press, and how hard/how long you press them, and where you are/what you’re doing in-game, and a host of other things.  Add to that the fact that in my generation’s youth, we went from a stick and one button on the Atari, to a D-pad and two buttons on the N.E.S., to a D-pad and three buttons on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis.  If you were really fancy, you got the six-button Genesis controller, but not many games needed it, and a good few couldn’t even use the extra three buttons.

These days, you have, at minimum, eight buttons—not counting the multi-use thumb sticks and D-pad—and with the above “context-sensitive” aspect, your button for firing your weapon can be the same as toggling your super-jump and your “oh-crap-call-in-the-back-up” and even more.

I guarantee you, all you kids trying to get your parents into modern gaming (which is laudable, mind), a sizable percentage of them are staring at the screen as you show them what to do and picturing controlling Mario with two buttons.

I realize that seems like a digression, but it comes back to cheating.  Things like the last however-many paragraphs are why gamers of my generation cheat.  I believe, I really do, that a lot—perhaps the vast majority—of the backlash we get from other gamers is simply ignorance, whether from a younger gamer not yet understanding what being an adult means, to being an adult but one of the lucky few who has all the free time in the world and the inclination to spend that time on video games.

If gamers could just understand that point—that those who cheat don’t do so maliciously, they do it because they want to enjoy their games and are unable to spend the time to develop the “skills”—there would be a lot less contention.  That “fun” cheats are lumped in with infinite-whatever cheats just doesn’t help the problem  That seems to be, after the “console wars”, the one major issue that divides us.

Here’s hoping we can work past it.


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