Cheating is gaming’s natural bedfellow. The Konami code (popularized in the Nintendo classic Contra) is intrinsically ingrained into American culture, yet its popularity understates the appeal of cheating as a recognizable part of the gaming industry. Implemented properly, cheating creates replayability and enjoyment in familiar territory. At their best, cheat codes lead to further entertainment and communal experiences warmly remembered.

Yet for some, cheating takes a rather different form. In a competitive gaming environment, cheating has become an avenue to success, an addiction that directly sedates the need to control and succeed against other players. Last week, PC Gamer published an article discussing how professional cheaters enable other gamers to fulfill their online desires. That is, if those gamers can pay for it.

For a nominal fee, the hackers create accounts to grant their customers the ultimate power-trip. And it works supremely well: “For the first time, I wasn’t just another player, but a kind of god,” says one player. There are no long-term, tangible benefits for their services, but one hacker named Zero mentions his company earns over a million dollars each year simply by enabling others to cheat. He acknowledges later that “what he does isn’t good for games, but . . . he’ll provide supply where there’s demand.” His words bluntly disregard what should be acceptable protocol within online gaming. Instead of equal footing, we’re reminded that cheaters desire those services because the gamers believe they’re necessary.

Still, whether by similarly skilled players, simplistic gameplay, or extensive security, there are measures to discourage hackers. The belief among developers is that a perfectly balanced competitive arena will render cheating meaningless. Even so, one developer openly labels many online games “the Wild West . . . [i]t’s more about managing the risk and hacks without inconveniencing your legitimate players.” Within his words, we’re faced with the reality that these gamers choose to continue playing rather than avoiding the need to cheat altogether.

What motivates them to continue playing? Derived self-worth. Viewed through the lens of a recent study on videogame aggression, we’re reminded that cheating unearths an intrinsically flawed aspect of our humanity: a sinful nature desiring control regardless of the cost. Essentially, cheating grants the easiest path to stifling the overwhelming realization that some element – whether other players or a design choice – has rendered us powerless.

Obviously, this sharply contrasts to how we should approach our entertainment. Shunning the desire to impose our will, our faith calls us to self-control over our physical and digital selves. Ultimately, we’re implored to remember that when we break our games, we also break ourselves.


2 Comments

  1. First, I wish the PCGamer author had focused more on conversations with the cheaters themselves. That’s always a fascinating glimpse into humanity. Some months ago, I asked in a Reddit thread what motivated people to cheat in online games, and I got a fascinating array of replies- many in private. One fellow stated that the community of his favorite game (APB) was so plagued with cheaters that it was either join them or quit the game. He chose the former. Another used bots in WoW to farm gold/items/levels, then sell those items and accounts- all to pay for his college. Of course, there were several with less than sympathetic justifications. “I wanted to be the best.” “I thought it was funny how angry other people got.” There are so many circumstances and instances that it’s difficult to characterize all cheaters as under the sin of lust for control.

    Second, I find the most chilling part of all this is the apathy and callous disregard for the welfare of others. First, there are the purveyors of the cheats- the statement, “We know it’s not good, but if we don’t sell them, someone else will,” is precisely what a drug dealer would say. That in itself is a disturbing mindset. Second, neither the sellers nor a handful of the cheaters/hackers with whom I’ve spoken exhibited any sort of empathy towards the innocent parties frustrated by the unfair, unethical advantage of the cheaters. Some even bask in the anger. I only expect that sort of attitude from children, teenagers, and the mentally ill.

    I sometimes blame the dehumanizing veil of interactions over the internet for the dearth of empathy in digital communities, yet history and experience teach us that over and over again, we’ve regarded our neighbor as a target, a tool ,or resource even when we regard them face-to-face. After all, online, our neighbor becomes a profile photo with a text blurb or an avatar constructed of polygons by a paid artist. Yet how often do we labor against those we meet in the real world? Too often.

    As Nathaniel notes, the fact of online cheating has implications for our spirit, particularly in how we are tempted in the various avenues of life to replace God’s sovereignty with our own. Yet I believe this raises another question- how do we respond and minister to the neighbor we see as destructive? How does a young Christian proclaim that he has been saved by grace through faith in Christ to the hacker that just pissed him off by ruining a Call of Duty match? That’s what I’m wondering.

  2. One more reason, many games after the intial onset are so complex and time consuming that unless one is ocd or willing to pay cold cash to progress, cheating or moving on is the only option. Cheats are often built into these games as well.

    I also consider attempting to make this a moral issue a type of Chistianity OCD. Enough already!

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