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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Defining Cheating in Gaming

Classifying Cheating in Gaming

            Video games have always had cheat codes, add-ons and Third party Tools to make the games easier to play and beat. Using such tools in most cases has usually been accepted when being applied to single player games. Modern games have changed that equation because today most games we play center around online play with others and using special add-ons to help us beat games can cause some controversy among a games player base. Even in cases were a game has little to no player-vs.-player interaction, cheating tools can still enrage other gamers if they think someone has an unfair advantage.
 Before we delve too deeply into this lets take a look at a couple of definitions of the word “cheating” according to some online sources classifies cheating as:


violating accepted standards or rules; "a dirty fighter"; "used foul means to gain power"; "a nasty unsporting serve"; "fined for unsportsmanlike behavior"

Or Noun

A deception for profit to yourself

Or from Miriam-Webster who describes it as such:

Act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, esp. in a game or examination: "she cheats at cards".

            These definitions basically state that cheating is using an unfair advantage to win. When playing on-line games, the word cheating is usually associated with some form of PVP play, whether the game is designed strictly as a PVP format (I.E. FPS like Battlefield.) or as a component of a bigger game (I.E. Arenas and Battlegrounds in WOW). Normally this is associated with an add-on (Program not originally included with the game and generally made by third party programmers.) that provides the player with a tool or advantage that they normally would not have. Some examples may include an AIM-Bot (that helps the player target opponents) or a wall hack (which allows them to hide from opponents) which are generally considered cheating and will cause a player to be banned from a game or server.

            However there are even more game modifiers that are either widely accepted by the player base or by the developers themselves and this brings us to the question at hand. If these other modifiers are tools that aid a player and improve their odds at winning, then shouldn’t they also be considered cheating tools? Is it because the players and developers consider them acceptable that removes this unsavory label? What if the Developers consider them taboo, but the players don’t is this still cheating? That is the question I hope to get to the bottom of and for that purpose I have established my own definitions when cheating relates to gaming.

Cheating – The act of altering an original game via third party additions that improves or enhances a player’s chances of winning by giving them an unusual or unfair advantage while playing and is not widely accepted by the gaming community and/or developers of the game.

Although this definition covers the subject pretty good for me, things are not this cut and dry and require a second slightly different definition.

Acceptable Cheating - The act of altering an original game via third party additions that improves or enhances a player’s chances of winning by giving them an unusual or unfair advantage while playing and is widely accepted as an important or necessary tool to play the game effectively by the gaming community and/or developers of the game.

             What ultimately brought this subject to mind was a recent discussion in World of Tanks on whether Skins were cheating or not. Basically a Skin in WOT is a file that changes the appearance of either your own tank or your opponents to something other than the original design. This new skin covers the tank model in whatever the designer wants it to look like, but it only affects the local environment of the game. In other words only you see the difference and no one else does. The argument in question was related to a particular skin that repaints opponents tank to include bull’s-eyes where the best locations were to hit them with your shots. To many this is an unfair advantage and since it is not a part of the original game should be considered cheating. Others contest that since it does not change the overall playing of the game and doesn’t inhibit the other players in any way that it is not cheating and other players can also get the same skin. Wargamming has yet to ban this or any other skin or mod that may aid a player to include mods that alter the UI and make the game easier to interact with.   

            When speaking of modifications to a game and the impact they have, one needs only to look at World of Warcraft to see widely accepted alterations to a game environment. In fact it is so accepted in this game that having some standard types of add-ons is often required by certain groups of players, I.E. Guilds or PVP teams. Cheating can be brought into the discussion when you look at PVP content in WoW. Add-ons can improve a player’s chance at victory in several ways to include cool down timers, UI look alterations, stat counters and enhancements to the UI and Map interface. Also a player can create Macros (short program statements) that combine several actions together to allow the player to complete tasks faster or complete a series of connected moves.

            In some other PVP focused games this type of augmentation is often frowned upon or may get you banned as cheating or being labeled a hack, but in WoW they are so widely accepted by both players and Developers that they are considered a part of the game. This type of game changing is definitely cheating as it allows you an unfair advantage over those who may not have the same tools. It is also unrealistic to expect others to have these same tools since they were not included in the original game and requires them to visit a third party website. However because of their wide acceptance in the games community they fall into the category of acceptable cheating.
            When focused on a PVP environment, it is definitely cheating to have add-ons that give you an advantage over other players. E-Sports or arena type matches that have prizes are a perfect example of when add-ons can be cheating for a potential profit and when compared to other organized sporting events, would disqualify a player or team. Having a corked bat in baseball or sticky gloves in football are two examples of what an add-on or game modifier would look like in a RL sport. Players using these tools are often suspended and crucified in the media, but in video games were add-ons are widely accepted (I.E. World of Warcraft) a player will usually not feel any repercussions. Is it still cheating? Yes. Is it acceptable within the context of gaming? Yes again.

                     Therefore we can surmise that cheating in online gaming is often accepted as appropriate and in some cases necessary, while other times it is frowned upon or down right considered vile. Game developers play a major role in determining which type of cheating is allowed by their own stance on the subject and rightly so in many cases as it is their game after all. This post focused mainly on the PVP angle, but what about other forms of gaming like PVE, can the same rules for cheating apply? This is a question I think I’ll save for another post.  


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