Chances are you probably know someone who cheats online. Perhaps you've even strayed to the dark side. Previously the realm of the PC gamer, online cheating seems to have transitioned successfully over to consoles. But can anything be done about it?
When people think of cheating in console video games, often their first thought is of some desperate individual frantically hitting button combos on a controllers in an attempt to unlock some godly weapon combination that will blow the competition out of the water.
Being an avid Xbox 360 gamer, and playing considerable hours online on what I naively thought was a closed platform (and therefore supposedly safe from the abusive traits of a cheater) little did I know that my innocent haven could be disrupted by an unruly force, hell-bent on winning at any cost. It seems that no matter the system, someone always has to ruin the fun for everyone else by exploiting otherwise honest game mechanics.
The problem seems to lie partly in the ranking systems that many games nurture in an effort to encourage players to game long into the night. Some of our gaming fraternity will do anything to achieve that elusive rank. Personally, that's never really been my focus, and perhaps this is why the repulsive behaviour of the few strikes such a chord.
Back in Electronic Art's Battlefield: Bad Company, I recall encountering groups of soldiers on the edge of the map standing next to flipped vehicles continually repairing them, ending the match with several thousand points more than the next top ranked player. It became immediately clear that the honest approach reaps far fewer rewards.
While we were off having fun, these guys shot through the ranks faster than an angry Austrian with a funny moustache. This isn't only a symptom of Battlefield: Bad Company however, and occurs in many other games including more recent releases such as Call of Duty: World at War, where dedicated cheating matches are being run for people to endlessly capture and recapture flag-points.
Another irritating glitch in Call of Duty: World at War, in the early days at least, was the ability to glitch into the ground of the level, from which you could shoot all the other players without being able to be shot (or even seen for that matter).
It sounds simple really, but most developers and game server administrators take a rather dim view of this behaviour. Game patches frequently address such issues, but these sorts of bugs exist in many games, just waiting to be discovered by some virtual cheating champion.
Another method of cheating I have encountered is in my much loved football mainstay FIFA 09. I have been playing this considerably recently (after all, it's still my favourite football game of all time) and have found an increasing number of players who cheat to get ahead. I struggle to win online matches at the best of times, but when I have cheaters manipulating the game it makes me want to throw my controller in frustration.
One slightly more sneaky way to cheat involves players using the ability to access the start menu and make tactical changes or subs when entering your penalty area. This is dangerous in the sense that it stops play at a moment when your defender is potentially directly in front of the opponents player, or catching them up from the side.
By stopping play the player pulls you out of the game, into the menu, at which point they can make an unexpected move when play resumes, or even resume play at his or her leisure and catch you off guard.
Cheating is not limited to in-game manipulation. Some players resort to such devices as rapid-fire controllers, which are readily available on online auction sites. These controllers are modified to electronically activate a certain button at a much faster rate than a human is capable of, which means you can get the upper hand in online shooters.
This advantage cuts both ways, so some games will be hard to use with a rapid fire controller, but the general intention to cheat in order to get ahead is there.
So really, what is the purpose of this? While normal players are out enjoying the game, and playing it as its meant to be played, a select few decide to stand around an upturned vehicle or a flag capture point for fifteen minutes without actually firing a shot.
The players who are then punished are those who want to play normally, and end up team-killing the majority of their squad because they were teaching rather than helping their team to victory. If the fun is gone from a game, because all we do is cheat, surely there?s very little point, and the developers may as well pack up and go home.
Realistically, what satisfaction can a cheater possibly have? Is it simply to be able to stand up and say "I am better than you!" when obviously the cheater must know that this is a lie, or does this activity hint at a deeper, narcissistic need to feel accepted and revered by ones peers? It must feel very hollow having your online friends gasp at your maximum level or score, and having to pretend that you actually earned it.
Somehow though, I don?t see how cheating benefits anyone. It's like asking David Beckham to join your local football club - sure, you'll be victorious, but the win will be hollow, and everyone knows it.
Cheating doesn't stop at those examples indicated above. Manipulating connections and generating artificial lag seems to be another factor, although much less common. In most cases the cheating is relatively minor, but it needs to be said that fortunately Xbox Live (and most other online gaming environments) generally have complaints systems.
These need to be made use of to put cheats in their rightful place and strip them of their artificial ranks. These cheaters need to be dealt with with zero tolerance, because their activities are harming online gaming for all. Only one incident of cheating can be enough to ruin a good game, as it makes all the hard work seem wasted when there are people speeding to the top without even trying.
In the future it would be good to see console makers implementing anti-cheating policies or programs which can detect cheating, or simply issue a ban after complaints from users. This would work as most cheaters would repeat their cheat over several games, thus impacting many players who all need to be protected from this sort of detrimental behaviour.
I seem to recall Halflife's associated mods, when played online, could all be administered through the World Opponent Network (WON) system. Each player had an individual code (irrespective of which connection they used) and snapshots could be taken by server administrators to identify and ban individuals who hacked their way to the top. Could it be that Microsoft and Sony are simply too snowed under by the success of their platforms to introduce something similar? Time will tell.
For the most part though, online gamers are a good bunch who simply enjoy connecting with friends to play a game or two, with good, old-fashioned honest competition, and I would like to raise my virtual glass to those who are genuinely skilled, and don't need to pretend they are for any reason. More PlayStation 3 News...