Friday, April 24, 2009

Is cheating creative?

I read a short article in my local newspaper yesterday about a survey of the most popular websites amongst 10-15 year-olds. The top two were predictable, YouTube and MSN, but in third place was a Swedish site called This web address can be translated as Here you get masses of cheat codes for virtually all games, enabling you to beat everyone without bothering to learn the finer points yourself. Many games take weeks or even months to work up to a higher level but many players are evidently tempted to take short cuts to glory.

Similarly, there’s the phenomenon of people selling ready-made heroes or high status attributes on eBay and suchlike. Those who have no patience with the long learning process in the game can buy their way to instant status.

Does this mean that cheating is becoming more acceptable? The site doesn’t try to disguise its content so the word must be more positive than in the past. The “cheaters” compete with each other in trying to uncover the bugs and loopholes in the latest games and make them public as quickly as possible. Those who spend their time testing and finding cheat codes are indeed creative talents and actually provide some pretty concrete feedback to the games’ programmers by revealing the glitches. However those who simply use the cheat codes to find a short cut to beating their friends are not being particularly creative.

Sometimes you have to admire the ingenuity involved in cheating effectively. Why not use that creativity to do something more positive instead? But then again there’s the challenge of beating the system and the glory of succeeding. The file sharing community is very much about “beating the system” and finding ever more ingenious methods for doing so and avoiding discovery. At the same time the companies they are fighting against battle in vain to close down the loopholes and improve security. It's a fascinating battle.

Maybe all this can be seen as necessary irritants to force an otherwise complacent industry from getting too powerful. They are forcing the computer, telecom, music, film and gaming industries to be constantly on their guard and in some cases realize their vulnerability if they don’t adapt. It’s all part of a grey zone between relatively honest creative experimentation and the hardcore criminal activities of the major hackers.

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