Cheating in Videogames

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What if the purpose of the game is to cheat?

Cheating in videogames involves using one or more methods not allowed by the rules of the game to gain advantage over other players by defrauding, deceiving, or eluding other players. Cheating may involve one player against other players or the game itself or multiple players coordinating to gain advantage. Forms of cheating include applying codes that have effects not known to other players, modifying the game code itself, or using specialized scripts or guides. Single player or multi-player cheating affects all the players involved in a game, either intentionally or inadvertently. Game studies scholars have specified the reasons that players cheat in videogames. Cheating in videogames exposes a number of ethical challenges in information environments, ranging from motivation and agency, community norms, to personal behavior.


Cheating in video games has existed in widely distributed games since the early 1980s. Initially, cheat codes were placed inside games to help developers rigorously test the mechanics of a game prior to commercial release. In early 8-bit games, codes were stored in open accessible memory, where it was possible to modify specific memory addresses to gain advantages such as an unlimited number of lives, currency, invincibility, or invisibility. The specialized knowledge required to modify game code fostered an informal network of sharing tips and techniques, dubbed “cheats.” As gaming systems evolved, a cheat industry emerged through the packaging and sales of cheat books, game guides, and cheat cartridges. Cheating through external guides was not universally accepted in the gaming industry. For example the gaming magazine Amiga Power condemned cheaters, taking the stance that cheating violated the fundamental value of fairness.[1]

Forms of cheating


Usually found in single player games, a cheat codes are intentionally placed in the game by the creator. Codes may be entered via a specific combination of buttons or keys, or may be entered at password screen. Said screens may be explicitly accessible, or they may require the user to know where to input the code, be it the start screen or a drop-down console. Effects vary from skipping levels to modification of game difficulty. For example, in the popular video game Grand Theft Auto, players can input codes to make a helicopter or tank appear, making it much easier to escape from the police, one of the main goals of the game. In Sim City 4, players can use cheats to have unlimited funds with which to build their city and make it thrive.

Cheat codes often have no effect on gameplay, but rather alter its aesthetics, thereby personalizing and individualizing the characters or landscape. In the Nintendo 64 title NFL Blitz 2000, there is a 10 second window before each game in which the user is encouraged to enter codes. Though some alter plays or increase the abilities of the game characters, several modify the game graphics. Such codes may increase the size of the ball or the players' helmets to comical proportions, change the field from grass to dirt, or transform the stadium a Roman coliseum. These features are typically created to allow customization as well as for entertainment value.

In practice, many cheat codes increase the satisfaction players get from a game. For example, in the simulation game The Sims, players are normally required to instruct their sims to get work in order to pay for bills, food, and other expenses, though commonly used codes enabled players to bypass this necessity and accumulate money without these stipulations. Examples include "rosebud", "motherlode", and "familyFunds".[2]


Wallhacks in Counter Strike 1.6.

Hacking involves illegal modifications of game code. Specifically, a hack program is run before launching a game's executable which finds the game's code in the computer's memory. It then searches for and modifies specific variables pertaining to game mechanics, such as opponent location data or wall colors.

Aimbots are programs that automatically detect enemies within a game, then move the user's in-game crosshair to a set location on the enemy's body. A user can set it to target an enemy's head, body, legs, or arms. Aimbots may also be set to fire automatically, so that the user only needs to move around the map. More sophisticated implementations can be set to miss the target occasionally, making their use less conspicuous.

Speed Bots allow the user to move through the map at speeds which are normally impossible, allowing instantaneously movement across a game map. In competitive multiplayer, speed bots make a player nearly impossible to damage.

Wall Hacks allow a user to see through walls by making them transparent, revealing other players anywhere on the map regardless of any obstructions. It is more difficult to determine when wall hacks are being used due to them not producing any obvious in-game effects to other players. The hack be implemented in two ways:

  • Directly though a modifying game variables in memory. This is easier for cheat detection systems to notice, as a third party program is actively running.
  • Manually editing wall textures to be transparent. Since many games allow user modifications to game skins, transparent walls are indistinguishable from any other modded wall textures.


