Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Cheating, cheaters and cheats

Julian Kuecklich is one of the gameboys, as he admitted with a happy grin yesterday, and one who looks at a fascinating phenomenon: cheating. Cheating is one of the less explored but quite important parts of games. Rules, social regulations and norms are all means by which cheating is avoided, which means that cheating rather than breaking the game defines it. Julian asks exactly this question, as he asks if cheats are a practice that defines the game rather than go against it.

Computer games no longer make cheats a moral question for a group, playing against the computer cheating is just part of understanding the code and thus the game. Playing against other players the classic moral questions come up though. We have interesting parallels for instance in sports. When Boklöv, the Swedish ski-jumper changed the style from parallel skis to V-shaped position of the skis, he made it possible to jump much longer, but he also broke with the classic aesthetics of ski jumping (link in Norwegian). This was at the time treated as a cheat, but was then adopted as a safer and more stable way of jumping, based on a better understanding of the dynamics of flying through the air on skis.

Cheats, if we treat them as ways for more players to participate at their own desired level, does not ruin the computer game, but become part of the game culture. In the same way as having an expert on ski preparation only available for a team makes it possible for them to gain the edge necessary to win, "cheats allow a shortcut between certain instances in game space."

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