How Do You Define 'Cheating' In A Video Game?

We don't always play games the way we're supposed to. We've all pulled out that little trick that helps us get through a tough area, beat a boss or get a higher score. It might not be turning on God Mode in the developer console or using an aimbot, but it's not quite on the level either. But it's fine. It isn't cheating. Right?

Below are some... questionable things I've done or seen done in games. Is it cheating?

The other night Kotaku's editor-in-chief and I were riding the train together, discussing Hitman (like you do). I was explaining the Elusive Targets and how you can't save during a level; if you kill the target or die, that's the only chance you get. I told him I'd seen YouTubers play the Targets by scoping them out in advance, quitting the mission and then using the intel they'd gathered to play it for real and get a higher score.

"Isn't that cheating?" he asked me.

My verdict: Yes. The "one shot" nature of the Elusive Targets is what makes them so special. Pre-planning runs counter to their spirit. Going in blind and working out a strategy on the fly is what makes them so high stakes — and also so much fun. If you fumble a Target or make a silly mistake, you just have to live with the consequences. Good luck, 47.

Last year, I was sick on New Year's, so I finally decided to play the immensely excellent Wolfenstein: The New Order. It's a game with a lot of difficulty options, but I picked one pretty in the middle. Things were going well for me until I got back from the Moon, when I found myself stuck in a firefight without enough health or ammo. I tried; I died; I tried again; I died again. And again. And again.

Frustrated (and sick, mind you!) I opened up the pause menu. There were so many difficulty options! Surely I could take it down a peg, just this once...

I did it. I lowered the difficulty, cleared the room, and then immediately raised it again. Later, facing off against the London Monitor boss, I lowered the difficulty again. I only had a weekend to play the game and I wanted to see it through. No one was the wiser (until now, I guess). Was it cheating?

My verdict: No. As I say to my fellow Kotaku staffers concerningly often: Life is hard enough. Getting stuck on a level or a boss battle can turn an enjoyable game into something you look back on with anger and dissatisfaction. There's enough things in this world to be angry about. Play the way you want to play. Live your best life.

I spent most of my time in Skyrim ignoring the plot and wandering around (apologies to the four of you who now have to reinstall it because I brought it up). One night, while exploring the vast landscape, a dragon swooped in. I wasn't prepared for a fight, but the dragon was intent on it. What to do?

I bunny-hopped up a mountain (I have since come to dub scooting up unscootable geometry in games "Skyrimming") until I stumbled upon a small, weird crevice. The dragon couldn't damage me, but I was able to take potshots at it and slowly chip away at its health. It took a long time, but I ultimately brought down my foe — not through my own combat skill or good planning, but simply because I'd cheesed the geometry. Is it cheating?

My verdict: Maybe. There's a grand tradition in gaming of exploiting levels to your benefit. You aren't supposed to be able to get up here, but you did — surely you deserve something for your ingenuity! But I always feel a little cheap when I do this. I don't do it in pursuit of a noble goal, like speedrunners do — I just do it when I'm not in the mood to play fair.

Do you agree with my verdicts? Is there a cheating quandary eating up your soul? Drop it in the comments and let the whole of the internet weigh in.


    Hitman: Gathering intel is part and parcel of the game design, making the missions a "one off chance" type scenario in my mind just doesnt fit the Hitman canon. I just can't envisage a scenario that Agent 47 or his handlers would say; "Hey, that's (insert footballer you love to hate) , probably should knock him off to give the Saints a tilt this week..."
    Verdict: Questionable.

    Wolfenstein: The difficulty modifer in game is there for a reason - it wasn't abused in any way and time was a factor as mentioned.
    Verdict: No.

    Skyrim: Bloody dragons...
    Verdict: No. In fact, mark your map and lure them all there...bloody dragons.

    Last edited 01/01/17 9:25 am

    none of those things you have listed are cheating. Cheating is using a Trainer and Using Cheat Codes. If yoou think any of those are even remoted considered to be cheating then you may as well add Quick Saving to the list

    Every Bethesda game, I immediately download a mod to remove the encumbrance restrictions. I don't consider it cheating - encumbrance in those titles just forces pointless inventory management (as compared to Deus Ex where you have a very limited inventory and really have to pick a set of tools for the mission).

