The Zen of Video Games – Cheat Happens

(Warning: Minor Borderlands 2 spoilers ahead!)

So, a little birdie at Leviathyn.com told me that an exploit had been found in Borderlands 2 that could allow players to have 999 Golden Keys, and I instantly thought, “Players cheating in a video game? Why, that’s unheard of! Harumph! It’s like they expect to have a magical genie granting their game wishes! Preposterous!” I then cleaned my monocle, stroked my handlebar moustache and harumphed a few more times for emphasis.

Really, I don’t know why anyone’s surprised, or even why this qualifies as news, players have been cheating at games since the NES. If I understand correctly, hackers have even figured out how to make Game-Genie-esque codes work on games for the PS3. Of course, I might not understand correctly, hacker-speak being about as easy for me to decipher as Mandarin Chinese is for a 10-year-old American who’s blind and deaf.

I’m not saying that cheating isn’t wrong, it’s just that it doesn’t bother me, because I don’t play games with people I don’t already know in real life. In anonymous online games, when you cheat, it has a tendency to ruin the experience for everybody else playing that game with you. But if you’re cheating in single-player, I hardly expect all the ones and zeroes running through the CPU will complain, unless your cheat literally crashes the game, of course. And cheating in a game among friends who know where you live is a pretty good way to get your welcome mat drenched in urine.

I used to cheat at a LOT of single-player games, because I get easily frustrated, and nothing’s likely to frustrate me as much as overly repeated video game death, especially during the NES era. The phrase “Nintendo hard” was coined for a reason, some of those games were SPECTACULAR exercises in frustration. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes to mind, even though I wish it wouldn’t.

Even as recently as the PS2, I was using a Code-Breaker, and smiling as I used my god-like powers to smite every last resident of that peasant village in Resident Evil 4, though admittedly, that was after going through the game normally, and getting Leon’s body mangled into a new shape more than a few times.

Personally, as long as your cheating doesn’t impact anyone else, I don’t see why it would be a big deal. There are usually some interesting or hidden parts of our favorite games that can only be seen by cheating, like the hidden Japanese version of Resident Evil 2 in the American version of the game (at least, I think that’s what it was, the website that hosted the code is currently down), or the Hot Coffee mod in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas….which I’ve only ever heard about….never actually seen it….ahem….moving right along.

And yet, I cannot mention that I cheat without somebody chiding me for it, like I’m committing a crime. Yes, I suppose games are meant to be beaten on their own, but you cannot tell me there haven’t been games where the cause of the difficulty is bad design, rather than intent, see above re: TMNT. I never would’ve seen the ending of that game if I didn’t have a Game Genie to grant me near-invulnerability and extra weapons.

But that never satisfies anyone, and truth be told, I’ve cheated on well-designed games before, and I guess I’m supposed to feel guilty for having cheated. Well, I don’t. I’m of the mindset that I bought the game, and if I want to play it normally, I’ll do that, but if I want to play it with cheats, then I’ll go right ahead and do it, and you can’t stop me, neener, neener!

Lately, however, I haven’t cheated at anything. I just haven’t felt the need to. Games have come a long way since the NES, and frustrating games are the exception now, rather than the rule. Nowadays, games are giving gamers the choice of how frustrated they want to get, with hardcore modes and permanent death, forcing you to start all over again if you make a mistake at the wrong time. So it’s been a while since I’ve used a trainer program or a cheat device.

But I might be slipping back into bad habits soon, because Borderlands 2 is really making me WANT to cheat. After my third cheap-as-hell death trying to protect that STUPID lunar beacon from a never-ending onslaught of exploding robots, and hearing Angel whining for the tenth time that I need to get the beacon repaired, I calmly put my controller down, sauntered casually over to the television, and screamed, “REPAIR THE BEACON YOURSELF, YOU USELESS BITCH!” I took my Siren and left the area, shutting the game off shortly after. I like to think she walked away from Pandora’s war and lives in a cave now, subsisting on skag hunting and a small vegetable garden.

That reaction was completely over the top, I’m aware of that. Here’s the thing: why was I getting so frustrated? The penalty for death is NOT huge, in fact all that happened was I lost about $5,000 – a fifth of my money – and I took maybe a couple of minutes longer to complete the mission than it should have. The money I would even mostly recoup from selling all the dropped equipment. So all I really lost was a couple of minutes. Is that really worth losing my mind over? Was it worth screaming at the TV and startling my poor mailman who just happened to be on my doorstep at the wrong time?

I need to learn to be more patient, this is something I’ve known for a while, and I accept that. It’s not just video games, I get easily frustrated with a lot of things, like dating, vehicle maintenance, and ordering food at the drive-thru.

But at the same time, I feel like the game is at least partly at fault – so many enemies spawned that I’m seriously wondering if the game thought there were more players than just me – and if not, I shudder to think how much worse that part of the game is with a full party of four. I felt like there was literally no choice but to die. The sudden jump in difficulty was enormously frustrating, especially since the difficulty curve had been damn-near perfect until then.

And I want to chide Gearbox for developing the Second Wind feature where you can revive yourself from death by killing an enemy while in a near-death state – and then programming all the human and robot enemies to immediately run away from you and go into cover as soon as you’re in that state. I want to chide them, but I really can’t – that’s kind of smart behavior for an AI enemy, assuming they know how your Second Winds work.

And in spite of its faults, I love Borderlands 2. Handsome Jack is my new hero. For those reasons and more, I don’t want to cheat at the game. So I suggest a compromise – allow us to aim in near-death, Gearbox, so we might be able to snag a long-distance kill when all the enemies run away. Pretty please? In a patch, or in Borderlands 3? I’ll buy you a pony?