Video Games Want You To Cheat


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This article aims to describe from a sociological point of view the phenomenon of cheating. It does not attempt to release any kind of debate about cheaters and cheating.

Reminder from the author: I am not a psychologist nor a sociologist. I just enjoy to read and think about video game psychology. The resources I use are retrieved from my university course notes. Keep in mind I am an amateur although I use true concepts and existing ideas from the sociological and psychological field.

Woah, this guy is good! Damn he beat me again... I wish I could know how he did that! How did he know I was there? If only I could see what's going on in his mind I could probably be better... Maybe I could just go watch him play against someone else or ask for his demo? But that won't change the way I'm doing right now...

Like a complex puzzle or an impossible maths problem, we always wonder what is the answer. We ask for clues, we want to know what is happening on the other side of our screen. What is the only and simplest way to know in real time what the opponent is doing in order to become better than him? What if... we could see through walls? Oh but that's not fair right? But if it's not fair, why are there cheats? Why does our game have cheats if we cannot use them?

[hide=Video Games Want You To Cheat]

What is deviance

In sociology, a deviance is a behaviour that does not respect cultural norms. These norms are either strict rules (laws - mores) or conventional norms (folkways). Deviant is the people who make deviances. However, we all commit deviances but we are not all deviants. We cross the street where we are not supposed to, we take an extra candy from a bowl, we camp in corners or stay at the yellow armour on campgrounds (camping is socially not acceptable in video games), and so on. Being a deviant is being labelled as someone who crossed the line and did not respect or does not respect one or more norms.

We need deviance / We need cheating

French sociologist and philosopher Émile Durkheim stated that society needs deviance. Deviance allows people to affirm their cultural values and norms and it justifies our right behaviour when someone gets caught. Responding to deviance also clarifies our moral boundaries. It brings people together (neighbours get together to watch their neighbourhood, and so on). Deviance encourages social changes as well. A deviance might happen to be controversial and some people can start to think it is not a deviance any more (homosexuality for example). Finally, deviance acts as a safety-value mechanism. Average people use deviants to release stress from trying to live in a society that restricts us. Committing deviance allows you to function better in society (to a certain extend).

From a video game's point of view, cheating exists for a certain reason and, with Durkheim's thinking, the benefits are:

- Cheating allows us to justify our fairness and sportsmanship when someone gets caught. It gives us the feeling that we are doing right and that we are right to not cheat.

- We define our moral boundaries by catching cheaters. We learn what is wrong and bad in a video game by making associations with certain types of people. A camper can play and is right to play meanwhile someone who sees through walls is wrong and does not deserve to play.

- Cheaters unify us. We make anti-cheat systems, some people will create server administrators alliances where they will exchange banishment lists and cooperate to put in common their bans. I have even seen a community who created a cheat experts section where a restricted group of people would debate cases of cheating and apply judgements based on demos and other proofs.

- Cheaters encourage social and gaming changes. If the number of cheaters in a game is extremely high, does it mean the game is too hard? How should we catch cheaters and how should we treat them? There even is some reasons of cheating that will allow us to ask forgiveness of others.

- You can be unfair in a game in order to release your stress from being always clean. You cheat to know how it feels and get rid of your curiosity, because you naturally play badly and you want to feel good for once.

Merton's Strain Theory / The Gaming Dream

The American sociologist Robert K. Merton established the strain theory. His theory says that society is based on cultural goals and that there are conventional opportunity structures to allow us to achieve these cultural goals. An example of this is the American dream. You have to be successful by having your own house, wife-family-children, be rich, and so on. Conventional ways to succeed are going to school, follow the rules, work hard, get a good job, and so on. If all the conventional ways are applied then you will access the American dream.

However some people happen to not succeed through the conventional structures and will be labelled accordingly to their behaviours.

