Sanity’s Other Side: On the Nature of Cheating

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Gameshark GBA

If you’ve been following recent news in the competitive Pokemon arena, then you probably have heard of the uproar behind the Battle Analyzer as a premier cheating tool in online battles. But in the realm of games, how far does cheating really go? Is it necessarily a bad thing?

As far as any of us know, the Battle Analyzer is a detriment to the game. By using the wireless connection of the user, it intercepts the incoming data about the opponent’s team and even their move choice, taking all the guesswork out of the cheater’s end. Anyone can easily say that this is very harmful to the competitive circuit and Game Freak has disabled all ranked matches while they search for a workaround, but how can we articulate its harm? With good old game theory.

Battle Analyzer PKMN XY

Game theory sets up the basic logic behind strategies and decision making; the theory assumes that when someone is playing a “game” (which could be just about anything), that person will do anything and everything to achieve those ends aka a payoff. If you know the phrase “play to win”, perhaps in the ye olde tier of games such as Super Smash Bros. Melee, you will certainly be familiar with this aspect of game theory. Of course, if you’re going to do everything you can to win in a game, it’d be certainly advantageous if you ran over to your opponent and broke his or her kneecaps.  Thankfully that’s where rules come in. Rules are the other backbone of games. If a person is “playing to win”, rules keep many would-be cheaters in check.

Pokemon XY rating battles

Now the Battle Analyzer takes the fundamental prediction aspect of Pokemon out of the picture and does break one of the game’s core rules, but say for devil’s advocate reasons we did permit the tool. What would happen? Since I highly doubt players view “Seeing the Lose screen” as a payoff, they can either chose to hold onto their integrity and attempt to win in spite of terrible odds, or they can follow the crowd and cheat as well. Note the opponent will be undergoing the same pressure.

Pressured by the possible thought the opponent is a cheater and by the desire to “win”, both players will choose to cheat. Neither player can play the game he or she wants to play, creating dull situations for all. You could say it’s a variation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. It might sound like the obvious, but you can formalize the logic for any argument and here’s where things get a little gray.

Super Mario Bros Warp Zones
Departing from a competitive game, what about Mario or Sonic? What are the “rules” behind speedruns? The payoff is the shortest clear time by any and all means. I personally know a speedrunner or two, and their mantra is to go beyond what the game is “supposed to do” when the level can’t even load fast enough for Sonic to race through it. Since nobody is being put into a Prisoner’s Dilemma, you can’t class this scenario the same as the Analyzer, but you also can’t class it with people that play the platformer for a score, taking time to search out extra lives or rout all the enemies.

Compare those high scorerunners to your average player and even they do the unthinkable to see the highest score. One person may see the other two as a cheater but the fact of the matter is, all three players–the speedrunner, the scorerunner, and the average player–are playing three different games; their payoffs and rules are all different. There’s no wrong way to play.

Mushihimesama Futari final

Speaking of rules, some players, as we all know, enjoy more restrictive rules ets. Players of the SHMUP shooter genre like Touhou or Mushihimesama are not just satisfied clearing the game; players want to clear the game with their hands tied behind their back. The payoff is still the same as always, but the rules have changed. Now you cannot use bombs to save yourself from enemy gunfire, or you cannot utilize focused movement to glide through the gaps of bullets.

Finally, we have games where the rules are intended to be broken through obsessive gameplay or minimizing time and maximizing games. Disgaea comes to mind here with its millions and billions of damage. Here players aren’t cheating at all. If anything, they have even more rules than what is “allowed”, but they are getting their payoff.

Disgaea 3 lots of damage

At the end of the day, unless we have the Nash Equilibrium or Zero-Sum game of heavy cheating in a competitive arena, games are at their core, what people make of them. Even among two nearly identical players, there might be slightly nuanced differences in the goals of the players as well as what rules there might be. So when a developer releases a game, you could say in essence that they are releasing many different games to many different people. Well, what do you think?

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The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.


The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.

One Comment:

  1. In my opinion, I find cheating is fine if you’re playing a single-player game. Cheating in a multiplayer game ruin the fun of a game match against real opponents. Sure, you could cheat as well as a retaliation against your opponent, but where’s the fun in that?

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