As an event volunteer, I didn’t get much time to enjoy the festivities at Toronto’s Gamercamp festival, but I did manage to sit in on one extremely interesting presentation. University of Toronto PhD student Andy Keenan discussed a relatively simple topic — cheating in video games — but the way he approached the concept struck me.
His central argument? Cheating can make games more fun.
The gaming community generally feels that corner-cutting measures somehow deter from the overall experience. Bypassing areas, adding extra lives, and turning on God Mode? Only weak games (and weak gamers) utilize features like that. Apparently, we should only play what's presented without even once frustration sets in.
As an example, Andy referenced the original Contra on NES. Almost everyone who finished it did so by using the famous extra-lives code, which instantly gave you 30 more soldiers to use. You needed them to complete that ridiculously difficult game.
This got me thinking. Isn’t it silly that the majority of people who played Contra had to cheat in order to finish it? Then I started to wonder if that same option should be included in comparatively difficult modern games?
Personally, I always subscribed to a hardcore-gamer philosophy. I hated the fact that if I made a mistake in Dirt 3, a simple button press would rewind my progress, and all was forgiven. As I’ve gotten older (and have less time), mechanics like these actually prove extremely useful. I don’t have the time to replay a 10-lap race just because a small error smashed me into the wall within sight of the finish line. I’d rather rewind a little bit and continue on with the game because I have other things to do.
The option to cheat makes a better experience for me, and keeping it strictly optional is important. I make the game as difficult or as easy as I want it to be.
When playing The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, you must save your game before entering a dungeon, before fighting a dragon, before swimming across a giant body of water, before climbing a mountain, before breathing heavily. I’ve actually stopped playing Skyrim on occasion because I forgot to save, died, and lost all of my previous progress. I liked getting an awesome piece of glass armor, but I didn’t like it enough to backtrack and replay the last few hours.
On the other hand, Skyrim allows you to lower the difficulty at any time, even in the middle of a fight. That virtually eliminates the need for frequent saves. Pretty handy as cheats go. Features like this can make games extremely easy, but you’re not required to use the instant rewind features that are in Forza 4 or Dirt 3. You choose to…or not to.
Of course, if you make things too easy, it can take away from the sense of accomplishment people get after completing that super-hard dungeon or destroying that insanely difficult boss, right?
Well, yes and no. A lot of titles now include hardcore mechanics while remaining easy and accessible. My girlfriend, who’s never played a 3D Mario title, cruised through Super Mario 3D Land in a few enjoyable hours. But for people looking for that extra challenge, just collect three special coins strewn through each level and play the remixed, far more difficult mode that unlocks after completing the game. Similarly, Nintendo aimed Kirby’s Return To Dreamland at children but made it accessible to adults. It’s insanely easy — I haven’t come close to dying even once — but I’m still having a great time. I can always go collect optional spaceship parts to bump up the difficulty, or I can have fun as-is.
Those features are totally optional…and it's not exactly cheating if you ignore them. So why would it be cheating if, instead of turning those hardcore elements on, you turned them off so you could just relax and enjoy yourself?
Games don’t need to play like they did 30 years ago. You didn't even get a choice between difficulty levels back then, but we’re on a completely different technological level now. Cheat codes and the like exist — and people use them — to tailor things to their particular taste and make the overall experience better. It's another story if you cheat to improve your chances against another player, but against the computer A.I.? I doubt it's going to complain. And we play video games to have a good time, not to add to our daily frustrations. If cheating helps you do that, then cheat. Cheat a lot. Cheat a little. It's your game, after all.