I think it’s pretty safe to say that in multiplayer games, cheaters are the worst. Sure, it can be kind of fun to fulfill one’s power fantasies by being the cheater in question, but it’s ultimately at the cost of pretty much everyone else’s enjoyment. For that matter, doing it for long enough is usually a one-way trip to getting a ban hammer in the face.
In single player games, though, it’s a different story. If you find some cheat or exploit that gives you the advantage against your AI foes, nobody’s going to report you. There’s no oversight to prevent you from modding in invincibility, infinite ammo, or similar boosts to your character. However, I can’t help but wonder if there should be.
There’s already a lot of debate going on about the concept of multiple difficulty levels. People get outraged at the mere mention of easier modes for games like Dark Souls and Cuphead; a common complaint is that allowing “casuals” to easily complete the game would undermine the sense of accomplishment that one is supposed to feel by beating it “properly”. Yet little tends to be said about players who, say, mod in infinite gold before beating Skyrim, or give themselves infinite XP in the starting area of Fallout 4. That’s not even mentioning the less deliberate (but nonetheless useful) methods of gaining an advantage.
The whole reason this article came to mind for me was that I recently uncovered a serious exploit in a game I was reviewing. This glitch allowed me to traverse areas I shouldn’t have been able to, sequence-break the game, and circumvent a lot of the challenges that came my way. One boss became a pushover, thanks to the fact that I could walk out onto thin air and shoot it from the side, while it was only able to shoot forward at a bridge that “ordinary” players would be stuck on. Personally, I appreciated this, because I was rapidly growing tired of the game and just wanted to see the story through to the end. The argument could be made, though, that I didn’t “really beat” the game. Despite unlocking all associated achievements, seeing the ending cutscene, and so on, I didn’t play by the game’s rules all the way to the end. Should I be punished for that?
While there are certain things that obviously can’t be planned for (bugs happen, let me tell you), I think it would be interesting if games locked down certain components when cheating was detected. For instance, Fallout 4 prevents you from unlocking achievements if you start using mods. However, what about taking it one step further? Maybe you’d be unable to face the final boss until you started playing fairly? Perhaps any detection of cheating could lock you out of playing the main story until you’d beaten it on the game’s terms?
Of course, what constitutes “cheating” is also open for debate, and any detection software could easily end up being overly restrictive. Much like DRM’s largely failed attempts to combat piracy, anti-cheat in single player games could easily punish those that tried to play fair while the cheaters simply circumvented it. Not only that, but half the fun of many single player games is the communities of tinkerers that spring up around them; I think it’s fair to say that most of Bethesda’s recent releases wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular if it wasn’t for the dedicated modding and scripting communities they’ve inspired.
I certainly recognize the irony of writing this on Cheat Code Central, of all places. The site founded itself on the documentation of video game cheat codes, whether they unlocked new characters or gave the player infinite lives. Personally, I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong with cheating a game if you have the means to do so; that glitch I spoke about earlier arguably made the latter half of the game far more enjoyable than the former. It just makes me wonder: did I really earn that win?