Cheating in video games used to be fun

Cheating in video games used to be fun

Cheating goes way back in video games… but what does it even mean to cheat? And is it BAD? Polygon’s Jenna Stoeber falls down the rabbit hole of cheating history, from the heady days of Action Replay, Game Genie, and Game Shark… to the terrible modern days of bot hacks in online multiplayer games, and publishers cracking down on players with threats of fines and jail time.

0:00 What is cheating, anyway?
1:06 Cheating at pinball
2:40 Cheating for credit
4:06 Cheating for POWER
6:12 The golden age of cheats
8:47 Cheat hardware for bad boyz
9:59 The ethics of cheating online
13:30 Prevention and punishment
15:20 Modern cheat culture
16:26 We still have fun here

Photos of Warren Robinett from GDC on Flickr: https://flickr.com/photos/officialgdc/
Under Creative Commons 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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50 Comments

  1. Darius Altaf Syah on June 24, 2022 at 10:57 pm

    Well for me i still cheat on nintendo console and it is still fun

  2. Fairly Geeky on June 24, 2022 at 11:04 pm

    I’ve been cheating for years. Don’t tell my wife.

  3. The Living Journal on June 24, 2022 at 11:04 pm

    I’m reminded of the outcome for shoplifting I ‘The legend of Zelda: Link’s awakening GX’ on the gbc. The mentions of 17:13-17:38 makes me think that antithetical to that are anti-piracy msg and the web culture about fake game piracy outcomes; ~4:23-7:19 of this JJ McCullough video https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=lxxsUCsV6hU#searching
    details on that

  4. Error007 on June 24, 2022 at 11:04 pm

    Then is trimping cheating?

  5. Yeray Pérez Vallejo on June 24, 2022 at 11:08 pm

    I think there’s a big hole in the "cheating is fun" section of this video: tool-assisted speedruns! Those are a feat of cheat engineering and love for games. Maybe it would warrant a video all in on itself, the scene is pretty amazing.

  6. OreoMcTrigger on June 24, 2022 at 11:09 pm

    Did you know, the use of a woman to narrate this video about cheating is a subtle reference to my ex girlfriend Sarah. Why didn’t you tell me there was another man?

  7. Ocarinist Drew on June 24, 2022 at 11:09 pm

    I’d also like to point out that cheats are pretty integral to competitive play.

    I spent 4-5 years playing competitive Smash (Melee), and then I switched to speedrunning, which I’ve been doing for 3 years now. You wanna know how people get insanely good at these games? Practice. More specifically, *practice roms*. We use hacks, cheats, and savestates to exponentially increase the efficiency of our practice sessions.

  8. zZOdysseus Zz on June 24, 2022 at 11:11 pm

    Cheating was fun as hell when you could just use control inputs to give yourself a double jump or infinite energy or something. But now cheating is considered something that ruins your ability to get achievements and can even get the game to punish you like in the Witcher 3

  9. Sunghyun Park on June 24, 2022 at 11:11 pm

    straight up dude, cheat in games is literally a must, i’ve dumped 60 hours into cyber punk and i’ve loved it but i’ve created a stealth character. and 60 hours of stealth is more than enough, i can respec all i want but it isn’t gonna help i just wanna fucking dump ammo into cops and be the terminator. and that’s a cycle i go through in almost every game.

  10. Mmmph on June 24, 2022 at 11:11 pm

    I will often download a Trainer cheat program just to play through a story I’m interested in but don’t want to spend 50 hours grinding through the game world. Now that things like Gamepass exist where you can access a ton of games per month, I’m God-Moding my way through games I wouldn’t otherwise buy or even play, just for the experience of it. I’d rather do that than watch a Youtube walkthrough.

  11. ninjadodo on June 24, 2022 at 11:11 pm

    Great video. Something I feel you could have touched on more though is cheats in singleplayer games, and how those were basically killed off by the rise of "Achievements" in the 360 era. Now we rarely if ever get this, just because people need to arbitrarily measure their incremental progress with extrinsic rewards that erode the intrinsic fun of games… Cheats used to be a thing that let you harmlessly play around with the rules and give yourself extra powers or resources or just try goofy stuff just for the fun of it, since you were only playing against AI anyway.

  12. Sam Morrison on June 24, 2022 at 11:12 pm

    This video brings up so many memories like Bethesda shunning players for modding their unfinished games or the debate of whether griefing low-level characters in a PVP WoW server is cheating. Games and their industry have gotten so complicated and only a few developers/publishers have found healthy ways to take this in stride.

