…Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A. There, I’ve done it. I’ve broken the sacred vow of gamer sportsmanship and entered a cheat code to help get through the final stages of Contra. My buddy smacks me on the back, proud of me and my ability to memorize long strings of commands. Extra lives pour onto the screen like a freshly tapped keg. The world didn’t end, police didn’t kick my door down and drag me away, and no one looked at me as some social pariah. I beat the game, saw the ending, and played it again.
Flash forward nearly 30 years.
The underworld of gaming feels different, almost clandestine in its hushed corner of the community. Exposed cheaters are now publicly shamed; their characters stripped bare and murdered for all to see. It’s the digital version of a public stoning, an execution on display. Banishment is a sentenced handed down to the same people who memorized the Konami code so many years back, and the virtual world is choked with terminated accounts. What wasteland have I awoken to, what fever dream do I strive to shake from? Since when did cheating warrant public execution?
The gaming community has drastically changed since birth. Setting aside the proliferation of genres, mechanics, and graphical enhancements, one of the most important developments that we should observe was the ability to play with fellow human beings. The shackles of AI capability were removed, leaving in its wake a new human intelligence to compete against. But the true benefit of multiplayer didn’t come from a more natural challenge, per se, but rather from the new level of social awareness now present in the gaming world. Relationships were forged in online servers, communities flourished in virtual worlds. New technology brought about new society, and with it, new social expectations.
In my intro I mention the famous Konami code, a sequence of buttons that unlocked different cheats across several now-retro games. Gaming pop culturists looks back on this example of virtual treachery with fond memories of their own God Mode experiences, and there’s plenty of nostalgia to be had all around. Cheating on a similar scale is even socially accepted in the modern age, what with the multitude of console commands abound in games like Skyrim and the GTA series.
Now direct your gaze to the crowded servers of a game like World of Warcraft. Players form alliances and engage in group activities, even going as far as displaying many of the psychological traits seen in real-life communities. In this world, the ability to show off new gear or reach new levels is a direct measure of the time and money a player puts in, and an equal chance stands for all to attain such lofty goals. That is, until a level one paladin walks into Stormwind City with 999 Chaos Swords of the Dread God Bibbily-Booke. That guy cheated. Along with public scorn and ridicule, our young paladin will surely be the owner of a banned account once the mods catch wind of him.
The difference between cheating in an isolated vs. open environment (as in Skyrim and WoW, respectively) can really be boiled down into a difference in motivation. You cheat in GTA because it’s funny to fly a tank with five stars, but you cheat in Counter Strike because you want to raise your rank. Where one is a commonly accepted practice, the other is a social faux pas with real-world repercussions.
The grand majority of MMOs make it explicitly clear that cheating of any kind is unacceptable, and if proven, will lead to a temporary or permanent suspension of the offending account. While this may seem like a clear and concise way to handle the situation, two events in the month of May alone seem to suggest that some developers feel the need to strike back.
Guild Wars 2, a popular MMORPG boasting a healthy sized community, recently saw its first example of revenge killing at the hands of an angry Server Security mod. Two weeks prior to the incident, players began visiting the game’s support forum to report encounters with another player who had been caught exploiting the game’s competitive multiplayer mode, thus raising their rank artificially. After several days of waiting, Guild Wars 2 game security lead Chris Cleary responded to the thread by thanking the players for bringing this to his attention and providing them with a video, followed by the words, “I give you this video of his account’s last moments.” The video in question (below) shows a moderator logging into the guilty cheater’s account. The moments that follow include the moderator stripping the main character of all their gear and forcing him to jump from a building in a public square. The mod then goes on to delete that and other characters in the cheater’s account.
While this goes above and beyond the games usual set of punishments for people caught cheating, the public execution and deletion of the characters was not enough, as Cleary added in the same message that “he’s also banned.” What about this case made it especially deserving of such an unusual (if not downright cruel) form of punishment, or was it just the straw that broke the mod’s back?
While a lone example is moving in and of itself, it’s always more fun to go in pairs. After a particularly harsh server cleanse in which nearly 30,000 player accounts were banned for hacking, zombie MMO H1Z1 president John Smedley recently concocted his own form of punishment for anyone looking to get back into the game’s good graces: banned players could upload an apology video to YouTube in an attempt to unlock their account.
While Smedley only accepted five players back into the warm folds of his embrace, the videos (one of which can be seen below) stand as a testament to the developer’s damaged Hubris. Forcing an apology to get a toy back is a tactic employed by most parents, and from this angle it looks no different. Though it could have been nothing more than a poorly executed PR stunt, H1Z1’s “kiss the ring” style of forgiveness for God Mode addicts is once again far from the standard set of rules they posted for every player to see.
While these are but two events in an otherwise massive world of standard cheating bans and account terminations, their proximity to one another and the message they send can be taken in a few ways. Do we cheer for the megacorp for not only putting its foot down, but also kicking back at cheaters by publicly shaming them on top of standard penalties? Or do we feel sympathy pains for the cheaters who, while knowingly breaking the rules, are little different from us in terms of position in the community? Why should developers and mods act outside the predetermined set of rules in order to punish players who act outside the predetermined set of rules?
The world of gaming has changed, and with it, so has cheating. We as a community have established clear lines as to when it is and isn’t okay to type in that command line, but it doesn’t look like we’ve so stringently concreted the rules of punishment and due process.