Cheating in video games
Unfortunately, there is a chronic cheating problem in online multiplayer games. The servers of first-person shooters such as Call of Duty, PUBG and Counter-Strike are utterly rife with cheaters, most of whom download special software that alters the game in their favour. That might be aimbots, which make it easy for them to shoot other players; wall cheats, which render walls invisible so players can easily spot their opponents; or speed cheats, which allow them to move much faster. Such cheats are largely confined to PC games, where players are able to alter the code in client software, but console games are also vulnerable to exploits (using errors in a game design to get an advantage) and “lag switching” (disrupting the network communication to other players). Now that many multiplayer titles allow cross-platform play, PlayStation and Xbox owners are coming up against PC players who are using cheats to get an advantage.
Game developers are often too slow to respond to blatant cheating, or don’t do enough to communicate with the communities frustrated most by the cheating issues. With cheaters able to generate huge sums from selling cheats, it increasingly looks like a problem that will get worse before it gets any better. For many, cheating utterly ruins the experience of a multiplayer video game. Even if you are not directly affected, it breaks the social contract. “When people play a competitive game together, they conjure the world of that game into existence through mutual agreement: this is the aim, these are the restrictions on how we can achieve that aim,” says game designer Holly Gramazio. “When you realise that someone is cheating, it can disrupt that mutual agreement and call the whole experience into question.” There are also important moral distinctions to be made between different forms of cheating. Gramazio is the editor of Bernard de Koven’s wonderful book The Infinite Playground about the shared imaginative spaces that games provide and the ways in which rules and regulations can be altered by players to enhance the experience. A good example from board games is Monopoly, where some families agree to stash all the money paid out in fines under the free parking square so that the player who lands there gets to keep it all. It’s a cheat, but it’s one all participants have agreed on and endorsed. An example from video games might be rocket jumping in Quake Arena – it’s cheating, but it is also an accepted tactic, so it’s fine. Cyber-psychologist Berni Good argues that the very nature of video games give tacit permission to cheat. “Players can cheat and not have face to face contact – social norms differ in a virtual world,” she says. “Gamers have always used cheats, tips, previews and walkthroughs, it’s always been part of the culture, it’s just that more people are playing multiplayer than, say, 20 years ago. In fact, if you think about it, the game ‘cheats’ too when for example a player’s character gets defeated and then rejuvenated.” If death does not mean death in a game, then is cheating really cheating?
There are few games on the market where cheating is as impactful as it is in Escape From Tarkov, where a chance meeting with a cheater can wipe out hours of progress and gear. It’s a particularly brutal game, as death often means losing everything you’ve brought in with you. For some gamers, there is perhaps also an underlying sense of entitlement. “I wonder whether there’s something around cheating that can come from a sense of deserving the win, of having enough gaming capital that cheating to get the win is alright for you,” says Gramazio. “Maybe you feel that the work you’ve put into figuring out how to cheat makes the action valid. Maybe you just feel like you’re so dedicated and involved in the game that you deserve the win, even if you can’t get it legitimately.” And this isn’t only in professional and competitive leagues and ranked matches, where there are prizes at stake. This is on public servers against complete strangers with nothing tangible at stake apart from a few stats. Publishers are doing what they can to address the issue, utilising third-party anti-cheat systems such as BattlEye, while working on patches to block cheat programs and remove players who use them. Last week, Activision banned 60,000 players from its battle royale game Call of Duty: Warzone for using cheat software – over 300,000 permanent bans have now been administered. And that’s just one game. The problem is, when one cheat app is blocked another is developed and distributed. Demand is high. Why? Why are people cheating this much? The moral rules of video game participation are complex and ambiguous. We’ve grown up with cheat codes, pokes and exploits as an accepted element of play – designers themselves have often coded these elements into their own products. And the very structure of game worlds, with their hidden shortcuts and secrets, suggests to players that these are negotiable spaces, where law, morality and even geography, can be bent to the will of determined protagonists. Games are also places where victory is paramount, where winning is everything. So should we be surprised that people want to cheat?
How to detect and prevent breaking point aimbotting.
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