Cheating at online video games – why do we do it?

by MaddOx
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It’s a concept as old as time, something that’s been around for as long as humans have had the ability to play games: cheating – a controversial topic, but something that many people do all the same. 

It’s also true in the world of video games. Right from the early days of the PlayStation and Xbox, we’ve had cheat codes and secret shortcuts – often released by developers themselves. Today, with multi-player online games, we see cheating from all sides, whether it be using through using special software or game glitches to gain an advantage.

However, this begs a question. If there’s often no financial gain to be had, why do we do it? What causes us to become a cheater?

Cheating Kid playing video game with headset on likely a streamer

Examples of cheating

Modern video games are rife with cheating, to the point where many developers are fighting back against it. Games such as Call of Duty and PUBG are extremely complex and prone to glitches, something that cheaters can pounce upon. There are also a pre-meditated number of outcomes that the gamer can influence, something that would be impossible in a slot machine, for example, thanks to its use of random number generators to ensure a fair outcome. 

Gamers use a range of techniques to illicitly gain the upper hand on their opponents, some of which are quite sophisticated and would have been impossible just a few years ago. 

The use of bots, for example, is becoming more popular. An aimbot allows players to locate opponents automatically and shoot them with perfect accuracy: it’s often used alongside a TriggerBot, which means they don’t even need to press the shoot button. Other hackers exploit bugs in order to give them unlimited ammo, or the maximum level of armour and weaponry, further increasing their unfair advantage.

A more old-fashioned method, which may not even be possible in some modern games is known as ‘lag switching’. This is where a player can manipulate the connection as a host to give them an advantage – their victim would see their screen freeze, only to suddenly resume to see their character defeated.

Drown screenshot whilst someone is online gaming

But why do it?

Cheating in this way might seem pointless to many people. After all, most of the time there’s no financial advantage to be had. Even if there is, developers employ advanced anti-cheating apparatus to stop people getting their hands on extra loot, and there are even teams of gaming vigilantes who dedicate their time towards protecting the honour of popular video games by weeding out cheaters.

Well, the reasons tend to be more psychological than financial. Players want to acquire ‘status’ within the game, whether that’s achieving a higher rank in games like COD, or special equipment, or simply just showing off to other players. Being seen to be ‘the boss’ is a much sought-after badge of pride, and in an increasingly digital world it has taken on a much higher importance than in the past.

Such status symbols go hand-in-hand with self-esteem, of course. Just like owning a Porsche might boost its owner’s ego in the real world, reaching the highest level of a video game also feeds a gamer’s feeling of self-worth. Modern games are highly realistic and immersive, so that the physical and virtual worlds often feel intertwined: many players place more value in online ‘achievements’ than they do in real-life success.

Another important factor to consider is a lack of social consequences to immoral behaviour online. Whereas in real life you might feel a sense of shame when caught cheating at Monopoly by your friends, why would you care what a bunch of internet strangers think? Seeing them as avatars rather than real people with feelings reduces any feeling of guilt when gaining the upper hand over them.

You’re hardly going to be fined, either, as you would be for breaking the speed limit on a bricks-and-mortar road, for example. And then, of course, there’s perhaps the simplest reason of all – sabotage. Many gamers cheat for the hell of it, to enjoy the chaos they create and watch their opponents suffer. As Alfred says in The Dark Knight: ‘some people just want to watch the world burn’.

Professional Gamer playing on a PC at a Desk

How developers are fighting back

Reducing cheating in video games is in the best interests of gaming companies, of course. Not only does it affect their reputation, but it also directly hits their revenue: if a game is known for its rule-breakers, why would people want to play it? 

While taking legal action against players is complicated and expensive – although Epic Games has done it several times – employing state-of-the-art detection algorithms is proving to be extremely effective. To use the example of Epic, their anti-cheating tool caught over 1,200 cheating accounts in their Fortnite World Cup tournament in 2019. These accounts were banned and some of them had their cash prizes revoked.

What’s more, machine-learning technology promises to bolster detection efforts further. ML algorithms analyse player usage patterns and catches offenders red-handed, at the exact moment that they cheat. They might even be able to predict potential cheaters and spot incidents before they happen. 

If such advanced methods are adopted across the video game industry, then it could become a question of HOW can gamers cheat rather than WHY gamers cheat within the near future.


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