      I did that for Skyrim, but only halfway. There was a mod that basically removed the weight of all small items. Butall your armour and weapons still weighed the same so you still had to make those strategic choices there.

      I found I still wasn't enjoying the looting though so I made a new character and roleplayed it. A dumb orc who had no interest in alchemy or magic and would only pick something up if it was weapons, armour (nothing Elvish though), something shiny or edible. No potions, scrolls or alchemy ingredients. Made the game a lot more fun for me as all that stuff felt like a chore to me.

    None of what you say is really cheating.

    I remember being called a cheater in Destiny for using the raid exploits.
    I was fine with people thinking that way, I can understand why some would make that connection.
    But the way we saw it, we had already legitimately completed the raids multiple times and we already struggled to be online at the same time for extended periods.
    By "cheating" we made the window much easier to align our lives around and happily continued on when they fixed the exploits

    I see nothing wrong with exploiting things like AI, geometry when playing single player games.

    Using exploits in online gaming is a different thing though. There are a certain breed of people for whom the only end goal of online gaming is to win at all costs. And that is not only infantile but goes against the spirit of competitive or team based gaming.

    I think it's only ever "cheating" when it gives you an advantage over someone else. I don't really mind what other people do in their own (single player) games, but if what you do gives you an unfair advantage over me and you beat me as a result or otherwise negatively affect my game play, that is unfair and wrong in my opinion.

    And I never, ever put the difficulty down, ever. I've been the originator of some spectacular rage quits in my time, but I always go back and push through at that level. It's not cheating to decrease the difficulty, but I reserve the right to giggle at you if you do ?

    I agree on all points.

    1. Hitman. Intentionally running a mission designed to be done once multiple times to gather intel is cheating in my book. If it were any other scenario it wouldn't matter but if it's specifically designed to be done once then you're circumventing the intended gameplay. Does matter if it's counter to the rest of the game, that's how they designed this mission and that's how they intended it be done.

    2. Wolfenstein. Changing the difficulty isn't cheating, it's a function the developers wrote into the game and intended you to be able to use. If they didn't want you to change difficulty mid-play, they'd lock it to whatever you chose at the start. Perfectly fine to change up and down as you see fit. You might feel like less of a winner for it, but it's not cheating.

    3. Skyrim. Exploiting physics and geometry glitches is always a case-by-case thing. Standing somewhere you can't be attacked is cheap but not necessarily cheating, depending on the circumstances. In open world games it's usually fine, as long as you're somewhere that makes sense. Glitching inside a rock, under terrain or the like is definitely cheating.

    Ultimately it comes down to your honesty with yourself and respect for the game's design. If you do something the devs didn't intend that makes something too easy, you know you cheated, if not objectively then at the least you cheated yourself out of the intended experience. If you don't respect the game's design then you won't consider it cheating.

    An example: I'm playing Fallout 4 on survival mode right now. I'm loving it, but there's a few things I really dislike. One is the notification for settlements under attack can be easily missed, so I have a mod that makes it a modal dialog that pauses the game until you click OK to dismiss the message. I also use inventory sorting mods. Neither of those I consider cheating because they're just informational and they don't bypass a designed challenge of the game.

    On the other hand, survival mode requires you to sleep in a bed in order to save and you have to sleep for at least 3 hours or you'll get an illness. I think that's a silly restriction that doesn't make real world sense so I added a mod that still requires me to save at beds only, but lets me just 'save' without having to sleep as well. Is that cheating? Technically yes, but it's cheating that I think respects the intended design of survival mode as much as possible so it's cheating that I'm okay with.

      Just to clarify on the Hitman front.

      Elusive targets are one play through once you engage the target.

      the rules around elusive targets promotes scouting allowing you to restart or replan until that engagement happens.

      Once that happens you can't restart or replan.

      i think that's working as intended and it's not cheating.

        It still sounds suspect to me. If you have to restart the mission to gain an advantage on a second playthrough, you're bypassing something in the mission's design. I haven't played the new Hitman so I can't comment in any detail unfortunately.

    I've always said that there is no such thing as cheating in a single-player game. Games are supposed to be enjoyable; cheat if it makes you happy.

    Cheating only exists in multi-player games, and only when not all players are doing it.
    ie, not a level playing field.

