Let’s Bring Back: Cheating in Video Games

You know what really needs to make a comeback in the world of video games? Cheat codes. Let’s talk about that.

To celebrate the 2015 NFL Champions, the New England Patriots, I decided to take a look back at what made them so great this year; a lost art that also once added a new dimension of fun and excitement to video games. Cheats!

Any fan of classic NES games knows of the most famous button sequence in the history of cheat codes.

Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start.

This sequence, otherwise known as the Konami Code, is perhaps the best known cheat code in gaming history. Inputting this button combination on the title screen of Contra would give players 30 extra lives to wreak havoc with.

Modern-age games and developers’ obsession with multiplayer functionality and “achievements” has caused the classic iteration of video game cheat codes to become nothing more than a mere memory.

Multiplayer

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The current generation of gamers has this fascination with multiplayer functionality. And I can understand why.

A good multiplayer mode adds a whole new dimension of gameplay. It’s the kind of thing that turns average games into instant classics (see: Goldeneye 64). It also adds hours upon hours of replay value to games that we would otherwise put down right after finishing. (see: Halo franchise).

Of course, that same desire for multiplayer modes in every game made today also means the death of cheat codes.

Or rather, the death of the concept of cheat codes. See, it’s one thing to cheat on a single-player experience. Some folks need cheats to beat the game. Others want to replay the game after beating it and “break the rules”. Still, others just go on a massive power-trip and enjoy dishing out sweet vengeance on specific games that gave them a hard time.

Unfortunately, games that have multiplayer modes often tend to shy away from anything that even smells like a cheat code. Obviously, the circumstances surrounding cheating are quite different when other players are involved.

Still, I’ve never understood why that should affect single-player modes. If I blaze through the latest Call of Duty single-player campaign and I want to replay a certain level with infinite ammo and rapid fire rocket launchers, why shouldn’t I be able to?

Of course, multiplayer modes should never shoulder the whole blame for the death of cheat codes.

Achievements and Trophies

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Here’s another modern-gaming trend that everyone is obsessed with and one that I give far less understanding to than multiplayer mode.

Achievements and trophies.

Somewhere along the annals of gaming, we decided to incorporate virtual “awards” for accomplishing certain tasks in games. While these are nice for bragging rights, that’s all they essentially are. Bragging rights.

A virtual trophy telling other players that you accomplished something in a video game. These cyber-pats-on-the-back carry the lion’s share of the blame for the death of cheat codes.

Because a good chunk of modern gameplay revolves around earning these trophies or achievements, developers have removed cheats from the game because using them would mean unfairly earning these cyber-kudos.

Realism

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There’s one more thing that truly brought about the death of most cheat codes. Realism.

Video games in 2015 seek to be as realistic as possible, even when they’re entrenched in the realm of fantasy. I can appreciate that. There’s something about truly immersing yourself in a game world, like Skyrim, that can’t be replicated.

Realism, however, is a double-edged sword. Because many games are trying to be as realistic as possible, a lot of these same games risk losing the campy, even cheesy nature, that makes them games in the first place.

For all the faults within the series, this is something that Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto series has never forgotten. Though each game has gotten more realistic, there are still plenty of stupid non-sensical things you can do.

This may sound petty, but video games, more than anything else, are supposed to be a way to escape reality. The whole point of playing a game, for me anyways, is to feel empowered. To be something I’m not and do something I can’t do in real life.

The case for cheat codes

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Simply put, why do I think cheat codes should make a comeback? Because they’re fun, and if nothing else, isn’t that the primary reason people play games?

I can’t think of a single game where any player was ever forced to use cheat codes. They were always an option. There was an understated thrill in riding my bike to the library to look up the level skip code in Tomb Raider II and I can’t even describe to you the awesome feeling of successfully pulling off the elaborate sequence that lead to the “Warp Room Hub” of Blasto.

These cheats, codes and other “easter eggs” were secret for a reason. While it’s true that you can play these older games and just look up how to perform the secret stuff via the internet, that doesn’t take away from the experience. It was an adventure having to navigate to a specific screen and hold both shoulder buttons and input a rapid sequence of button commands to reach a secret menu (ala the Mortal Kombat franchise).

That’s what I truly miss. Who didn’t at least try out the Moon Jump code for Mega Man X via Game Genie? Nowadays, even those peripherals have long since bitten the dust. Since the last-generation of game consoles, Gameshark, Action Replay and the like have faded into obscurity, the longstanding battle between consoles and unlicensed cheat devices having finally been won by the consoles.

Aside from handhelds, the only one of these old cheating peripherals still in use is the Game Genie, which has successfully been rebranded as a “Save Editor”. While this can allow you to alter certain data in your save, such as your number of lives or your maximum health, it’s still a far cry from the empowerment of really “breaking open your game”.

At the end of the day, that’s what I miss more than anything else. The feeling of uncovering a secret cheat or code and racing home to plug in my system to try it out.

What was your favorite cheat code or sequence as a kid? Let me know in the comments down below and while you’re here, check out Sam Saunders’ article on why hand holding in gaming is a bad idea!

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