Editorial: When Cheating Died

With great cheating comes great responsibility.
The first cheat code device I ever owned.

Cheating in video games is something I look at very differently today. I have always taken it as a point of pride when I finish most games, particularly those infamous few that truly tested my skill and willingness to improve. But as much as I enjoyed finishing the game legitimately, I also used to enjoy cheating. Yes, I used to cheat in most any game I owned. I am sure this sounds detestable, but I did have rules I followed about it. No game would be cheated until I finished it completely at least once. This was as much for my own sense of pride as it was for my enjoyment of a game. When I was much younger and had access to such powerful tools as Game Genie, I would play around in a game before finishing it with unlimited lives or invincibility. But the experience felt dead after a short while, and any sense of accomplishment was nullified. Despite this, I retained a small interest in cheat codes and found a way to work them harmoniously into my gaming experiences.

I would not be surprised if the idea of cheating in a video game held absolutely no appeal for some people, but for me it became something of a guilty pleasure. I always viewed it as having done all the work of finishing a game and getting to enjoy the dessert of replaying it while blasting a hole through all the challenges that gave me a hard time before. It was as much about replaying and reliving the game as it was about a cathartic revenge on that particularly hard boss battle. And this would become my usual experience with games throughout the Super Nintendo days on into the PlayStation 2 and Gamecube era. I would even see my sentiments reflected in the naming of the newer cheat devices by manufacturer CodeJunkies, namely the Action Replay. And there was much more to do with cheat codes than simply be invincible or all powerful. Codes that gave access to hidden or unfinished sections of the game, codes that altered the appearance of your characters or enemies or weapons, codes that even brought more challenge into the game were all on offer. But today, the cheat code scene has moved away from fun alternative methods of play and firmly into the realm of the forbidden.

With the advent of Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and Steam achievements, cheating in a game is now a viable method to appear as a skilled gamer. With the rising popularity of online multiplayer games, cheating has become a common method of griefing and trolling game lobbies. And with the increased control that service providers, like Microsoft and Sony, have on their online environments, banning has become recourse for those discovered or reported to be cheating. All support by cheat code device manufacturers has been dropped and cheating itself has moved more into the purview of console hacking. In one fell swoop, my little extra enjoyment I found within games was utterly quashed. Unwilling to be labeled a cheater and banned from online interactions, I had to mostly move on from this aspect of gaming. I say mostly, because in some rare occasions cheating is still endorsed by the game creator.

No one wants to get banned for falsified achievements... Right?
Achievements, like in Diablo 3, have put a stop to cheat codes.

In-game cheats, either through button combos or through options in a menu that must be unlocked, can still be found in some games today. Not surprisingly, the structure of needing to unlock a cheat through accomplishments in a game was always a fun motivating factor in some of my most played games, like Perfect Dark and the more recent Uncharted 2. Some PC titles still leave the console commands at the player’s disposal, such as the Bethesda games Fallout 3 and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. These are the exception to the rule as the wide majority of titles released this generation do not offer any such options or secrets, indeed it was becoming a rarity in the previous generation as well.

Today, I live a gaming life mostly bereft of my old friend the cheat code. I still occasionally fire up the old systems and run through with this or that little code activated whenever I get the urge. But my respect for the prevalence of online leader boards and other similar structures has turned me away from cheats almost entirely. And this next round of systems, with increased sharing and streaming features, look only to further this trend.

So what do you say? Have we lost something valuable with the loss of cheat devices and cheat codes? Has the structure of the online community, achievements and leader boards, snuffed out an alternative way to play? Or should I just get over this old habit of mine that clearly has lost much of its popular support? Yell at me in the comments.


  1. I think cheat codes are ‘cheating’, but I refuse to think anyone should be denied the right to cheat a single-player game that they own. If you buy a game, you should have every right to totally break the game’s mechanics as long as this does not affect anyone else’s gameplay experience. (NOTA BENE, ‘gameplay experience’ doesn’t mean, ‘gamerscore’!)