- Conformists:: They are not deviants. They accept their situation and will keep chasing the dream and repeat the structures until it works.
- Innovators are people who want to achieve the cultural goal by using illegitimate ways (selling drugs, robbing banks, black-work, and so on).
- Rebels: They think our cultural goals are wrong and they will try to reform society by any possible mean (up to violence and law breaking).
- Retreatists: Are less likely to become criminals. These people realize that they will never get the dream and therefore stop working for it. The best example to look at is homeless people. They are usually homeless because of these reasons.
- Ritualists are people who know that they will never achieve the goal but still keep following the rules. They become excessive and obsessed with following the rules.

In our case, what is the cultural goal of a video game? Well, it obviously depends on the type of video game you play. For video games such as Quake Live, the goal is to be good so you can always win over everyone. How do you become good? By following the rules, playing (working) hard, watching demos, read articles, and so on. The conventional opportunity structures of a video game can be its community, wiki, online resources, tutorials, clans, and so on.

Each one of us will match at least one of Merton's labels. You are either someone who conforms to the rules and will follow them until you manage to get better, you will innovate by working hard on your CFG file and unlock unauthorized variables, perhaps you will be a rebel and blame the game itself, thinking it does not want us to become better (the maps are full of obstacles after all) and the game itself is not fair, maybe you will realize that you are not made for this game and will quit playing it. Or perhaps you will stick to the rules no matter how good or bad you are and will try to watch people playing in order to report them, or become a league administrator.

You are defined by what you have access to

Another sociological theory says that whatever available you have access to will define what you do as a deviant. If you play with cheaters, you will be more likely to cheat yourself, if you play with programmers, you are likely to know some things you should not be supposed to know, and so on.

Labelling Theory (Societal Reaction Theory) / They think therefore I am

"Efforts at social control might actually increase and perpetuate deviant behaviour due to labelling effects."

People getting labelled as "bad" will stay bad. Everyone ends up expecting someone to be deviant and so that person keeps on being a deviant. This person will think that if everyone thinks this, then he had better do this behaviour.

Someone who is always being called a cheater, although he does not cheat, might end up cheating because after all everyone is expecting this person to do it.

This also explains why some cheaters keep cheating. "Once a cheater, always a cheater" is not true. People keep cheating because they are labelled as being so and therefore they are expected to do so. We assign them a social role, and this role is to be a cheater. Games such as Quake Live or Counter Strike have a very low amount of cheaters because of their anti-cheat policy. If you cheated, you are allowed to play again, although you lose money. An anti-cheat policy that allows players to come back will have a stronger effect as a cure than a policy that banishes permanently.

Social Control Theory

The last sociological theory I would like to introduce you is the Social Control Theory. This theory states that we are always tempted to act like deviants. Our only solution to not commit deviance is our social control. Social control is multiple factors that will influence our tendency to become deviant. There are four social bounds in social control:

- Attachment(s) - The social connections we have with other people will define whether we stay connected to them or not. Are we enough connected, do we have a reputation to maintain, do we have relationships and links to respect and to not disappoint, and so on.
- Commitment - Your state in society. How much time and energy do you invest in society and how much do you have to lose. Are you committed to this game? Are you involved in the community? You are less likely to cheat or act as a deviant in a game if you are invested in the game. You have a lot to lose if you get caught and you would not take the risk to lose all your commitment.
- Involvement - How many things are you involved in? You are out of trouble if you keep yourself busy. However this does not really apply to video games because the aspect of time is not the same.
- Belief - The fit between your own sense of what is right or wrong and what society's values are. In our case, it is the distance between your own morals and the community's definition of what is good or bad.

In conclusion
The cheating problem can be explained as being a sociological phenomenon and many reasons can explain why it is here and what is it meant for. Should we treat deviants (cheaters) in a specific way, this is given up to all the players' moral judgement. However, this topic should not be closed and discussions should happen if there is a need to. Everyone has to respect each other because after all, it's just a game, isn't it?

I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating. - Sophocles

Sources and references

- My course notes from my sociology class.
- Deviance (Sociology) on Wikipedia


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