Cheating in video games

Cheating in video games

Cheating in video games involves a video game player using non-standard methods for creating an advantage beyond normal gameplay, usually to make the game easier, or may also create unusual effects which do not necessarily make the game easier to play, such as giving characters different appearances, such as large heads. Cheats sometimes may take the form of "secrets" placed by game developers themselves.

Cheats may be activated from within the game itself (a cheat code implemented by the original game developers); or created by third-party software (a game trainer) or hardware (a cheat cartridge).



Cheating in video games has existed for almost their entire history. The first cheat codes were put in place for play testing purposes. Playtesters had to rigorously test the mechanics of a game and introduced cheat codes to make this process easier. An early cheat code can be found in Manic Miner, where typing "6031769" (based on Matthew Smith's driving licence,[1]) enables the cheat mode.

In a computer game, all numerical values are stored "as is" in memory. Gamers could reprogram a small part of the game before launching it. In the context of games for many 8-bit computers, it was a usual practice to load games into memory and, before launching them, modify specific memory addresses in order to cheat, getting an unlimited number of lives, currency, immunity, invisibility, etc. Such modifications were performed through POKE statements. The Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum also allowed players with the proper cartridges or Multiface add-on to freeze the running program, enter POKEs, and resume. Some games tried to detect the Multiface, and refused to load if it was present. The earliest models had no ability to "hide". Later revisions either included a switch, hid if you opened and closed the menu before loading the game, or automatically hid.

For instance, with "POKE 47196,201" in Knight Lore for the ZX Spectrum, immunity is achieved. Magazines such as CRASH regularly featured lists of such POKE instructions for games. In order to find them a software cracker had to interpret the machine code and locate the critical point where the number of lives is decreased, impacts detected, etc. Sometimes the term POKE was used with this specific meaning.

Cheating was exploited by technology-oriented players due to the difficulty of early cheats. However, a cheat industry emerged as gaming systems evolved, through the packaging and selling of cheating as a product.[2] Cheat-enablers such as cheat books, game guides, cheat cartridges helped form a cheat industry and cemented cheating as part of gaming culture.[3] However, cheating was not universally accepted in early gaming; gaming magazine Amiga Power condemned cheaters, taking the stance that cheating was not part of their philosophy of fairness. They also applied this in reverse; games should also not be allowed to cheat the player.

Later, cheating grew more popular with magazines, websites, and even a television show, Cheat!, dedicated to listing cheats and walkthroughs for consoles and computer systems. POKE cheats were replaced by trainers and cheat codes. Generally, the majority of cheat codes on modern day systems are implemented not by gamers, but by game developers. Some say that as many people do not have the time to complete a video game on their own, cheats are needed to make a game more accessible and appealing to a casual gamer.[4] With the rise in popularity of gaming, cheating using external software and hardware raised a number of copyright legal issues related to modifying game code.

Many modern games have removed cheat codes entirely, save for uses to unlock certain secret bonuses. The usage of real-time achievement tracking made it unfair for any one player to cheat. In online multiplayer games, cheating is frowned upon and disallowed, often leading to a ban. However, certain games may unlock single-player cheats if the player fulfills a certain condition. Yet other games, such as those using the Source engine, allow developer consoles to be used to activate a wide variety of cheats in single-player or by server administrators.

Cheat codes

The most basic type of cheat code is one created by the game designers and hidden within the video game itself, that will cause any type of uncommon effect that is not part of the usual game mechanics.[5]

Activation methods for cheat codes might include entering a code at a password prompt or a pressing a combination of game controller buttons,[6] such as "The Konami Code", or by passwords that can be typed in to get the desired effect or bring up a cheat menu. Other entry points may be a developer console, a code entry dialog, at title screens, or in-game. Effects might include unlocking a character or improving a character's performance: for example providing a car with greater acceleration[6] or the God mode in Doom which makes the player invulnerable; or visual gags with no practical purpose, such as "Tutu Qwark" in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal.