    However, the invention of e-peen bullshit like ‘gamerscores’ and ‘PSN ratings’ now means that, in order to defend these fucking imaginary, virtual ratings, yet another right of gamers has been taken away. Now, if you dare to put a Game Genie or similar device on your PS3 or Xbox, you risk having your account banned, your friends list deleted, and your games deactivated. And for what? Not because you have affected someone else’s game, but because you have undermined the SACRED GAMERSCORE, that vitally important system which must be defended at any cost.

    This is just one of the many reasons why I think that people who value achievements and gamerscores have got their heads pretty far up their own asses.

  2. Blame the rise of online gaming – but games are so easy these days that it’s not like they are really needed anymore.

  3. Yeah, games have gotten easier. But “cheats” can be used to do lots of other things that just add something to the replay value, even if it’s purely cosmetic.

  4. In PC gaming, cheats are needed less as games become more moddable. In Skyrim there is no cheat to make me invincible, but I’m sure I could find a mod that make me so powerful it near as makes no difference.

  5. @Imitanis The command TGM will toggle “God Mode”.

    In the past, I would use a cheat device to screw around in games that I had already beaten. Pokemon Red marked the first game I used a Gameshark on before I completed it, and that was only to get Mew. While cheat codes are available to me through my DS flashcart and my hacked PSP, I often refrain from using them. The Pokemon example continues to be an exception because Nintendo and Gamefreak are bastards. My other lone exception occurred on Persona 3 Portable, where I lost over an hour worth of grinding to a dead battery, not willing to do it again, I applied a few EXP/Gold multipliers to speed up the second go around.

    My favorite “cheats” to use now are ones that will make a game more difficult. The Pokemon Randomizer code (makes every wild battle against a random pokemon) makes even random encounters dangerous at times as Mewtwo is a fearsome opponent at any stage of the game.

  6. In Skyrim all you should need to do is hit “`” and the dev console should open up. From there you can give yourself anything in the game, including levels.

    But yes, mods have supplanted some of the roles cheats have. But mostly only on PC, and even then some games will punish people even for that. I think in Dark Souls people have reported being banned from GFWL for using a mod that just lets the game run at 60 frames.

  7. @Gyme: That pokemon cheat reminds me of one I used in Mario Kart. It made the items truly random instead of based on your position in the race. So in a way that actually reintroduced some skill back into the game. lol

  8. Man, ALL of Mel’s experiences with cheating are EXACTLY the same as mine! weird. I too cheated for a bit and found that completely removing all the challenge from a game is actually boring. I also used that Action Replay thing to try and get the final cannon that you have only during the latter half of the final battle of Super Metroid right from the start. It didn’t work but it was fun to try.

    I think that of all the people who “care” about their gamer score or trophies, do so not because of how strong of a player they look in comparison to others but because they are completionists. I have this problem myself. Any time I see a percentage or a gauge in a game, I want to max it out. But now every single game has a percentage because there are trophies. It can be fun going for the platinum on certain games but most of them will just drive you insane.

    One day I made a new PSN account and wanted to play a game I had already started on another account. You can copy the file but if you load it, the game will tell you that you cannot collect trophies using this save file. I wanted to collect trophies so I found a way around it. So I managed to play a single-player game, that doesn’t even have leader boards, from a late point in the game and finish it off quickly. The next day, the account was banned. The End.

  9. There are a buch of classic titles that I enjoyed far more with cheats as a child, but when difficulty fell away (mostly) during the PS1 era, then so too did my use of cheat devices.

  10. Indeed, didn’t most people play Contra with the famous Konami code?

  11. I think that the reason that they have to ban anyone who’s using/used a cheating device from online services is that they have no way of knowing what they’ve modified. If you’ve never played online though, then I agree that it is pretty stupid to ban people to protect gamerscore.

  12. Well, if your system isn’t online there’s not much to be banned from, is there? Often the ban just effects access to the online related features like multiplayer. Not sure if the digital storefronts are included.

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