Have gamers outgrown cheats?

Have gamers outgrown cheats?
Well I acquired them all legally, you can be sure of that ...

“Red keycard? Shit, where am I supposed to find that? I haven’t shot anything in at least 30 seconds and my ctrl finger is getting itchy … bugger it: i-d-k-f-a and I’m on my way!”

I’d reckon anyone old enough to recognise that internal monologue had the exact same discussion with themselves at some point. Something dawned on me recently that made me think about it again: the relationship between games and cheating has changed a hell of a lot since I first started playing.

Once upon a time it seemed pretty much every game had cheats built into it – all you had to do was find the right keystroke combination, probably from the cheats and codes pages of your favourite gaming magazine.

The thing that really made me start thinking about this was the recent blowup over Starcraft II players being banned from the game for life for using hacks and trainers in the game’s single-player campaign mode and Blizzard’s threats of legal action against some of the people responsible for developing them.

I’ll get back to that later but in the meantime, what’s changed? At what point did we decide that, actually, we don’t like cheats any more?

I guess a lot of things have changed. Maybe we used to be OK with cheats because, as Matt postulated a little while back, games used to be a fuck of a lot harder. Sometimes it was either cheat or tear your hair out and never finish the game – or at least it was for people like me, who were especially crap at the kinds of games we had back then. This was doubly relevant with the old console games that may not have even let you save your game. All of that has changed now – save games and checkpoints mean you can do the hard bits over and over and over again until you get them right and if the missus/Mum/real life calls you away for dinner it’s not the end of the world. And if you’ve run short of health in your FPS all you need to do is duck behind cover and wait for the red mist to dissipate – no more being screwed because you’ve already used all the health packs in the level.

You alright, Tychus good buddy?

Maybe we were a bit more frivolous and carefree as well. Sometimes you wanted to play a game seriously and sometimes you just wanted to blow the living shit out of as many demons as possible with steaming hot balls of plasma without having to bother with pesky things like dying or starting the level again. Sometimes gaming these days feels more like Very Serious Business. I know there were times playing a game like Rainbox Six: Vegas where I would’ve liked to do the same thing, just fire up the hotel lobby level and run rampant with bullets flying everywhere and little thought for the consequences. I never actually went looking for cheats for the game at the time though and now that I look there are third party hacks but seemingly no built-in codes.

Once upon a time when games were predominantly single-player it was only your own experience that was effected and if you wanted to downgrade your sense of achievement by turning on god mode for the hard bits there was nobody to judge you but yourself and any mates who may or may not have been in the room. These days everything is about achievements and gamer scores e-peen and I heaven forbid someone inflate that fraudulently. Again, they’re Very Serious Business.

Of course, multiplayer games have become huge now and I can fully understand the need to prevent cheating in a multiplayer environment. There needs to be a level playing field, after all, especially with reputations e-peen on the line as it so often is.

Pfft, we''ve beaten Kerrigan befo ... wait, is that Lu Bu in the background?!?

But back in the day it seemed that every game had cheat codes right out of the box. It was almost like a developer wouldn’t consider releasing a game without them, they were as essential as a main menu screen and probably even more important than the end-game sequence. These days a few games have them built in but it seems like every game (on PC, at least) has a bunch of third-party hacks available for it. How did this end up happening? Did developers make the decision, for whatever reason, that gamers didn’t want cheats any more and the third-party hacks materialised to fill the void or did developers decide that since someone is going to hack the game anyway they may as well just save their time and leave it to the third parties? Was it the chicken or the egg?

Funnily enough, this thought might actually help us make sense of the Starcraft II example. Y’see Blizzard actually built cheat codes into the base single-player game, complete with their trademark amusing references to things like Firefly, The Dark Knight and Lord of the Rings. They obviously decided they were in the “provide it rather than leave it to third parties” camp and it was those found using the third party hacks that got banned.

Blizzard have justified their actions by stating that the hacks, even if they were only used in single-player mode, may have had multiplayer functionality as well and that the cheat codes built into the game itself were safe to use. When the case is put like that it sounds pretty reasonable and Blizzard have obviously chosen to send a very strong message not to fuck with their fancy new showpiece. They were also up front about what they were and weren’t going to stand for when the game first came out.

But how many people understood that meant never being able to play a game you’ve paid for again, even offline? To me that feels like going a step too far.

I’m very keen to hear what our readers think – both on Blizzard’s actions and the issue of cheats in general. Did they go too far with the bans? Are cheats in general something we just don’t do these days? Have we outgrown them? Comment away…