      I don't really understand that rationale. It's like saying if a tree falls in the forest and you're the only one around to see it, did it really fall? Cheating is cheating, whether there's just you there or a bunch of people. The difference is whether it's acceptable, but I don't think it makes sense to say it wasn't cheating at all just because it was only you.

        I'm not talking about whether cheating is acceptable; it is not.
        What the article, and my comment, is about is defining what cheating is. To me, cheating is being unfair or hurting someone.

        If I use the god-mode console command while playing Skyrim, who does that hurt? No-one, so: Not Cheating.

        If I use a mod or trainer while playing Total Warhammer against my brother, that disadvantages him, so therefore: Cheating.

        If he is using the same mod or trainer or whatever, then he has no disadvantage, it is again a contest of skill, experience etc. Not Cheating.

        If two people have equal access to the same tools, but only one uses them efficiently, is that person cheating? No.

        Last edited 01/01/17 1:54 pm

          I get what you mean, I just think it's the wrong way around. You're defining cheating subjectively by who it affects, but as always bad. I define cheating objectively, and whether it's good or bad depends on the context.

          Using god mode in Skyrim isn't hurting anyone but it's certainly giving yourself an unfair advantage over the intended game state. To me that's definitely cheating, it's just a question of whether it's acceptable in the context or not. In a single player game go nuts, do what you want. It's still gaining an unfair advantage over the intended state - still cheating - but it's fine because it only affects you.

    Cheating is only a thing in multiplayer, everything else is just playing the game the way you want to. Although I think a grey area exists in some dishonesty about your own achievements: if you used a code or an exploit, then you can't say you didn't.

    I feel using terrain to limit the dragon's advantage is totally legit. They can fucking fly. Also, it kinda mirrors evolutionary protocol of occupying niches in order to get a survival advantage. Beautiful in its way.

    I agree with most people here who say that if it is not affecting anyone else but yourself it is not cheating.

    It is your game, your time, your leisure.

    If it is an environment that comes into contact with other people. Things even as simple as a HIGH SCORE list and achievements then it is definitely cheating. Problem is, these systems are exploited everyday. Game speed runs are usually done via exploits and bugs. The question is where do you define what is cheating. As long as no 3rd party software used can you really say it is cheating? I guess if it is the developer build and no outside software used, you can say it isn't cheating it is intended. It is up to the developer to patch it.

    However if the environment you are playing in has no influence on anyone but yourself. Have at it and enjoy. There is no limits to what you desire out of the time playing.

    Things like HITMAN are a little bit dodgy but... it is not cheating. Even though the experience was designed to be enjoyed on the fly, there is no golden rule that prevents the player from quitting out and going back in. NOTE: this can be stopped by putting it in a number of plays attempted count in the stats. Also there is nothing stopping people from watching youtube videos of other games like "where to fine blah blah, easiest way to kill said boss on EXTREME BRUTAL MEGA DIFFICULTY". Sure they might have done it, but it is a question of individual honesty. You could say from a moral standpoint all of this IS CHEATING.

    To stop my head from hurting. I'll just say. If the exploit and bug is in the game and the developers have not patched it or released any notes or warnings about it (multiplayer games). Then you can do it. If it is your own single player world. No one tells you what to do but yourself.

    I cheat on games all the time. At the moment I'm playing Fallout 4 regularly while enjoying a little Titanfall on the side.

    Personally I think there's no such thing as cheating when you play by yourself.

    You buy the game for fun, it's up to you how you get that fun!

    People who cheat online are the worst though!

    In a singleplay players game its not cheating as long as the actions are limited to you and have no wider effect. You are not cheating, You are playing the game how you want

    Multiplayer games however you are runing other players experience so you can gain an advantage and its cheating plain and simple

    The getting stuck on a level thing and turning down the difficulty, I have done that with God Of War 3. Was playing normal mode until I got to that damned stage with the cubes hanging from chains. The bad guys always managed to break them and I plunged to my death. It was just impossible to stop them all. So yeah, Easy mode, far less hassle. Problem is I don't think I was able to return to Normal mode after that but mehh who cares.

    Aimbot, Godmode, Noclip, IDDQD. All cheats. I try not to, so far with much success. It's just more satisfying to complete Resident Evil 4 with hardly and ammo or health.

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