On Cheaters: Some Thoughts on Trainers, Cheating, Hacking, and Gamer Ethics

Matt Barton's picture

Once a Cheater...: Oh, Pooh...Once a Cheater...: Oh, Pooh...When I was but a whippersnapper, playing bootlegged games on my dad's Commodore Amiga computer, the choice seemed obvious. If I could play the game with a "trainer," I did so. A "trainer" was a little piece of code, inserted into many cracked distributions of games, that allowed you to play through a game with infinite lives, invulnerability, or some other such option that would let you blaze through the game without fear of a premature "game over." I doubt I could have ever beaten games like Turrican and Blood Money without one of these trainers. The games were brutally difficult, and, besides, the appeal of these games (for me, at least) wasn't so much about developing lightning-fast reflexes as savoring the amazing graphics. It was also exhilerating just to deal massive amounts of carnage. The trainers seemed to eliminate the frustration and lower the bar to the point where an average kid could get all the way through some of the most difficult games of the era.

Now that I've reached a somewhat grumpier age, I'm more prone to dismiss all such devices as cheating of the worst sort. Not only are they unfair if you use them against other human players, but they also cheat you--they eliminate the need to really get good at a game and simply hand over the "prize"--i.e., the great graphics and other boons that drive you to win--with minimal effort. Thus, by using a trainer, you're essentially depriving yourself of the true joys associated with gaming; you're unwilling to play by the rules and just steal the trophy. Where's the glory in that? Where's the honor? Nowhere.

I realized that I'd left my "trainer" days behind me when I tried using a character editor to buff up my gameplay in Icewind Dale. I'd foolishly created some pretty handicapped characters, and the only way to really do anything about it was to start over. I'd gotten pretty far into the game before realizing my critical mistake, so I took my, er, friend's advice and decided to cheat. She insisted that using a character editor was a great decision because it let you create amazingly powerful characters and equip them with the very best weapons and armor. Well, it sounded like an ideal solution to me, so I downloaded the editor and souped up my characters.

Heroes III: Wait a minute...How'd that get there???Heroes III: Wait a minute...How'd that get there???However, it wasn't long before I discovered what this "hacking" had done to my game: It'd taken the fun right out of it. Sure, it was gleeful for a few hours, totally demolishing enemies that had hitherto been so agonizingly difficult to conquer. But the trade-off was enormous. Now it didn't matter whether I found gold or not. Now it didn't matter how much experience I gained. It was all besides the point, because I'd already reached the pinnacle by cheating. Indeed, the game got so boring at that point that I grew disgusted (with myself) and quit, only to return to it months later, this time with a resolution NOT to ever cheat again.

That said, I know how tempting it can be. One of my best friends is what I term an "incurable cheater." The first question--and I mean the FIRST question--he always asks about a new game is what the cheat codes are. He spends more time online reading up on these codes and what we might call "cheating strategies" that I don't see how he can have any fun gaming at all. Forget about playing a first-person shooter with him. While you're putzing around with the equivalent of a Red Rider BB gun, he's got a nuclear missile launcher--and even if you could hit him, it wouldn't matter because you wouldn't do any damage (in fact, you might even kill yourself by hitting him!)

Now, I ask you; where is the fun in this?

Another "infamous" case in my own gaming experience came from the game Heroes of Might and Magic III. At this time, we didn't have a LAN, so a group of us (maybe four or five) were all playing "hot seat." We had a more-or-less honor code of not looking at the screen while other players were taking their turn. Besides, there was enough distractions in the form of chatting, watching TV, and the like.

Anyway, one of these guys always managed to "get lucky." Everytime someone was ready to invade him, he'd be ready with an army. It seemed incredible that he was able to move his armies just where needed them so quickly. But, we couldn't figure out how he was doing it. He wasn't watching us take our turns.

Come to find out, he was using a sort of "daisy chain" system. In Heroes (at least at that time), the only way you could move your army was to move your "heroes," which had movement limits. However, if you had enough heroes, you could use them to transport your armies from hero to hero instantly in a long daisy chain. The end result was that he could move his armies wherever we were trying to attack him (and even back again!)

Now, the question we were all asking was this: Was it cheating? My argument was that it clearly was. It didn't make a damn bit of sense logically, and was just an instance of manipulating a little bug or oversight to win. The other side argued that it wasn't, because there was nothing in the rules against it, the game let you do it (without any kind of hacking), and I'd have probably used it too if I'd known about it.

In other words, half of us thought it was despicable, while the other half thought it was brilliant.

