A couple days ago, the Team Fortress 2 community came across a video of a notorious hacker getting a taste of his own medicine. They were ecstatic. Responses ranged from "serves him right" to "screw that guy."
The hacker goes by the handle Max Box, and — despite the fact that he's created a veritable infamy factory in the form of his YouTube channel, where he posts videos of his hackerly exploits — he doesn't want to be considered a notorious hacker. He definitely doesn't see himself that way, and he finds it hard to keep his power trip going when he remembers that other players are praying to the great lord GabeN for his painful death.
A compilation video of Max Box's TF2 hacks.
Max Box didn't intend to become a hacker. Not at first, anyway.
"Back in 2011, I uploaded a Minecraft video, and tried doing this for about two years, and I just didn't get anywhere," he told me. "I was stuck at about 300 subscribers, and I gave up. During that time, I found [a popular Team Fortress 2 cheat program], and made a video of it just for old time's sake. It got quite a lot of views, and I decided to make a channel to make my own, and it just grew from there."
That's right: Max Box hacks TF2 with tools that let him see people through walls/cloaking abilities/etc and aim almost perfectly, and he does it in plain view of The Man (or The Mann, I suppose). But he still hasn't been banned. Why? Because Valve's automated anti-cheat system doesn't detect his version of the program he's using. Valve, meanwhile, doesn't seem interested in taking matters into their own hands — which is kinda shocking until you remember that we're talking about Valve.
"The hack I use is VAC undetected, meaning that their anticheat system can't recognise it and ban me," Max Box explained. "And yes, I've said and shown many times that I use this stuff, but Valve doesn't seem to manually ban. I believe only three or four people have ever been manually banned [in TF2], but take that number with a grain of salt. I don't know for sure."
So, at least for now, he's got it made. But the fact remains that he and people like him ruin TF2 games for other people — frustrate and infuriate them, send them to bed in a rage with impossible shots and nearly godlike powers. At first, Box didn't even think about it that way. He was just playing a game and having a great time with his newfound might and popularity. But as time has passed, it started weighing on his conscience.
Hackers giving Max Box "a taste of his own medicine."
"I do feel bad about hacking, now at least," he said. "In the early stages, you almost form a wall because of the sheer amount of taboo fun you're having. I mean, you're doing something that everyone says is bad, and it gives a bit of a thrill. But now, knowing that it just completely ruins gameplay for everyone else, it just puts a bad taste in your mouth."
In recent months, Max Box has tried responding to players who post negative threads about him on places like the Team Fortress 2 subreddit. Instead of fighting anger with anger, he's been frank, often stating that it's unfortunate that hacking TF2 is (relatively) easy, and that he knows the banhammer is coming for him. Case in point, Box's response to a letter from a Redditor who, er, isn't exactly his biggest fan:
Redditor: "You know what makes me happy inside? The day, maybe weeks, months, years from now, where Valve fixes VAC. And it detects your LMAOBOX. And you get banned. And you lose all those shiny items."
Box: "It's gonna happen, don't get me wrong. The day will come when there will be a big red badge on my account, and I'll stop. I'll simply stop, that's the end game."
Redditor: "Keep joking max box. Keep being all open about your hacks. Keep laughing in the face of danger. One day, your childish behaviour will be your own undoing. And you will lose items worth hundreds of dollars."
Box: "Again, it's coming someday. It's just a matter of when."
I asked Box why he comes off as strangely at peace with the idea of losing an account that, among other things, contains hundreds of dollars' worth of items, and he was equally frank in his response:
"Ninety nine per cent of my items have come from cheating," he said. "Cheating brought them in, and cheating might eventually take them out. I got banned [once] a very long time ago, I believe just over a year. It was terrible, but now I realise that's always the hate for most cheaters if they don't stop."
And yet, Max Box continues to cheat. Admittedly, a few of his more recent videos have been uploads from his Twitch stream, where he can't cheat because it's against Twitch's terms of service. But he's reached a point where — bizarrely, even hypocritically — he's firmly against the practice of hacking despite functioning as a billboard advertisement for one of TF2's most notorious cheat programs.
"Any progress into stopping cheats is good, in my opinion," he told me. "Hacking, in many games, will always be a part of it. But I don't really like it. For the hacker, they don't generally feel in the wrong because they're having an amazing time, but that cancels out all the people asking for them to stop."
Comments on one of Box's videos.
Max Box hasn't stopped yet. He's "eased off," but he hasn't quit cold turkey. However, it's getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that a whole lot of people dislike him — especially in light of yet another Reddit flare up, which likely began with players wanting to teach him a lesson. He's worried that he's starting to dislike himself.
"I have more than a million views [on my videos], but I don't like calling myself a big hacker," he said. "I don't have a real reason for this, but it might be that if I did, I'd be accepting that this is who I am, and I'm definitely not happy with the reputation I have."
He wants to stop cheating completely. Or at least, he says he does. And he wants people to know that he's sorry.
"I am stopping cheating," he told me. "I've already stopped using the hack, as well as dropped all of the links in my videos. The next step is making an apology video and phasing out the hacking videos. I am worried, but it's still a step in the right direction."
Will all of that actually happen, though? Right now all we have is Box's word, and well, it's tough to shake a bad reputation. Here's hoping.
Top image credit: Patrick Jr.