Macros take advantage of existing game code and automate common movements on behalf of the player. An example can be found in older shooters such as Quake[3] and Team Fortress Classic[4] in which the game engine increases the speed of the user if they strafe in the air. With sufficient practice users could learn how to "bunny hop," greatly increasing their speed; however, macros eliminate the need to practice the required timing techniques, automating the process instead. Macros also allow players to bind a series of commands to a single key, causing their character to execute the entire sequence when pressed.

Example of "Bunny Hop" code:[5]:
:alias +hop "alias _special h_jump; h_start; slot10; alias hop_t -hop"
:alias -hop "alias _special h_stop; alias hop_t +hop"
:alias h_jump "+jump;wait;-jump;wait;h_start"
:alias h_start "+attack2; -attack2"
:alias h_stop "slot10"
:alias hop_t "+hop"
:bind "some_key" "hop_t"

Some games, such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Half Life, include developer debug tools which allow a user to to alter various aspects of the game environment, such as weapon or item placement, as well as the attributes of the player themselves, including invincibility or the removal of character clipping.


An exploit is a game bug that gives the player an advantage not intentionally programmed in by the game creator. For example, the effect of a grenade might not be fully canceled by a wall, allowing players to use a grenade to kill enemies through walls if they are close enough to the blast.

For example, in the late Nintendo Game Boy classic Pokemon Red/Blue, players could take advantage of a code error in the system by battling the non-Pokemon "MissingNo" (Missing Number). This cheat would grant infinite supplies of whichever item is in the 6th slot in the player's item menu, such as the Rare Candy item (which automatically boosts a Pokemon up one level) and Master Balls (which can capture any Pokemon in the game).[6]

Players who benefit from an exploit are initially only inadvertent cheaters. Exploits are usually found by mistake when a player observes an inconsistency in gameplay. Upon further investigation the player might discover that the first strange outcome, while unexpected, is repeatable and consistent. This finding alone does not qualify the player as a conscious and active cheater. Only when the player with knowledge of the exploit uses that exploit to his or her advantage at the expense of other players is an identifiable harm done.


Game guides have many different purposes. The use of a strategy guide to gain advantage can be considered a form of cheating. Guides generally tell the user exactly how to play a game, where to find items or powerups, and give step-by-step accounts on how to beat certain levels. They may also include other hints and tips to aid the player that he or she may not have otherwise been aware of.

A popular website for game guides is GamFaqs, which features elegant text-based guides and walk-throughs, along with maps and other aids.[7] It was created in November 1995 by Jeff "CJayC" Veasey and purchased by CNET Networks in May 2003. It is currently owned by CBS Interactive. The site has a database of video game information, cheat codes, reviews, game saves, and screenshots. Nearly all of the content is submitted by voluntary contributors. The systems supported in GameFaqs range from the 8-bit Atari platform to modern consoles such as the PlayStation 4. Submissions made to the site are reviewed by the its current editor, Allen "SBAllen" Tyner.

Multiplayer cheating

See Also Online Cheating and Griefing

In the online environment, players enter a competitive world where the objective is generally to outplay others and win. Some players cheat to gain advantage and win the game, while others cheat simply to upset and interfere with other players.

Introducing a ranking system gives gamers another reason to exploit the system to rapidly rise over other players. This leads to a power-gaming mentality of accomplishing everything one can by any means necessary, or allowing a gamer to brag about their skills by pointing at their top ranking. With any game and any kind of competitiveness within it, there are going to be people who resort to cheating. With new technologies come new hacks, and new punishments and rules that must be made to enforce against them. It is becoming more common for players to report each other to the game's moderators instead of the game itself to track down hackers like these.


Camping is a strategy commonly used in first-person shooter (FPS) games, where a player stays in a safe or hidden location to ambush an enemy or wait for certain items to appear. Camping is also a strategy in the online multiplayer environment.[8] The strategy is considered by some to be cheating because if every player in a game uses the camping strategy, there wouldn't be any player-to-player encounters. This would cause there to be no game to play. It is also considered by some to be unfair for the non-campers who are playing the game as intended, as they might walk into a camper's line of sight and be immediately killed by the camper, giving the camper an easy kill. Campers therefore can get "kill streaks" to be on top of leaderboards, for example.[9]

On the other hand, other players argue that camping is another strategy and way to play the game, and that "the only reason campers can rack up kills is [players] are dumb."[9] The argument is that if multiple players keep running into a room and aren't careful about ambushes, it is okay to kill these people in a row since they are easy kills. It does not mean the killer is a camper if they manage to get 10 easy kills in a row, for example. This raises questions about how long a player needs to be sitting in one spot and killing others in order to be considered a camper.