  13. Heck Boy on June 24, 2022 at 11:12 pm

    polygon? where have you gone

  14. animanya on June 24, 2022 at 11:13 pm

    This reminds me of a really good video by TBSkyen about cheat codes, i really recommend it!

  15. stuin01 on June 24, 2022 at 11:16 pm

    I think it is also really interesting to look at the games with modding communities, and the fragile social line that separates mods from third party cheats.

  16. SeastarTV on June 24, 2022 at 11:16 pm

    Polygon has gotten really interesting lately, loving all these interesting angles

  17. Kyle Church on June 24, 2022 at 11:16 pm

    Fantastic video!

  18. gustavo h m álvares on June 24, 2022 at 11:17 pm

    If you’re Brazilian and in your late 20s and you don’t have the all weapons cheats for Grand Theft Auto San Andreas memorised, you’re probably lying

  19. zangafan on June 24, 2022 at 11:18 pm

    Cheating in single player games is cool and good

  20. pandacat17 on June 24, 2022 at 11:18 pm

    fun video but a little sad theres no discussion about cheat engine or the era of dev command cheats (e.g. in RTS games)

  21. Belisaurius Fish on June 24, 2022 at 11:19 pm

    There was a glitch in pirates of the Caribbean online were we could mess with the terrain until we ended up behind the bar in the taverns. I used to roleplay as a bartender all the time. It was fun!

  22. Wisecrack34 on June 24, 2022 at 11:20 pm

    GTAO is a great example of this. With how uniquely terrible the anti-cheat and player protection is, players being able to dox you without even using cheat software, it’s basically required that you use a mod menu of some sort just to protect yourself from malicious cheaters.

  23. ccremeens1 on June 24, 2022 at 11:21 pm

    I loved the video, but I have no idea how an 18 minute video on cheat codes in video games didn’t mention Grand Theft Auto once.

  24. Braixlet on June 24, 2022 at 11:22 pm

    some games need cheating to be playable

  25. Casey M on June 24, 2022 at 11:22 pm

    I spent so much of my youth trying to cheat on neopets. Now I work in cyber security. Thanks, Neopets!

  26. Bettie Mints on June 24, 2022 at 11:22 pm

    I love engagement

  27. Christopher on June 24, 2022 at 11:24 pm

    I really appreciate games that leave in access to the dev console. While it can be used to cheat, you can also use it to modify things to make the game more fun for how you want to play it such as increasing inventory caps/carry weight. For some games "cheating" using the dev console is required to complete it. Elder Scrolls/Fallout routinely encounter game breaking bugs where a critical npc will despawn or otherwise break, and leaving the dev console in lets you actually fix the issues instead of being forced to revert back to an earlier save or being softlocked.

  28. DevinJuularValentine on June 24, 2022 at 11:26 pm

    It’s so funny because Fia literally says may I hug u in exchange for some of your warmth or whatever and we all ignored her and went yes goth mother give me a hug take what you want 😂 that is a generous amount of clue from FromSoft and we still ignored them

  29. Grace Marshall on June 24, 2022 at 11:26 pm

    Reminds me how in the early part of the pandemic I would always end up in among us games where someone was cheating and instead of actually playing for the crew member team like I was supposed to I would just lie to see what happened and how far I could take it. I grew up playing card games more than video games but the games I played all had cheating mechanics that were really just shows of skill or how you played the game though, so lying is usually part of what makes a game fun for me. Killer work as always!!!

  30. Rick Whitechest on June 24, 2022 at 11:26 pm

    Only the real OGs remember:
    🔑
    WB2&pARAcnOwnU
    jMCK%hTk8JHyrT

  31. Random Dog on June 24, 2022 at 11:26 pm

    Ah i remember action-replaying my pokemon platinum and pumping all of my pokemon full of random steroids good times good times. Miss those days

  32. Zaid Lacksalastname on June 24, 2022 at 11:31 pm

    18:05 this is where I disagree. Modding is the modern version of what you’re describing. Randomizers, extra hard challenges, entire new worlds or areas, new mechanics that completely change the game, and so on. That’s what modern day hacking for fun is, and it’s great. I’d blame the shift away from arcades and the fact that the mainstream has moved on to online games which can’t have cheats for the decrease in popular cheats, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone.