Unlike other cheating methods, cheat codes are implemented by the game developers themselves,[5] often as a tool to playtest certain aspects of the game without difficulty. One of the earliest known examples of this type of cheat is the Konami Code, created in 1986 by Konami developer Kazuhisa Hashimoto as he worked on porting the 1985 arcade game Gradius for use on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Hashimoto is quoted as saying "The arcade version of Gradius is really difficult, right? I never played it that much, and there was no way I could finish the game, so I inserted the so-called Konami code."[7]

Modification of run time game data

Cheating can easily be achieved by modifying the game's data while it is running. These methods of cheating are often less reliable than cheat codes included into a game by its creators. This is due to the fact that certain programming styles or quirks of internal game logic, different release versions of a game, or even using the same game at different times or on different hardware, may result in different memory usage and hence the trainer program might have no effect, or stop the game from running altogether.[8]

Memory editing

Cheating via memory editing involves modifying the memory values where the game keeps its status information. This can be achieved in a range of different ways depending of the game's running environment. The way to achieve this will vary depending on the environment in which the game is running.

Memory editing hardware

A cheat cartridge is attached to an interface port on a home computer or console. It allows a user to modify the game code either before or during its execution. An early example is the Multiface for the ZX Spectrum, and almost every format since has had a cheat cartridge created for it; such as Datel's range of Action Replay devices. Another popular example of this is Game Genie for Sega Genesis, NES, Super Nintendo, Game Boy, and Game Gear game consoles. Modern disc-based cheat hardware include GameShark and Code Breaker which modify game code from a large database of cheats. In later generation consoles, cheat cartridges have come to be replaced by cheat discs that usually contain a game loader and, used to boot the console, modify the console's memory environment previous to the loading of the actual game disc.

The legality of this type of devices has been questioned, having raised a particular case named Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc. v. Nintendo of America, Inc., in which Nintendo unsuccessfully sued Lewis Galoob Toys stating that its cheating device, the Game Genie, created derivative works of games and violated copyright law.

Memory editing software

The most basic way of achieving this is by means of memory editor software, which allows you to directly edit the numeric values in a certain memory address. This kind of software usually includes a feature that allows you to perform memory searches to aid the user to locate the memory areas where known values (such as the amount of lives, score or health level) are located. Provided a memory address, a memory editor may also be able to "freeze" it, preventing the game from altering the information stored at that memory address.

Game trainers are a special type of memory editor, in which the program comes with predefined functions to modify the run time memory of a specific computer game.[9] When distributed, trainers often have a single + and a number appended to their title, representing the number of modifications the trainer has available.[9]

In the 1980s and 1990s, trainers were generally integrated straight into the actual game by cracking groups. When the game was first started, the trainer would typically show a splash screen of its own, sometimes allowing modifications of options related to the trainer, and then proceed to the actual game. In the cracker group release lists and intros, trained games were marked with one or more plus signs after them, one for each option in the trainer, for example: "the Mega Krew presents: Ms. Astro Chicken++".

Many emulators have built-in functionality that allows players to modify data as the game is running, sometimes even emulating cheating hardware such as Game Genie. Some emulators take this method a step further and allow the player to export and import data edits. Edit templates of many games for a console are collected and redistributed as cheat packs.

Emulators also frequently offer the additional advantage of being able to save the state of the entire emulated machine at any point, effectively allowing saving at any point in a game even when save functionality is not provided by the game itself. Cheating hardware such as "Instant Replay" also allows such behaviour for some consoles.

Code injection

Somewhat more unusual than memory editing, code injection consists of the modification of the game's executable code while it is running, for example with the use of POKE commands. In the case of Jet Set Willy on the ZX Spectrum computer, a popular cheat involved replacing a Z80 instruction DEC (HL) in the program (which was responsible for decrementing the number of lives by one) with a NOP, effectively granting the player infinite lives.[10]

Saved game editors

Editing a saved game offers an indirect way to modify game data. By modifying a file in persistent storage, it is possible to effectively modify the run time game data that will be restored when the game attempts to load the save game.

Hex editors were the most basic means of editing saved game files (e.g. to give the player a large sum of money in strategy games such as Dune II). However, as happened with game editors, dedicated game-editing utilities soon became available, including functions to effortlessly edit saved data for specific games, rendering hex editing largely obsolete for this purpose.

Network traffic forgery

A similar method for cheating in online games involves editing packets in the outbound network traffic, thus affecting the state of the game. Although this method was more common a few years ago, games are developed with more robustness to prevent network and packet modifications.