In order to discourage camping, some games force campers who stay in one place for too long to move ahead, or they add penalties like health damage.[10]


Some multiplayer games, especially MMORPGs like Runescape, World of Warcraft, and Guild Wars, require players to repeatedly kill Ai-controlled monsters, or perform other repetitive actions throughout the game world, in order to advance in the game. These repetitive actions can be seen as monotonous, and a timesink, by most players and are therefore usually not enjoyable. [11] Since “grinding” or “farming” in the game is usually required to access further “fun” content, some savvy players employ bots (robots) which are programs that attempt to closely emulate human players while performing these repetitive actions for their human masters. These bots don’t get bored, are efficient, and can perform an action or set of actions for days which can provide an enormous advantage to the player utilizing them. With advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning what used to be pretty primitive and easily detectable computer programs are now becoming advanced and sometimes indistinguishable from human players. [12]

Ethical Issues

The Italian philosopher Luciano Floridi points toward analysis of cheating in video and online games as an example of how his philosophy of Information Ethics is applicable to real world problems, even if it is not strictly an applied theory.[13]

Motivation and Agency

Cheating in a video game is a personal choice. Game scholar Mia Consalvo argues that the choice to cheat is opportunistic in the context of a specific gaming environment. Her research does not seem to find that some people are naturally cheaters who carry that personal identity into the game.[14] According to Consolvo, there are five categories of reasons why players cheat.[15]

  • Players asserting their agency, choosing to cheat because they can cheat or have found out how to cheat. Cheat codes support this type of cheater.
  • Players dealing with difficult or challenging scenarios by manipulating the mechanics of the game in a limited setting. Gaming guides support players who are stuck in a particular place in a game
  • Players who find enjoyment in exercising omnipotent power, or Playing God. This type of cheater may have already mastered the mechanics of a game and want to see how far they can push the rules.
  • Players who want to speed up their game play, either because of the tedium of the play or the desire to skip over required elements of the gameplay.
  • Players who collaborate to cheat together, perhaps feeding off of the group dynamic.

Violation of Community Norms

Cheating in multi-player games where the rules of the game define community norms can be problematical. Danish game scholar Miguel Sicart argues that players who cheat in sports and casual games are “the worst kind of individuals one can meet.” His argument turns on the idea that many games mimic real world experiences (e.g., football, soccer) where cheating violates norms.[16] He amplifies this argument by also claiming that game players dislike cheaters in multi-player games, such as Counter-Strike, that do not have a parallel in the real world.

Cheating Norms

In a study of teenagers in Singapore reported in Wired Magazine, researchers found that bad behavior online such as cheating in MMO games is strongly influenced by how players identify with gaming communities. The researchers looked at how in-game cheating was affected by a gamer's sense of belonging to the larger gaming community. They found that "playing with strangers (which the researchers equate with anonymous gaming) significantly increased instances of cheating behaviour." This was a result of the gamer's assumptions about the gaming community's norms, rather than a result of a lesser self awareness. Despite their unstable and imaginary nature, online groups can be extremely powerful in constructing and morphing its members' views on behaviors and social norms. In short, gamers are more likely to cheat because they believe that everyone else is cheating as well. Follow-up focus groups to this study further concluded that gamers playing anonymous MMO's held the belief that "If you don't [cheat], you will lose out". There may be other factors relating to this cheating interaction as this study was exclusively only looking at teens. In order to counter the negative behavior of cheating we must alter was is considered "normal" in these online gaming communities. [17]

Impact on Personal Behavior

It is unclear whether cheating in video games is limited to the gaming environment or whether cheating in video games reflects the challenges of personal integrity in today's information environment. The opposing viewpoint to that of the "slippery slope" stance maintains that cheating in a video game does not imply in any way that a person will tend to "cheat" outside of video games. Additionally, there are many questions regarding the existence of harm done by video game cheating. For example, some would say that a video game cheater is not causing any harm to the players over which the cheater holds an advantage. Others might say that if a certain behavior (e.g. particular exploits) is not explicitly forbidden in a community's common standards, then that behavior is not cheating at all, but rather particularly astute gameplay.

