Playing by the Rules

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?

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Author: Chloe

Vanderbilt Class of 2017. English major.

3 thoughts on “Playing by the Rules”

  1. Great post! I really appreciate your discussion of “cheapening” the experience of playing a single-player game for others by cheating your way through difficult achievements in your own game. When we discussed cheating in class, we mostly focused on the effect cheating had on your own playthrough, so it’s interesting to see another spin on that discussion. I do have one (rather nitpicky) point of contention to bring up, though. In games like Dragon Age: Inquisition, more frequently than not there is no single right choice. Instead, there are two or more choices with varied consequences, few of which are just good or just bad. Therefore, is it still considered cheating to look up those choices, since there is no one right answer? Thank you for such a thoughtful blog post!

  2. This is a really interesting take on cheating and how it doesn’t only impact the person who is playing. I have often looked up playthroughs and talked to friends about games I was interested in only to have it spoil the story. Once the story is spoiled I am often less likely to actually play the game because I always feel like I won’t enjoy it as much since I already know what the mechanics are and how the story goes.

  3. I thought your idea of the different effects that cheating can have on a single player game for the player was really interesting. I have often used walkthroughs to help me through a very difficult level of a game and while doing so often feel like I’m missing out on the entire experience of the game, just like you talked about the connect you make with Tim while playing Braid and feeling the same frustration as he might be feeling. I also have felt that feeling of ‘cheapening’ of my experience but in a different way – the times when I have watched walkthroughs for games, I often find myself clueless about certain things in the sections I took help in, while talking to my friends and often feel like I myself have missed out on certain things by not figuring things out myself.

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