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Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames

Author: Mia Consalvo
Publisher: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007
Review Published: July 2009

 REVIEW 1: Bryan G. Behrenshausen
 REVIEW 2: Tanner Higgin
 REVIEW 3: Ray Vichot
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Mia Consalvo

I'd like to thank the three reviewers for their thoughtful reviews of my book. I remain fascinated with the idea of cheating in videogames, and what it means. If I were to rewrite the book today, I might start from an entirely new set of concerns and ideas, thinking through the implications of systems like Xbox Live Arcade, the explosion of casual, social, alternate reality and mobile games, and the growing use of micro-payments and free-to-play for different types of games. How would those spaces allow for cheating? Do strategy guides much matter anymore? Or would we simply be asking the same sorts of questions, albeit with newer technologies and game types?

Bryan Behrenshausen raises an excellent point, asking how players think about AI cheats, such as when PuzzleQuest becomes too good at being your opponent (been there, seen that!). His reminder that games, too, are part of the system of cheating, raises intriguing questions about what he terms "machinic agency," and I would love to see further research in this area, both in terms of player reactions to such activities, as well as detailed analyses of design decisions that make such moves possible. Indeed, I would probably defer to the human myself, and seek to see how game developers and programmers in particular work to encode such systems, and ask why they make the choices as they do -- are there technological reasons, sociological reasons, or other factors that go into creating cheating machines?

Tanner Higgin argues that gaming capital could be tied to ideas about dominance, and masculine control of systems or ideas. This is a fascinating area to explore, particularly in light of how players who engage in activities such as "theorycrafting" in World of Warcraft not only share knowledge, but often compete to put forth the most reliable, the most complete, or the most helpful knowledge in a specific area. When players collide in terms of making those contributions, whose words will carry the day? Are some players chastised or subordinated to others in the pursuit of gaming capital? Could that competition have less to do with information richness than with particular identities or player performances? My development of the term gaming capital and its associated practices is only the tip of this iceberg.

Finally, Ray Vichot brings up my omission of the windowing practice in Final Fantasy XI online, an activity the company does not support, yet engaged in by many players. At the time of my writing I saw some discussion of windowing, yet many more players seemed much angrier about the practice of real-money trade (which used to be called gil-buying), and I let my research follow those discussions instead.

What all three reviewers point to are the many points for entry that remain for understanding cheating in videogames. There are always new practices, new virtual worlds, new players to study (as well as older ones that remain overlooked). As more games rely on user-generated content, issues of cheating collide with concerns about IP and player rights more generally. And issues of ethics and practice remain ripe for study, especially as videogames lose their "hardcore" status and enter the realm of the everyday.

Mia Consalvo

<consalvo@ohio.edu>

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