August 5th, 2003


Cheating at games

Why do people feel the need to cheat at games?

Background for this rant: I've been playing the Sims for just over a year now. In case you're not familiar with it, this game is basically a domestic simulation. You create a family, get a job, and do mundane things like use the bathroom, make dinner, watch TV, and do housework. If you have the various expansion packs you can do things like go downtown on dates, grow vegetable gardens, and have pets. It sounds pretty silly but it's very addictive and the top-selling computer game of all time. (Not to be confused with The Sims Online, an ongoing flop in which I'm no longer participating.)

The latest expansion pack, Superstar, changed gameplay a little by requiring actual thought in order to advance in the Hollywood-style careers. Normal jobs only require building skills such as charisma (practice speech at a mirror) and making friends (invite them to dinner and compliment and hug them a lot). Now, you also have to solve a very simple "mini-game" in order to gain fame and become a Superstar. What it boils down to is you have to figure out a three-letter sequence, in which each letter can be A, B, or C. You get three tries at all but the most advanced levels. This means you're guaranteed to get the sequence right as long as you write down or remember which choices were right and which were wrong.

Seems simple, right? Well, every fourth post on the Superstar message boards is someone asking how the hell they can advance when they can never get the sequence right. Well-meaning people such as myself attempt to explain the mini-games; after all, I was confused by it at first myself before I realized each letter could be used more than once; then it became obvious. However, this slight attempt at thought is apparently too much for some people, as nearly every thread with such an inquiry contains at least one suggestion to download a third-party object that gives you instant fame, thus bypassing the need to play any of the mini-games.

I'm wondering, what is the point of buying an expansion that actually adds to the challenge of gameplay, and then defeating that mechanism entirely? Yet, just gaining instant Superstar status isn't enough. Even before this expansion, the message boards were filled with people asking about the latest "cheat codes" and third-party objects to gain wealth, skills, and friends without working for them. The game does have several cheat codes built in, so obviously their use is expected and condoned. But from reading the boards I start to wonder if anyone is playing the game the way I do; accomplishing objectives the old-fashioned way. (The same goes for the other games I've played, such as Sim City and Nethack; I just don't like using cheats.)

Unlike in the Sims Online, people using cheats, hacks, and exploits don't directly affect my gameplay; I could just avoid the message boards and not get my hackles up over this. But it does disturb me that so many people want an easy way out of something like a game. If you routinely get all the money you want for your virtual house by typing a word into a cheat box, how do you plan to manage your finances in real life? True, games are meant to be an escape from real life, but the Sims is specifically supposed to be a simulation of real life - bills, toilets, and all - and games by their nature have goals and challenges.

OK, anal-retentive mode off, sorry if this rant bored you, it's just been bugging me a lot.
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