Unusual effects

Cheat codes may sometimes produce unusual or interesting effects which don't necessarily make the game easier to play. For example, one cheat in Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis makes dinosaurs appear 'undead'. In other games, a cheat may make the game harder to play; for instance one could give the enemy special abilities, add a harder difficulty, make neutral bystanders attack the player or grant the player a disadvantage such as low health points or instant death. In a few games the player is humorously penalized if they use cheat codes originally for another game; for example, using cheat codes from Doom in Descent would result in a sarcastic message from the programmers on screen. Similar effects also occurred if codes from Descent were attempted to be used in its sequels. The game Heretic played on Doom's codes gives the complete opposite of the desired effect, such as instant death instead of invulnerability or stripping weapons instead of providing them.[11] In Doom 3 if the user types in the cheat "IDDQD" from the original game, a message appears saying "Your memory serves you well.", Or,displaying the word BALONGA! on the exit door in portal 1 and 2 with only 30 seconds to turn off the cheat(s) before you die.

Other unusual cheats found regularly in games include "big-head mode" (in GoldenEye 007[12] or Oni, for example), switching weapons for other objects, and codes to change the colors of characters.

Some games allow the player to enter a code to change what the character is wearing or to change the character itself, but not enhance the progress of the game. For example, most of the Grand Theft Auto games allow the player to enter a code to make the character change into an NPC. Another unusual cheat code in the Grand Theft Auto games is the ability to make the people of the town start rioting, or hold weapons.[13]

Easter eggs are a related feature, although such hidden content has no impact on gameplay.

Counter-cheating measures

In games having attainable achievements or high score records, or both, cheats by nature allow the player to attain achievements too easily or score point totals not attainable by a non-cheating player. In some games, developer commentary mode can have the same effect because these games, in an effort to make all commented-on scenarios accessible to the player, render a player invulnerable to damage while in commentary mode.

Barriers to game completion

  • The Sega 32X version of Doom does not allow the player to finish the game if any cheat codes were used; instead, after a cheating player defeats the game's penultimate level, the game simulates a program exit to DOS and displays a mock command prompt ("C:\>").[14]
  • Some PC games and most Xbox games do not record player achievements if they are attained while cheat mode is activated. For example, Half-Life 2: Episode 2 turns this barrier into a continuing obstacle if a player saves the game with cheats activated: The game will record that fact in the save file and automatically cause subsequent reloads from the relevant save file to reactivate cheat mode.[15]
  • In Ricochet Infinity, if a player cheats at all, their score will be set to zero, the message "You are Cheating" appears in the message box,and your progress after cheating will not be recorded.

Penalties to player performance

  • Entry of Wolfenstein 3-D's "ILM" code provides a player with the maximum possible lives, weapons, and ammunition but in the process resets a player's score to zero.[citation needed]
  • If a player of Battlefield 1942 makes a mistake while entering a cheat code, the error triggers an algorithm that either makes the player automatically lose or gives the enemy the performance enhancements the player is attempting to obtain. The risk of incurring this cost varies with the player's memory and dexterity.[citation needed]
  • If a player of Raven Software game Heretic tries to cheat by entering the God code from Doom, the game kills the player and displays the message "Trying to cheat, are you? Now you die!". If the player enters the Weapons Cheat code from Doom, the player loses all weapons acquired, is given a Staff as its new weapon with the message "Cheater, you don't deserve any weapons." displaying on screen.[citation needed]
  • If a player of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire uses a cheating device to obtain Mew or Deoxys, the Pokémon will not obey its trainer, no matter how many gym badges the player has.[citation needed]
  • If a player in Unreal uses an "Admin Set" command, they will need to restart Unreal to enter any online server.

Disclaimers regarding player achievement

  • If a player of Portal has any cheat(s) activated when s/he completes a chamber in Challenge mode, the game will display "CHEATED!" above the performance summary screen for that level. [16]
  • Tyrian displays the message "Cheaters always prosper" on the bottom of the score screen.[citation needed]
  • MechWarrior 3 makes its cheat modes readily available as standard game options (as opposed to, e.g., requiring the entry of a "secret" code) but labels these game options "dishonorable," a reference to the code of honor shared by the game's rival clans.[citation needed]
  • In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, entering a cheat code to spawn vehicles will reduce the player's criminal rating. If this drops below zero cheat-related messages are displayed. Other cheats may render the game extremely difficult, such as enabling the 'pedestrians carry weapons' along with the 'pedestrians hate you' cheat and saving. The game will notify you if you attempt to save with gameplay-altering cheats enabled, as they will remain saved with the game if the player does save.[citation needed]
  • Sanctum displays a message after each wave showing you cheated if you use any kind of cheating meassure, and disables scores and achievement until you restart the game.