Now, I suppose it's foolish to try to accuse someone who loves to cheat as not actually having any fun at all. I suppose some people just love the power and instant gratification that cheating brings them. For me, and others like me, though, it doesn't work that way. I need to experience defeat in order to enjoy success. Indeed, there is nothing more exciting for me than playing a game in which I know that success hangs on a thread--that way, when I do succeed, it seems so much more fulfilling. I came *this* close to losing. It's also great to constantly get defeated by an enemy, only to go back to the drawing board, work up a new strategy, and then whip ass. No cheat code will EVER give me that thrill.

I'll leave you with one last example. In many games, such as Tomb Raider or occasionally even modern first-person shooters, it's possible to situate yourself in just the right way so that an enemy (maybe even a boss) can't reach you. He'll just keep moving towards you, but due to an obstacle (perhaps a corner), he can't get at you. Meanwhile, you keep plugging at his elbow or the like until he's dead. Now, I admit, I've used this technique before to defeat some otherwise hopelessly frustrating battles.

But, by God, I always feel bad about it later. And that's what makes it all right. :-)

What about you? What are your views on cheating?


mrCustard (not verified)
Cheating or Exploiting?

In my opinion cheating in single player games is perfectly fine, as long as there is no online component (like a scoreboard) at all. You're only hurting yourself with it, but in some instances it can actually prolong the interest in a game.

In online gaming it's a different story. Cheating there really kills the fun for everbody. Unfortunately most cheating online is actually exploiting certain features or bugs in the game, and it's not always clear which is which. Exploiting a bug in the game engine (example: making an item spawn in the same space which another item already is occupying) is unacceptable exploiting. However, an oversight in the gameplay mechanics is not a bug (IMO) and may be exploited to the fullest UNLESS you prohibit it in advance. In Matt's example, the server could have a "No Daisy Chain" policy. The punishment for breaking such rules usually a warning or a kick. While right out cheating is most often rewarded by a (permanent) ban, over where possible, the cheater's account may be revoked)

You may be familiar with the Bunny Hopping phenomenon if you have played online FPS games. While using the tactic is unsportsmanlike, if the game allows it, you can hardly call it cheating. That is why many servers explicitly prohibit it in the server rules. Unfortunately such rules always need supervising, (which can be done either by a server admin
or by the use of detection software), but neither is perfect. In online gaming, you apperently have to accept there are a largeish number of individuals who are trying to bend the rules to breaking point and beyond.

Incidentally, some games make breaking the rules a core aspect of the game. In Trackmania for example, you are actively encouraged to find shortcuts outside the track proper, often to the hilarious dismay of new players.

Gamertag: Custardo

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
never been a cheater - and what about misconduct in oline games?

When I was a but a young laddie I was very much against cheating. At a young age I already found out it takes the fun out of a game. You cannot help but realize this at a young age when you are exposed to board games playing with family members or friends. Cheating sucks and is unfair. When it comes to videogames, there where quite a bit of bootlegged 8bit C64 games that had loads of cheat modes or pokes you could enter. This totally killed the game experience in my opinion, especially with the older games on the 8bit machines that didn't have loads of graphic-levels to show but relied on game mechanics for a good game-experience. If a game only had like 6 levels to explore and you just sweapt trough them within minutes that sort of kills the experience of finally having reached the next level. So whenever I encountered a trainer I just skipped over out or didn't use it.

Sometimes I did rely on trainers or cheats when the game was just too hard to master or you had spent hours and hours trying to figure something out and still was in the same rotten spot without any perspective of ever getting out. But that also kills the fun in my opinion.

When it comes to cheating online I agree with MrCustard - that it just absolutely ruins the game experience for other players. Willfully taking advantage of bugs / unintended game features can ruin it for others. Of course there is a grey area - especially the special high score position in Asteroids people used to rack-up mega scores - that could be defined as 'game features' or perhaps 'special hidden highscore tricks/shortcuts' within the game.

And then there is something else that made me think about how the online gaming experience can be ruined for others - what about misconduct??? Look at the new Testdrive Unlimited for the Xbox 360 for example. This huge MMO racer - which I hope to acquire as soon as it comes out - could be totally killed by people misbehaving themselves in the game if the degrees of freedom allow it. Of course you could file complaints against certain players - very legitimate. But what about little arseholes filing iligitimate complaints against law-abiding Xbox Live citizens? Is there a way to redeem oneself if one is willfully destroyed by lads/ladies with ill-intentions?
Perhaps the - not so anonymous - nature of the gamer's identity on Live will make that sort of behaviour a little harder to get away with.

