Cheating in video games

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"You never had a chance to defeat me, fool, you know why?"
Plankton, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.
Cheating refers to the act of using a variety of methods to obtain advantages in a game, whether be it to do things not normally possible or to win more easily. Cheating is a very common thing in video games, be it to get infinite health, unlock things before time, win multiplayer matches, etc.

Main methods of cheating

  1. Hacking: External devices like Game Genie can be used to alter values in the system's RAM, altering the behavior of the game in ways not possible with the standard code. For example, in a game with a luck-based item drop system, a player could force a certain value into the RAM which would result in a specific item. In PC games, cheating via hacking is done via third-party software: these programs are often referred to as "trainers," particularly if they are only designed for singleplayer games. Galoob, the creators of Game Genie ended up with a lawsuit from Nintendo. (while Sega let them manifacture cheat cartridges for Genesis/Mega Drive)
  2. Modifying game data: Modifying the game data by an external program can also be identified as hacking the game and thus some consider this as cheating as well.
  3. Editing save data: Editing your save data to change variables such as game progress, inventory items, and maximum health and energy can be considered as cheating. For a few games the save data can be edited easily by a plain text editor, but most games require third-party software to edit the save file properly. Using save data uploaded by someone else can also be considered editing the save file and thus considered as cheating.
  4. Built-in cheats: Older games often included built-in cheat codes to activate cheats.
  5. Console commands: Many PC games, e.g. Minecraft, have console commands, which can be used to change the game in many different ways, like key bindings, graphics, etc. But console commands often have developer codes for testing out the game built into them (often requiring a "devmode" addition to the game's launch options): the allow the player to do things like skip to a desired level, disable clipping (allowing the player character to walk outside the map), turn enemy AI on and off, turn on God mode and give themselves items like weapons and ammunition at will.
  6. In-game clock changing: Some games, like Animal Crossing and Undertale rely on a system clock to keep time, however for example if one changes that system clock, the game will think the game is the next day, when in reality it was not. Later games include methods to detect when the system clock was changed manually.
  7. Luck manipulation: Sometimes argued to be cheating, this involves exploiting pseudo-random number generators (for example, the original Doom's, which pulls all "random" number events from a set of tables, relying on the randomness of the events themselves to produce random results) in games to produce a desired result, and is based around having more knowledge of the internal structure of a game than a player is really supposed to have. This can be used to shift the random number table to a desired outcome, such as always getting a drop which is supposed to be rare.
  8. Glitches: Players who exploit unplanned aspects of a game's regular operation are often called cheaters when the exploits provide a serious advantage. These include things like glitching inside buildings in shooters, or jumping over walls in racing games.
  9. Macros:Exclusive to PC gaming and fighting games, a macro is a small program which consists of a series of inputs: for example, one could make a macro that changes a complex special move in a fighting game to a single button press, or performs an ideal series of actions with greater-than-human precision. In competitive settings, these are often seen as cheating, though on the flipside the tool-assisted speedrun community is basically built around creating game-length macros.
  10. External editing:In single player competitive settings such as the speedrun and high score communities, players have been caught using image editing software to falsify high scores, or splicing together multiple segments into what is claimed to be a single-segment run.
  11. Back seating: For Live Streamers, back seating is the act of the streamer's stream chat giving unwanted advice (see "Backseat driver" for where the term comes from). This act is generally frowned upon by streamers, as it often takes the fun out playing the game for an audience, and thus is often discouraged. However, some live streamers, most infamously DSPGaming and others like him, will actively encourage back seating to help them get through a game without having to figure it out themselves. See DSP's playthrough of Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back as an example of this.
  12. Money farming: The player can win lots of money in less time in some segments of the game like the third race in Gran Turismo All-Stars from Gran Turismo 2, the Inside Track Betting from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the Cayo Perico Heist from Grand Theft Auto Online or the World Touring Car 800 in Sardgena added in the update 1.11 from Gran Turismo 7.

Common cheats

  1. Infinite resources like health, ammo, extra lives, etc.
  2. Instant content unlocking.
  3. Physics glitches like walking through walls.
  4. Getting advantages for multiplayer.
  5. Funny cheats that don't affect gameplay like "Big Head Mode".
  6. Intentionally handicapping the player or opponents to make games easier or harder.
  7. Automating certain functions, such as aiming and shooting (so-called "aimbot" programs) or programs that perform repetitive actions such as grinding or farming.
  8. Gaining access to hidden developer features, which can also be useful for finding unused items in the game.

Debate regarding cheating

The main argument against cheating is that it makes games too easy and the gamer cheating is winning not by their own merits but by cheating their way. Cheating is far less tolerated in multiplayer games than in single player, as doing so lets gamers win matches due to having unfair advantages which ruins the fun for the other players.

Online games often include methods to detect cheaters (perhaps the first such service being Punkbuster, which launched in 2000) and ban their accounts. Unfortunately, cheaters constantly look for methods to circumvent those cheating detections. An infamous example is the Pokémon series, in those games cheaters can use hacking to make overpowered Pokémon that look legitimate so cheating detectors online won't notice and use them to win online matches easily.

On the other hand, although cheating indeed gives players unfair advantages, there are many arguments to when cheating can be acceptable. For example, one of the reasons the "Konami Code" is so well-known is that Contra is virtually impossible to beat without it.

Particularly in PC gaming with mods, there is also some debate as to what extent one can change a game from the developer's original intentions without it counting as cheating. A good example of this would be the Duct Tape Mod for Doom 3, which adds a flashlight to several of the weapons rather than requiring the player character to hold the flashlight or a weapon. This is the most popular mod for Doom 3 and one of the most popular mods of all time, but is certainly not what the developers intended.

Measures that discourage cheating

  • Achievement disability: In some games (like GTA IV), the use of cheats will disable the player's ability to earn trophies/achievements, encouraging proper gameplay.
  • Strict autosave: Games like Until Dawn have no manual save feature, instead having a very strict autosave system that saves after every choice you make, preventing the player from abusing save scumming if they don't like a choice they made. The only way to circumvent this: Start the game over from the beginning.
  • Game-affecting glitches: In games like the 3D Grand Theft Auto titles, some cheats can have the side affect for causing glitches, some even game breaking (hence why the past 3D entries like San Andreas before GTA IV came out warned players not to save their save files with Cheats enabled). One such glitch is the infamous "Pedestrian Riot" cheat in San Andreas which prevents progression past the Madd Dogg mission. Worse still, some of these cheats cannot be disabled!
  • Moderation: In online multiplayer games, the developers can ban players for using cheats and exploits in a competitive environment, and some even ban players for trophy/achievement boosting, which often ruin the fun and waste time for other players. The Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) system bans cheaters from secure game servers. VAC bans are permanent and not negotiable. Unfortunately, the VAC system is too weak that it barely stops players from cheating. What's worse is that Valve still hasn't fixed their VAC system.
  • Function disability: Some games will prevent the player from tampering with the in-game clock by disabling some time-based features, like gardening activities, adding time gates, or even halting timed events.
  • Penalties: In competitive games like Gran Turismo Sport, trying to play dirty (blocking, corner cutting, shunting, etc) will not only negatively affect your Driver and Sportsmanship ratings, but will also slap you with a time penalty, the severity of which being dependent on the nature of the offense.
  • Always-online DRM: Many mobile games nowadays, especially those by Gameloft, require an Internet connection to run, and attempting to use mods or cheating will result in you getting banned from the game or even rendering the game unplayable.


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