Cheating in online games

Cheating exists in many multiplayer online computer games. While there have always been cheat codes and other ways to make single player games easier, developers often attempt to prevent it in multiplayer games. With the release of the first popular internet multiplayer games cheating took on new dimensions. Previously it was rather easy to see if the other players cheated, as most games were played on local networks or consoles. The Internet changed that by increasing the popularity of multiplayer games, giving the players relative anonymity, and giving people an avenue to communicate cheats.

Examples of cheats in FPS games include the aimbot, which assists the player in aiming at the target, giving the user an unfair advantage, the wallhack, which allows a player to see through solid or opaque objects or manipulate or remove textures, and ESP, with which the information of other players is displayed.

In role-playing games, twinking, the practice of passing on valuable items not normally available at player's character's level, may be considered cheating.

In online multiplayer games, players may use macro scripts, which automate player actions, to automatically find items or defeat enemies for the player's advantage. The prevalence of massively multiplayer online games (MMORPGs) such as World of Warcraft, Anarchy Online, EverQuest, Guild Wars, and RuneScape has resulted in the trading of in-game currency for real world currency.[17] This can lead to virtual economies. The rise of virtual economies has led to cheating where a gamer uses macros to gain large amounts of ingame money which the player will then trade for real cash.[18] The Terms of Service of most modern online games now specifically prohibit the transfer of accounts or sale of in-game items for 'real-world' money.

Whilst games cannot prevent cheating in single-player modes, cheating in online games is common on public game servers. Some online games, such as Battlefield 1942, include specific features to counter cheating exploits, by incorporating tools such as PunkBuster, nProtect GameGuard, or VAC (Valve Anti-Cheat). However, much like anti-virus companies; anti-cheat tools are constantly and consistently bypassed until further updates force cheat creators to find new methods to bypass the protection.

See also

External links


  1. ^ Retro Gamer Magazine issue 48 - Interview with Matthew Smith
  2. ^ "Celebrity Cookbook, Cheat!". Antic 7 (10): p.57. February 1989. 
  3. ^ Mia Consalvo. "Cheating:Gaining Advantage in Videogames". MIT. Retrieved 2007-01-03. 
  4. ^ Jason Rybka. "Why Use Cheats and Codes for Console and PC Games?". The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2007-01-03. 
  5. ^ a b Sezen, Tonguc Ibrahim; Isikoglu, Digdem (2007-04-27). FROM OZANS TO GOD-MODES: CHEATING IN INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT FROM DIFFERENT CULTURES. p. 8. Retrieved 2009-01-24. 
  6. ^ a b Stevens, Reed, Tom Satwicz, and Laurie McCarthy. "In-Game, In-Room, In-World: Reconnecting Video Game Play to the Rest of Kids’ Lives.". In Katie Salen. The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning, Pages. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. pp. 41–46. doi:10.1162/dmal.9780262693646.041. 
  7. ^ "Cracking the Code: The Konami Code". 
  8. ^ "Game trainers and cheats". 
  9. ^ a b "Trainers" at's Video Game Strategies
  10. ^ "Hacking Away: "Jump To It"". Your Spectrum (Future) (6). August 1984. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  11. ^ "Heretic cheats". IGN. Retrieved 2009-06-26. 
  12. ^ "GoldenEye 007 Cheats". IGN. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  13. ^ "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Cheat Codes". Gamespot UK. Retrieved 2007-08-12. 
  14. ^ Doom Cheat Codex – IGN FAQs
  15. ^ "Game Help Q&A 2006 September 1". IGN. Retrieved 2009-12-15. 
  16. ^ "Portal Cheats on". 
  17. ^ "Game exchange dispute goes to court". CNET. Retrieved 2007-01-02. 
  18. ^ "Eternal Lands' MMORPG Postmortem: Mistakes and Lessons, Part II". DevMaster. Retrieved 2007-01-02. 

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