Online Cheating

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Online Cheating can be defined as the act of “pretending to obey the rules of the game but secretly subverting them to gain an advantage over another player[1]." Aside from the virtual world, cheating online can happen in relationships and also in the academic community. With the growth in online databases, people in academic settings have access to documents and information that can help them cheat in school as well. All of these ethical dilemmas can have severe consequences.

Online Gaming

In the virtual world, cheating occurs in games where players can play against the computer or against other players either live on the site or through “asynchronous games” where the players do not need to be online at the same time[2]. In games played live cheating happens much quicker than in asynchronous games - a player may use a cheat code or utilize an exploit to gain an immediate in-game advantage over their opponent, who could be a computer or another player.

Cheating in asynchronous games, like online Scrabble, are generally more subtle. With online Scrabble, for example, players must wait until their opponent finishes their turn before they can go again. This downtime is a window of opportunity for cheating players to use online tools to find potential words to play on their next turn. This type of cheating is extremely easy to perpetrate, as a quick search for "scrabble word finder" can return dozens of results that can instantly help you cheat in your game [3]

Online Game Helpers

Scrabble Solution

Online Game Helpers are used to gain an advantage over the opposing player while playing an online word game. Scrabble solvers and other “game helpers” are readily available online and easy to use. For example, scrabble solvers take a set of letters and produce a list of words that can be made with those letters which the player can then use in their game. Currently, the rise in popularity of game Words with Friends an interactive Scrabble game played between two players, has also seen a rise in online cheating as users have the opportunity to download a number of online game helpers to their devices. Words With Friends is currently available on Android, iPhone, Amazon Kindle, Facebook, and a slew of other platforms.

According to its website, A2zwordfinder (another online game helper) is used for “quickly finding words while you’re solving word puzzles and games of all kinds[4]." A2zwordfinder offers a free online dictionary for crosswords, a Scrabble dictionary, Literati helper, Jumble solver, WordOx helper, and anagram generator.

The website [1] is a helper site used for games such as Scrabble, Anagrams, Jumble Words, Text Twist, Word Whomp, Chicktionary, Scrabulous, Wordscraper, and Lexulous. It allows the user to input the letters one has in his or her word game and the program will generate every word possible.

Example Word Games with Online Helpers

  • Acrophobia
  • Anagrams
  • Crosswords
  • Hangman
  • Scrabble-like games
  • Vocabulary quizzes


See hacks

Getting Away With It

It’s almost impossible to ensure that the person you are playing against is not cheating, and proving that someone is cheating online is also difficult to do. One of the appeals of playing an online game is that your identity is hidden. The anonymity makes it much easier to cheat and makes people feel more comfortable about doing it since it is almost guaranteed that they will never be found out (see: Anonymous Behavior in Virtual Environments). According to a writer for Gamasutra, a respected gaming design website, “the anonymity and artificiality of the Internet seem to encourage a moral vacuum where otherwise nice people often behave in the worst possible way."[5] Likewise, the nature of online gaming facilitates online cheating because the cheater and the other players are not in the same room together. For example, if a group of people are playing Scrabble in a room together, players can physically see another player looking at a Dictionary or using an unscrambler. However, in the online world, players cannot see each other, so there is no way of knowing what other players are doing in between turns.

Consalvo Study

It is often subjective as to what actions constitute cheating. There have been debates over whether cheating in an online game in which you are playing against yourself is actually considered cheating[1]. According to Consalvo, there are four common reasons gamers give for cheating: "I was stuck", "It's fun to play God", "Hitting Fast Forward", and "Being An Ass"[6].

Mia Consalvo, an Associate Professor of Telecommunications at Ohio University conducted a study in which twenty-four self-identified game players ranging from ages 14 to 41 were interviewed. During the interviews, participants were asked to define cheating in their own terms. In every definition given by the participants, there seemed to be a general feeling that “cheating creates an unfair advantage for the cheater." In most cases, this definition was in reference to multiplayer games. However, several participants also defined cheating in the context of single-player games as being just an “unfair advantage in general.” In the article, a purist is considered as a player that believes “anything other than a solo effort in completing a game is cheating. Those players define cheating to be when “you use external sources to complete a game.” Even some of the participants who were considered purists maintained that it is only acceptable to use outside resources if “the player has already tried repeatedly and is stuck[6]."

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum are those who believe cheating can only exist if there is another player involved. In this case, players believe that “someone has to be worse off because someone else took unfair advantage.” In other words, these people only consider something as cheating not if a person gains an advantage, but if another person is at a disadvantage compared to the person cheating.

Ethical Implications

Video Game Norms

To advance game play and to create an atmosphere of fun, many gamers have turned to cheat codes to advance their game play for reasons such as being stuck on level or to skip a boring portion of a game. Because no moral harm is being done, this kind of cheating has been a repeated theme in video games that has been propagated through gaming culture in online forums and cheat books, which players can purchase. However, cheating can reduce other players joy if everyone in the game begins using these advantages that then make the player without the advantage unable to compete, thus rendering the game no longer enjoyable and causing harm to these players.

