A player can cheat at any game. In video games, this might take the form of exploitable bugs, devices like GameSharks, and watching walkthroughs to maneuver around a difficult puzzle or anticipate the ramifications of an in-game decision. While the drawbacks of cheating in multiplayer games or competitions are obvious – cheating gives a player an unfair advantage over others and ruins the spirit of the competition – the impact that cheating can have on a one player game’s experience became controversial during our class discussion on Thursday. In the context of a puzzle-heavy game like Braid, the challenging gameplay is a deliberate part of the gamer’s experience: frustration, repetition, and forcing the player to look at a problem in new ways gives the player a great sense of satisfaction when they finally crack the puzzle, even if it is hours later. If the player is ultimately unable to complete the puzzles, or is too impatient or lacks the time to master the various mechanics, then they will ultimately never complete the game’s story. In the high fantasy rpg Dragon Age: Inquisition, decisions made by the player impact political alliances, the loyalty of allies, and can have life-or-death consequences for characters in the game. One wrong decision can dramatically affect the player’s story and the outcome of quests. In both types of games, a player may choose to use walkthrough guides to reach a desired outcome: completion of a puzzle or a particular plot line. If no competition is involved – if nothing is on the line but the single player’s experience – then why does the suggestion of cheating raise such strong feelings in others?
When we recommend games to our friends, we want to share with them a particular experience that was memorable, exciting, or even heartbreaking. I frequently recommend Undertale to my friends and sometimes buy or loan it to others, but with one rule: if it’s your first time playing, you can’t consult walkthroughs, watch Let’s Plays, or “spoil” the experience in any way. This isn’t even a rule that I myself adhered to my first time playing: before I ever bought the game, I was so curious about it that I read several articles and watched some gameplay. I ruined many plot twists for myself and, as a result, my game experience felt inferior to that of my friends who went in without prior knowledge. I’ve since experienced the game vicariously through the fresh experiences of my friends. In my first playthrough, by knowing too much about the game I had effectively cheated – but I affected no one’s enjoyment but my own.
Cheating in single player games still remains a point of contention. When I feel as if I’ve made progress in a challenging game, knowing that someone else has matched my progress by exploiting that game feels as if it has cheapened my experience – as a childhood Pokemon enthusiast, I became extremely frustrated with a friend who used a GameShark to catch powerful and rare pokemon, even though we never traded, battled, or interacted in-game. Instead of spending hours leveling up pokemon or hunting for that rare shiny in the tall grass, he could plug a code in and get the same result immediately. He enjoyed the game much more for it, but to defend and legitimize my own experience of the game I had to attack his.
When we play a single player video game, we are pursuing an experience of our own. Some players choose to play by the game’s rules and allow it to shape their experience of the story and world, while others get more enjoyment from exploiting game glitches or passing puzzles with walkthrough guides – and other players frequently have strong responses to these decisions, even when their own experience has not been directly affected. What about experiencing video games allows for these reactions? Is a single player game ever a truly solo experience, or is it too closely tied to how other players have experienced the game?