Gaming has come a long way since I started playing. I grew up on the NES. I grew up and A and B, select and start. Mario, Luigi, and Link were my posse. Since those days, graphics and games have advanced to a point where I might as well be playing a Michael Bay film. FPS, RPG, and MMO dominate the scene today. Unlockables, achievements, and DLC are the standard of the day, but what ever happened to the good ol’ cheat codes?
I bought video game magazines for the cheat codes. Whole pages, sections, even whole magazines were dedicated to key punches. Hold this while pressing these buttons. Key these buttons in at the start screen. Pause the game and punch this in. Shortcuts, infinite lives, infinite ammo, all guns, were there for the taking if you could just find the code. It truly was cheating at the video game. You were able to play the part of God. Hell, wasn’t there even the “God Code?”
Cheats were such big business that they built the Game Shark. Remember that thing? A room full of coders created a go-between that bypassed design code and literally cheated the game. Between the cartridge and console was the key to anything you could imagine. Your console resembled the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it was just as full of answers. It wasn’t just key presses anymore. All you needed to do was highlight and select the cheats you wanted for the game.
It’s a dying feature, though. Sure, the Konami code exists in one form another in games occasionally, but it’s not like it used to be. As code has become infinitely more complicated than it once was, so have games. The gamers’ tastes have changed, too. The culture of gaming seems to frown upon the classic cheat. There is no consumer demand, so there is no market.
The closest thing to a cheat you can get is a walkthrough. Instead of figuring it out on your own, searching for a decade for every collectible in a game, you just refer to a section that outlines where everything is and how to accomplish every quest, task, event, chapter, and boss battle.
The achievement and the unlockable has replaced the cheat. Well, not replaced it, but is the holy grail that the code used to be. Gamers aren’t looking to bypass the difficulty of games. Far from it. Audiences want white-knuckle, controller-chucking difficulty setting. What used to be a jaunt through a side-scroller is now an episodic journey sometimes eating up 100+ hours of play, and gamers are looking to be able to wear an achievement like a smug badge of honor. Why else would there be insane mode built in to a game?
There is also the dominance of open-world designs and the rise of the MMO and RPG. These are genres that would suffer greatly from cheat codes. In a space like WoW or SW: TOR, there is no space for cheat codes. There is no room for cheating. Hell, players often frown on the idea of selling/buying equipment through online marketplaces. This is cheating to many in these communities. So, with such large online gaming communities, multiplayer features in games like Modern Warfare and Battlefield installments, cheats would be devastating to the basic idea of achievement through even playing fields. The presence of infinite health codes or unlimited ammo codes would be awful.
Gamers want to beat a game like never before. The achievement system is the best example of this. It’s not enough to finish a game. You need to finish it on every difficulty mode. You need to kill this many enemies for 10 points added to your gamer score. You need to finish a section under two minutes. You need to execute this many of this move, or do this thing 1,000 times. You need to play every map, every mode, and collect all of this thing or that. Gamers aren’t looking for cheats. They are looking for the feeling of dominating a game, not leisurely wandering through it with infinite health.
The gaming space has changed. Gamers are savvy, happily invest more time in games than ever before, and demand a fulfilling experience. Players seem to have realized something that a muscle-head at a gym would say: “When you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself.” Gamers don’t hit the gym as often as they probably should, but they have realized that a shortcut, a cheat, even a walkthrough can take away from the experience in an MMO, an RPG, or an open-world that is just waiting to be discovered. We want to level up, collect, acquire, and achieve. Cheats just seem to be the victim of better games, a more savvy community, and maturity that tells us that we’re losing more than we gain when we cheat. Not a bad lesson to learn, but I still get the urge to key in a God Code and go bitchcakes in the virtual space.