Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Review - Cheating, Mia Consalvo

1. Consalvo M (Ohio U. Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames. MIT Press; 2007:228.

The book looks at the history of the videogame culture, starting with the magazines in the early days that published things like walk throughs and cheat codes and moving on to online resources. This is done to define what might be called 'cheats', and show how they have been used to a certain degree by the industry to maintain interest in games.

The author then goes on to look at how the players themselves view and define cheating within a videogame, and when they would or would not use cheats. There doesn't seem to be any consistent level of behaviour that is universally recognised as cheating - some players are hardcore and believe even asking friends is cheating, others see hacking the gamecode as an indication of just how proficient a player they are. Also, many players had engaged in a behaviour they did consider to be cheating, for a variety of reasons. These included making the game more fun (e.g. using codes to give you unlimited lives) or get past a particular stumbling point, right through to getting even with other people who 'cheated' (possibly not in their perception of cheating), or just making other players miserable. There is a difference made between cheating in single player games where the only person you cheat is yourself, and multi-player games where you gain an advantage over other people.

There is a look at how the industry attempts to counter the cheating, from making the cheats less effective and therefore worthless, right through to naming and shaming and banning individuals from playing the game. The varying reactions reflect the underlying feelings about the cheaters, to a degree. Also the reaction of the community (in MMOGs - particularly Final Fantasy IX) is explored, which mainly consists of naming and shaming in community areas to prevent others having the same problems.

Interesting point about the way the rules of multi-player games tend to be defined at two levels: the actual rules of the game, and the 'gentleman's agreement' of how cheats/hacks/exploits will be used. This struck me as very similar to the difference between the rules of cricket and the spirit of cricket. It is also interesting that the online games evolve in response to the behaviour of the playing communities. (A point raised in the paper 'Why virtual worlds can matter'.) If communities start using behaviour that the developers do not want, the code is changed to preclude that behaviour. Alternatively, communities can cause the code to be changed in a way that improves the game play. This really stresses the symbiotic relationship between the game development and the players - neither exists without the other.

I think the lack of a clear-cut definition of what is a cheat is fascinating, and also that many players are happy to do things even if they have defined them as cheating, and can justify it to themselves. Also the difference in perception of cheating in a single-player game vs a multi-player game is intriguing, as the comparison between cheating in real life vs cheating in an online environment.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review of this book at Games Studies: http://gamestudies.org/1001/articles/mayra