Further, if one cheats in a video game, is this boundary porous and is this behavior more likely to transfer into an identity trait? Mia Consalvo believes is it premature to assign to much intentionality to core identity. Instead, she views it as a practice that is fun, situated, and iterative, meaning it made through inconsistent and spontaneous decisions.


Cheating in online games has several ethical implications. While many feel that cheating is fun and exciting, others maintain that it ruins the integrity of competition and self-fulfillment.

A site utilizing a cheat protection program known as VAC
See also: Punishments in Virtual Environments

Without prevention (anti-cheat), players would have to simply avoid the cheaters in order to get a fair and fulfilling playing experience. This however is not a very feasible option, as there are a large number of players who choose to cheat in the online environment.

One way to police an online environment is for servers to have admins who monitor the actions of games on their specific server. Admins could immediately kick and/or ban the cheaters. However, if the admin was not present, these cheaters could get away with their actions.

Another method would be to implement a vote-kick feature, which allows the players to vote if a certain player should be removed from the server. Most likely, if that specific player was cheating, then all the other players would to remove them. However, kicked players could most likely re-join the server immediately. Also the vote-kick feature could be used to ill-intent, used against players that did not deserve to be kicked.

In order to get past the shortcomings of admin policing and vote-kicking, programs have been developed that look for players who cheat. These programs can tell if game code has been altered and automatically kick/ban the cheaters who cheated. These programs can be implemented in the game or on the server, and are far more accurate and efficient in detecting cheaters than admins or vote-kicking. One such system is Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC), which will ban a player who connects to a VAC protected server with a known cheat, which will ban that player from playing on any server that is VAC protected. VAC bans are non-reversible[7].

Cheating in Relationships

In committed relationships, infidelity is much easier in an online setting. The Internet is now the most common place for infidelity. Many men and women enter the Online Dating world for romantic thrills. Many of these interactions turn in to affairs. Many studies show people are just has hurt by cheating online as cheating in the real world. Not only does infidelity occur through online dating services, but also through created avatars in virtual worlds. Sites like Second Life have been known to be a common setting for users to engage in sexual relationships through created avatars. Users can interact with other users through avatars in virtual communities. In these virtual settings, avatars can be married, have a family and even trade good and services. A person can literally create a second life, with a different spouse online.

Ashley Madison

Infidelity can be shown through online sites such as Ashley Madison. Ashley Madison is a Canada-based social networking and dating service for people who are married or in a committed relationship. The CEO of this extramarital affair website is Noel Biderman. Coincidently, he states that his site “does not promote infidelity”… that ”no website or 30-second ad is going to convince anyone to cheat. People cheat because their lives aren’t working for them”. Noel created Ashley Madison as a target to married women. He believed married men are already using affair sites, and he wants more married women to participate. Noel seems like a psychopath, considering he said on an Australian TV program that if he ever found out his wife was accessing his cheater’s site, he would be devastated.

Many have not heard of this site until August 2015. That was when hackers stole all of the customers’ data on the site, including names, sexual fantasies, and credit card information and released it to the public. Married couples frantically went on the site and searched to see if their loved ones have been using the site. When not seeing the names of their loved ones on the site, those frightened are now well rested and reassured. However, those that do see the names of loved ones are left heart-broken and have post-traumatic stress disorder. There are a lot of stories out there about when the husbands found out their wives cheated through Ashley Madison and it was quite disturbing.

This brings up a very important question: How ethical is this site and how ethical are the married people who use this site? Sites like these are messed up and should not be created in the first place. Floridi states that, “When some people enter the computer center, they leave their ethics at the door” [8]. It can be blamed that the husband or wife who chose to cheat with this site is responsible but the blame can also be the site itself, a medium, which allowed people to act on their thoughts. There are some unfaithful spouses out there and having Ashley Madison was just an easy way for these spouses to forget about their morals and ethics once they are logged onto their computers.

Academic Cheating

With the availability of information online, academic integrity is very easily compromised schools and universities all over the world. Plagiarism is as simple and copying and pasting from a website to a student's paper. Most libraries and archives are going paperless and putting all resources in online databases. Articles can be easily found and copied into college papers[9].

Although technology has in some ways made academic integrity more difficult to obtain, new programs are being created to detect online cheating. Sites like scan papers against large databases of published works to check for plagiarism. Many school distrust are using this tool in their middle school and high school classes. These programs, however, are easily sidestepped by simply changing the phrasing of words, among other strategies. Many schools even use an honor code, or in other words, trust their students not to cheat. This often backfires, as students have so much information at their disposal online, and sometimes do not even realize if and when they are plagiarizing.

See Also


  1. 1.0 1.1
  3. |
  6. 6.0 6.1 Consalvo, M. (2007). Cheating: gaining advantage in videogames. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press; annotated edition edition.
  8. Floridi, "The historical roots of information and computer ethics"
  9. Snapper, J., “The Matter of Plagiarism: What, Why, and If,” in Himma and Tavani (2008), pp. 533-552.

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