The “Golden Age of Gaming” subset of articles are about my recollections of gaming past. I look towards the past in an attempt to understand the present and the future and see how far we have come, both as gamers and as in industry, and to find out if there are any aspects we may have slipped behind in.
How many gamers remember cheat codes in their games? I would wager that a vast majority of gamers would, at the very least, know about the Konami Code even if they knew not of its origin. Cheat Codes played a vital role during the 8-bit and 16-bit era of gaming, they enabled fun. That isn’t to say that games weren’t fun in the past, quite the opposite actually, but games served to be more challenging in the past. Today we actually have phrases to describe a game that is challenging. “Old-School Difficulty” and “Retro Inspired Challenge”, among others, are used to describe games where death is an inevitability, lives are numbered, and checkpoints are rare or nonexistent. Super Meat Boy, Ninja Gaiden, and Demon/Dark Souls are more mainstream ones while popular indie titles such as I Wanna Be The Guy and Super Hexagon take the cake for frustratingly difficult. We have games that are less challenging and provide a more empowered gameplay to balance this out though. Simple, fun games did not have a strong presence in the 90’s and if you didn’t have the chops to play the majority of games then you had no choice but to practice or give up the hobby… or there were cheat codes.
Cheat codes come in many different forms. Some make the game easier by added extra lives, infinite ammo, or invulnerability. Some are used to bypass technical limitations such as level select or unlocking hidden levels. And some exist simply because they can. These include all joke codes such as big head mode, invisible NPCs, floaty gravity, and other silly cheats. While the second and third do not change the game play much at all, it seems that there is a lot of hate towards the first batch, the codes that diminish difficulty. I will be the first to admit that I would not be a gamer today without those cheat codes.
When I was much younger, probably around 6 or 7, I was introduced to Doom. I had some experience with Spear of Destiny beforehand but Doom really grabbed me. I was terrible at it though. Duke Nukem 3D was no different. I grew up with an NES and my early skills were all based around running to the right and jumping. Even so, Super C on the NES was quite impossible for me as was a few other difficult games. Upgrading to the Genesis brought more games that were above my skill level. Zero Tolerance was a game that I don’t remember even getting off the first level. The reason I kept coming back to these games is because of the ‘idkfa’ and the ‘uuddlrlrba start select’ and the ‘abracadabra’. The cheat codes gave me a level playing field and allowed me to have fun, instead of being frustrated. Although I have grown to love challenging games, at my young age I was only interested in having fun and cheat codes gave me that incentive to keep gaming.
Think about Grand Theft Auto. What’s the first thing you do after finishing the first few “tutorial” missions? Find cheats for all guns, 5 star rating, and a tank! Then you spend the next couple of hours having more fun than the entirety of the basic game combined. Let it be noted that I’m not belittling the GTA franchise as much as I’m saying that it is freaking awesome to drive a tank around while SWAT chases you, getting out of your tank and launching rockets until they kill you, because we all know they aren’t going to take you alive. Rhythm games are another perfect example. With a few exceptions, most rhythm games require extensive time to unlock all of the songs, but when you get some buddies over for Rock Band night sitting in Career mode may not be the most fun way to spend the evening. The “Unlock Everything” code has been in every Rock Band and Guitar Hero and the trend will most likely stay this way as it is an essential cheat for the party aspect of the game. Mods are also like cheat codes as they alter the game you are playing. I would never have played Oblivion for as much time as I did if I had not used Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul. Torchlight was the same way. I added in a respec potion and changed the way my inventory was counted(potions only stack to 20 in the base game, I upped that to 99). These could be considered cheating as they changed the core gameplay to make it easier, or in Oblivion’s case more natural, to play the game. Yet mods are extremely popular and are often used as a positive argument for PC in the PC vs Console debates.
Please don’t see this article as support for online cheaters or hackers. In the cyberspace realm I believe that cheating is unacceptable. This is simply because it interferes with others fun. On the other hand, server wide hacking can be extremely interesting. I played on a Counter Strike 1.6 server that allowed hacking, and while it lost its charm rather quickly, it was a pretty fun experiment. Cheating has earned a negative reputation over the years but I think its time to alter the way we think about it. As long as it does not affect the experience of others, cheating helps players explore the game and have fun in their own way. Who are we to decide what is the right or wrong way to game?