    Thanks for listening to my Ted Talk

  33. Haphazard Lark on June 24, 2022 at 11:33 pm

    This video means so much to me I feel a little embarrassed about it, and im mad I internalized that unwarranted shame so I’m gonna double down on engaging with this instead of lurking. I wrote my long winded glowing comment on the community poll post about this so I’ll keep this one brief and just say that learning the history of this from arcade days onwards was really cool

    Oh, and whoever put the cat ear headphones on Sartre at 9:58 is my hero

  34. Sarah Blank on June 24, 2022 at 11:40 pm

    I loved cheats in games like Age of Mythology to get silly units. I also loved cheating in Pokémon. I’d still cheat in Pokémon tbh. I hate shiny hunting, who cares if I have a team of shinies in my game? I don’t use the online features. Miss the days of gamesharks 😔

  35. David Jameson on June 24, 2022 at 11:41 pm

    There’s always people trying to cry out that a _preventable_ exploit of a system is a cheat, but y’know… if the pinball table wasn’t meant to be tilted, it could’ve been bolted down. But what came about as an anti-incentive? The tilt detector plumb line device. You can bump and tilt, but _only just so much._ This turned it from a debate into a game of cat and mouse, where people who wanted to use tilts/bumps would need to research just how tolerant a machine was, potentially feeding the owner more quarters to deduce that information, since the penalty of a detected tilt was control lockout, meaning forfeiture of the play.

  36. Baggy Trousers on June 24, 2022 at 11:42 pm

    The books you used to be able to get: 15000 game cheats and tricks. Those were the days.

  37. Peter Collin on June 24, 2022 at 11:44 pm

    My opinion is simple: Multi player games? Don’t cheat.
    Single player games? Go for it. If it’s really competitive, disable achievements for cheaters and it’s fine.

  38. cptnoremac on June 24, 2022 at 11:45 pm

    What’s with all the capitalism jabs? Damn commies.

  39. Squid Umbrella on June 24, 2022 at 11:47 pm

    I know everyone had a piece of paper with GTA cheats.

  40. Encysted on June 24, 2022 at 11:50 pm

    Most people don’t consider it “cheating” if you make the game harder, by some standard: e.g. permanently *decreasing* health instead of increasing it. Why though? You’re modifying the experience, changing how the game is played.

  41. One Singular Human on June 24, 2022 at 11:51 pm

    Personally, when it comes to single-player cheats, It’s really just about the experience I’m trying to have.

    Take Minecraft for example, when I’m playing Minecraft, I’m overall pretty lax with cheats. I like using them because they make it more fun for me, when I’m just trying to chill and build some block houses. Beyond that I love modded Minecraft, which In many cases could be considered cheating. I don’t mind using cheats or mods in this game since there’s really no stakes, it’s just a sandbox meant for fun and creativity.

    Now take Diablo III, where for many years, and TWO large lost saves, I’ve been trying to get through every difficulty level, by myself, on my own time. If I cheated in that, I’d feel unhappy, since I’m playing for a personal challenge, and cheating would make it feel unfair to myself and to the goal I set.

    It all comes down to what I want out of the playing experience. If I was playing a different Diablo III character for fun, I might not mind cheating, since it doesn’t have the same stakes. I also like playing Vanilla Minecraft hardcore, which by default has no cheats. The “rightness” or “wrongness” of single-player cheats is really just up to the player themselves, and how they want to play.

  42. Confused by Life on June 24, 2022 at 11:51 pm

    This reminded me of The Sims 2 DS where if you changed the time on the DS to make money faster in the game then the game would call you a cheater and aliens would attack the town. I loved it, it so stupid 😂

  43. BRobMorris on June 24, 2022 at 11:52 pm

    I played some of the latest smash Bros with a kid 10 years younger than me and when he kept beating me I kept calling him out for using cheat codes… He had no idea what that meant… I felt old and irrelevant

  44. TheyLoveThem LLC on June 24, 2022 at 11:53 pm

    Thank goodness for Jenna videos to keep me sane 🙏🙏

    It wasn’t cheating, but my favorite "Cheating" was locking the butler in the freezer in Tomb Raider 2 so he’d stop following me around the mansion was my favorite haha