Some research findings suggest that exposure to cheating in violent games can cause aggressive thoughts and behaviors, physiological arousal, and antisocial behavior. Barlett, Anderson, and Swing[18] describe five negative outcomes of violent video games and cheating:

1. Exposure may affect long-term attitudes toward violence.

2. Cheating in violent video games are related to desensitization towards violence and behavior in school.

3. Exposure to electronic media, especially in early childhood, is associated with attention disorder diagnosis or the symptoms of attention disorders such as ADHD.

4. Playing violent video games and witnessing cheating is associated with decreased ability to set personal goals which can ultimately increase aggressive behavior later in life.

5. The amount of time spent consuming screen media is negatively associated with school performance and can lead to cheating in school. The amount of video game play is associated with a lower GPA. This is because the time spent on playing video games could be spent on activities that would lead to better educational outcomes.

Academic Dishonesty and Video Game Play

Research is exploring the relationship between a tendency to cheat in video games and willingness to cheat on tests or academic assignments. In study through Cleveland State University, an online survey asked about participants' strategies and preferences in playing video games as well as their problem-solving strategies in academic or professional settings. Students willing to cheat in real life tended to exhibit similar problem-solving behaviors as in video game play. These behaviors included bypassing harder tasks instead of working through them, making problem solving easier, and giving up when a task was too difficult. The results of the study suggest that willingness to cheat is more related to personality and habits rather than any influence from playing video games. However, the study also notes that "the strategies used in video games are reflective of strategies used in other contexts."[19]

See Also

External Links


  1. Kuchlich, Julian. “Forbidden Pleasures: Cheating in Computer Games,” in The Pleasures of Computer Gaming: Essays on Cultural History, Theory and Aesthetics. McFarland, 2008, p. 54.
  2. Barba, Rick. The Sims Livin’ Large Expansion Pack.” Prima Games, 2000, p. 2.
  3. Quake (video game). Wikipedia. Accessed 6 April 2017.
  4. Team Fortress Classic (video game). Wikipedia. Accessed 6 April 2017.
  5. "Bunnyhopping" Admin Web: The resource site for blueyonder TFC admins and players. Accessed 6 April 2017
  6. Leibovitz, Liel. God in the Machine: Video Games as Spiritual Pursuit. Fempleton Foudation Press, 2014, p. 82.
  7. GameFaqs. CBS Interactive. Accessed 6 April 2017.
  8. "Camper" Techopedia. (2017). Retrieved 5 April 2017.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Why is ‘camping’ so ‘hated’ in gaming?. (2017). Retrieved 5 April 2017, from
  10. "Camping" Encyclopedia Gamia: The Gaming Wiki. Acessed 6 April 2017
  11. Rethinking the MMO. (March 26,2007). Sorens, Neil. Retrieved 9 April 2017, from
  12. In A Huge Breakthrough, Google's AI Beats a Top Player at the Game of Go. (January 01, 2016). Metz, Cade. Retrieved 9 April 2017, from
  13. Floridi, Luciano. "Information Ethics." in The Cambridge Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics, edited by Luciano Floridi. Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 94.
  14. Consalvo, Mia. Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames, Chapter 4: "How Videogame Players Define and Negotiate Cheating." Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
  15. Consolvo, Mia. Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames, Chapter 5: "The Cheaters." Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
  16. Sicart, Miguel. The Ethics of Computer Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009, p. 72
  17. Warr, Phillipa. "Study: we cheat in video games because we assume everyone else does." Wired Magazine 9 January 2014. [1] Retrieved on 7 April 2017.
  18. Bartlett, Anderson, Swing."Video Game Effects—Confirmed, Suspected, and Speculative." June 2009. Retrieved on 7 April 2017.
  19. Hamlen, Karla R., "Academic Dishonesty and Video Game Play: Is New Media Use Changing Conceptions of Cheating?" (2012). Curriculum & Foundations Faculty Publications. 35.

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