What is it that drives people to cheat? Is it a feeling of superiority being able to circumvent the laws of the game-engine? For a brief moment in time people can believe this to be the case. But I believe it is actually a feeling inferiority and an unability to cope with a competetive environment and not coming out first all the time. When you start out in PRG3 on the X360 and you start your solo career and seing yourself ranked as nr 989 in league 512 might just be a tad overwhelming for the not so strong personality and an urge to see yourself as no 1 in league 1 - even if it is by ill-fated means - might get the better of people. This of course ruins the experience for others. But I believe Microsoft can easily remedy such things by enforcing a little update here and there if this were to become a reality. The nature of Microsoft's online games makes it very unlikely to get away with cheating in my opinion.

-= Mark Vergeer - Armchair Arcade editor =-

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
Sadly, even if it means not

Sadly, even if it means not advancing in the game again, I refuse to activate unlimited lives or level skip cheats. There have been games where I wished for one, such as Blood Money from Psygnosis for the Commodore Amiga, where each level was more beautiful than the last and I wanted to see the levels - 3 and 4 - that I would never be good enough to get to - but otherwise I can't imagine using a "trainer" or cheat code.

With that said, there have been plenty of text adventures and graphic adventures and adventure games where several of the puzzles were of the "impossible for me" to figure out - an inherent and very difficult to overcome flaw in those types of games - where I have readily gotten a hint. To me, that's not the same as cheating like above in that I consider that all but a requirement of those types of games and it does little to detract from the overall experience. After all, you're matching wits with the designer and you're not always able to know what said person was thinking or intending.

So I suppose in games of skill to me it's a no-no, but anything with a puzzle element to it, such as text or adventure games, I will accept hints as par for the course.

And for the record, anyone who cheats in an online contest against one or more people is a jackass. Just find people who are more in line with your skill level for goodness sake and go for honest competition. Sometimes you just have to accept that you suck at a game or are not better than everyone else out there and enjoy the experience!

As for the game exploits that Matt talked about, there's a point where that's fine and a point where it isn't. If you're playing with a group of friends and you all use the same exploit, so be it. If an exploit ruins the game, either don't use it, or simply find a different game. Sometimes games have fundamental design flaws. Gamers LOVE to find exploits in games, particularly online, the latter of which can be VERY frustrating (and luckily is often patchable or counterable, though not always)...

Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[ My collection ]
[ http://www.MythCore.com ]

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Scopin' for Hints

Great comments, guys. I really liked reading Mr. Custard and Mark's posts, and Bill, you've raised a point that is pretty close to home: Getting hints for those inane puzzles. Of course, one of the issues Mat and I reached early on in our quest to write a book on GAGs was whether we'd consult online hint sites like UHS and walkthroughs, or just let ourselves get stumped. I went a bit further in my own research, and decided that I'd set up a more or less arbitrary amount of time I'd work on a puzzle until I felt like it was time to get a hint.

Whenever I was stumped to the point where I had to consult outside sources, I would grow enraged with the game and the developer. My self-indignation generally sprung from the contention that if I couldn't figure it out, it was a poorly designed puzzle. ;-) I didn't mind putting work into a solution. What I resented was literally not having a clue. Many GAGs rely on the player performing a certain sequence of events to advance to the next part of the game. Some of those events might be entirely arbitrary, making little sense while you're playing (though from a developer's "god's eye" view of the story arc, it probably makes sense).

At any rate, if I'm totally stumped, I'll generally spend anywhere from an hour to two trying every possible combination and re-treading everywhere to try to figure it out. I typically take notes, and some games take notes for you, but sometimes again it's just due to some stupid interface issue, a bit of missed "pixel hunting," or the occasional "crack pipe" puzzle that no sane person would ever intuit. I've accumulated plenty of stupid, stupid puzzles in my research. Probably the most insane is one in Myst URU: Path of the Shell, where the player literally has to stand in one place for fifteen minutes (not touching the keys or mouse) for the story to advance. The problem was so terrible that Cyan actually released a patch that reduced the time to about five minutes, but that was too little too late in my opinion. The puzzle was stupid to begin with.

Ron Gilbert covered all this very well in his famous Why Adventure Games Suck, but I'd go a bit further. An adventure game doesn't need to be difficult to be fun. Some of the most fun GAGs I've played (and at this point, I've probably played a hundred), are the Nancy Drew games from Her Interactive. Although these games are ostensibly aimed at a younger age group, they nevertheless present a challenge and require plenty of thought to get through. However, there are always enough clues (and you can get more in-game) if you get hopelessly stuck. It's actually more fun when you have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done, and just have to work out the details.

