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.
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.