  45. Naota Kenichi on June 24, 2022 at 11:53 pm

    In high-school I played every game on hard-mode first, at least the ones I assumed I’d really really mesh with, and deemed to never look up a guide.
    8 years later and I’ve thrown that out the window. My desire to preserve the zenith of a game’s experience only works on a case by case basis, and I find lots of games that I love… but not ones I wanted to dig for discovery or proficiency. especially after I’ve played so many games, do I deny myself from seeing something to preserve my competency, do I spend hours upon hours of extra time with the game and turn what would have been a natural moment into basically a check list, sometimes for games that don’t even have one? For one, that comment about some devs never actually completing their games legit, resonates with a and idea reasoned with; that games are not an immaculately curated experience and dev intentions are not immutable, nor are they always easy to distinguish. Devs try to send you though hallways and look at specific details, they create combat or other mechanics that grow and develop… but I’m allowed to not like it, I can see that when you start God of War 2018 on the hard on a fresh file that the hardest fight shouldn’t literally be the first gang of enemies… that perhaps the game is designed in a way that makes the challenge less fun, or that the devs balanced everything for a specific mode and that mode is different for ever freaking game. Does the game suck on easy but really encourage you to engage its mechanics on super hard, does the game demand absolute perfection on anything above normal, does the combat just suck and the only way to compensate is to exploit the lite RPG mechanics or just accept that its not engaging enough to be worth playing on anything above normal. Those are all decisions I must make to make MY experience enjoyable in spite of the games design.

    I looked back onto my childhood. I read Nintendo Power, and every time I renewed my subscription I got a free game guide; Wind Waker, Paper Mario TTYD, Mario 64, but the first and most important was Majora’s Mask. I loved this book, I carried it with me to school every day. The art was amazing, stuff you’d never find in the game, concept art and promotional materials. The detailed maps that all lined up. The schedule of the bomber’s note book laying out every citizen’s schedule, and all the potential events you could trigger. Their stories, the secrets, the tricks. I loved Majora’s Mask… yet I had never beaten the first temple as a kid. I start a new file, again and again and again, going about the events of the first three days, the clock tower, getting the ocarina back, being told my goal, and resetting. I would sneak into the deku palace and get the song to the temple, I would know to reset and unlock the temple on day one… but I never beat it. And yet I loved that game, I loved the guide, I loved understanding the game. I don’t play games to be good at them, I don’t play games to be surprised by something I didn’t see coming, I don’t play them to be the first to discover something. I love games because they are fun to dissect, to learn and comprehend, both in game and in development… and unlike any other medium the tools are all there to discover these things. I can get enjoyment from gaining proficiency or natural discovery, but I’ll never consider it a disservice to cheat, to look up information, to share with friends. The experience isn’t special because we all played and learned the game the same exact way, its special because we all did it different.

    I will never feel the same as my first experiences with certain games again. Beating your first Fromsoft game, getting your first FC in a rhythm game, seeing a devastating tragedy, thinking through an amazing plot twist, finding your first secret. There no point in continually chasing that high. As gamers get older nothing surprises them anymore, so if their enjoyment is solely based on that they will burn out. But I revel in video games, ones I don’t even play, learning about devs, learning history, and playing anything that looks interesting. Because proving you beat a hard game ‘legit’ isn’t as unique as coding in bullet time by yourself to beat the boss most players can’t. Theres never a moment from a game you can’t ‘gain’ something from, even if you made it your own way… especially if you made it your own way.

  46. gamegyro56 on June 24, 2022 at 11:54 pm

    Great video! There’s so much about this topic. Like:
    * readily-available trainers, which have their own digital history as part of the cracking scene, but alone function the exact same way as cheats
    * console commands open in The Sims and Skyrim
    * micro-transactions, which often do the same as cheats in older games. But unlike arcade game cheating, you also have to pay a full game price. So this leads to cases like Shadow of War and Battlefront 2, where even the company removes the pay-to-cheat structure.

  47. twoteesful on June 24, 2022 at 11:54 pm

    man those naughty lads are so cool.

  48. Polygon on June 24, 2022 at 11:55 pm

    Did you cheat as a kid? What was the game, and what was the cheat?

  49. my youtube account on June 24, 2022 at 11:56 pm

    My friend gave me 999 of every item in pokemon platinum. I have no clue how they did it but I was so thankful because I was really bad a pokemon and also I just felt really cool using masterballs for everything. Also it let me get my pokemon to level 100 really easy with the rare candies

  50. Adam Garlow on June 24, 2022 at 11:56 pm

    As a long time Bethesda enthusiast (mods and cheese galore) it has been jarring to see the response to Elden ring mods from the should community. I get not cheating in multiplayer but offline single player games should be whatever you want them to be. Even in completely stock PvP there’s so much hatred for people using objectively good weapons i.e rivers of blood or moonveil. Seems weird to stress so much over something that is supposed to be relaxing entertainment

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