Probably the worst transgessor in this regard is the Myst series. Those games seem to thrive on the player having no idea what to do. I suppose that's the point: Figure out what to do. But it doesn't make for very compelling gameplay (in my opinion, at least). I actually prefer the later Myst titles, particularly Myst 3-5, simply because I feel more confident. The puzzles might still be too obscure or difficult, but at least I know that they ARE puzzles.

In short, my contention with GAGs is that if I'm forced to consult an outside source, it's a design issue. There ought to be enough clues for an experienced player to solve the game and move on. Or, if there's not, there should at least be a way to avoid the puzzle. The better games actually know when you're stumped and will give you additional clues when you need them--a very nice feature, though rare.

Mat Tschirgi (not verified)
Years ago I had a Game Genie

Years ago I had a Game Genie for the NES and used it a lot just so I can beat some of the hard games I owned; I just wanted to see the endings, LOL.

I don't cheat anymore, but will turn to a walkthrough if I get excessively stuck on a puzzle in a game and it impedes my enjoyment of the game. There is a sense of enjoyment of solving a game entirely by yourself, but as I get older, I realize life is too short to spend a few hours stumbling over problems such as how to get that final red key to open the door.

=- Mat Tschirgi =- Armchair Arcade Editor
Hear my gaming podcasts!

The Super Koopa Troopa Show

Played to Death

mrCustard (not verified)
You dirty cheat ;)

Using a walkthrough in a puzzle based game pretty much equals to a god mode in a shooter. It's cheating. Not there's anything wrong with it, of course. However, when you do get as far as using the walkthrough or the godmode for the place you got stuck, it takes strength of character to put it aside for the rest of the game. After all, as a game progresses, puzzles and monsters both tend to get tougher, but the flesh stays as weak as ever.

Gamertag: Custardo

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
That is SO True

However, when you do get as far as using the walkthrough or the godmode for the place you got stuck, it takes strength of character to put it aside for the rest of the game. After all, as a game progresses, puzzles and monsters both tend to get tougher, but the flesh stays as weak as ever.

That is SO true, Custardo. $I#$@ that's true. Once you go to the hint site once, it's like you've given up on the game. After that, any time you hit a puzzle, you have to fight the temptation to look it up. After all, you've already "broken the seal" so to speak, so what does it matter? I guess it's like any crime. Once you do it once and get away with it, it's just so hard to keep from doing it again. One day you're looking up hints for how to get inside the darn fish-monster thing in Riven and next thing you know you're being arrested for selling crack to school kids.

One thing that always drives me absolutely foaming at the mouth mad is when I go to the hint book and discover that it's something totally stupid that has been stumping me for hours. Oh, that's right, I was supposed to hold the mouse button down for a few more seconds to make that lever work! Or, something stranger, is when I look it up and say--Wait, I *DID* that. I *DID* that and ruled it out as a possible solution! For whatever reason, whether I'm just nuts or what, it didn't work the first time, so I have to go back and..viola! Suddenly it works. Ohhh, that makes me livid.

Ed Salisbury
Ed Salisbury's picture
Joined: 07/23/2006
On cheating...

I had a similar experience when cheating as Matt, with Eye of the Beholder III. I hacked the game in such a way that I had stuff that I had no idea what to do with, and it really ruined the game for me. I gave up after a while (unfortunately I didn't keep a save of the file, duh...) Since then, I've cheated here and there, but usually for a few reasons:

1. In games like the Sims, I usually cheat so that I can play the game how *I* want to -- I mainly just use it as construction tool, to see how big or cool I can make something.

2. When I get bored with a game, and just want to see some of the stuff I didn't get to, or stuff that's not even in the game normally - Vice City and other open-ended games come to mind.

3. Puzzle games, when I've tried and tried, and just can't stand it anymore. I try to put the website/book/docfile away after I get past that point though :)

As a rule, if I feel that I need to cheat in order to play the game, it's usually not worth my time. I don't like games that just about require you to buy the strategy guide, which has been a pretty common occurrence recently.

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006

I actually cheated once - after I went crazy after trying to guess that horrible sentence on the cans in 7th Guest for like a month. In the end when I finally broke down there where a lot of sly gypsy's involved in the process. I felt I was entitled to cheat just this once - as a non native speaker of the English language that #^*&@^#*!@!%*&^*^$# sentence was just plain inpossible to guess. All the possible permutations.....

-= Mark Vergeer - Armchair Arcade editor =-

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Don't feel bad, Mark

I felt I was entitled to cheat just this once - as a non native speaker of the English language that #^*&@^#*!@!%*&^*^$# sentence was just plain inpossible to guess. All the possible permutations.....

I'm a native born English speaker with a PhD in English and I had to use a hintbook for this one. :-)


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.