Washington Post: What’s So Bad About Cheating?

Originally posted 4/4/07 at Avataritoria.

Mike Musgrove, Washington Post Technology Columnist, does not understand why cheating is bad. I hope his golfing buddies know that.

Mr. Musgrove doesn’t get why we enjoy MMORPGs. Some people would say that disqualifies him from writing about MMOs. I disagree. Musgrove admits his ignorance. Then he thinks that maybe MMOs are only boring in the low levels, so maybe he should try a power leveling service.

He pays $24 to a Hong Kong gold farm to get his World of Warcraft character leveled to 20. Unfortunately, he finds the game just as dull. There’s just no pleasing some people.

But even after asking around, he just can’t see why power leveling would be bad. (He calls power-leveling meatbots “proxy fighters.” Isn’t that adorable?) He quotes the absurd self-justification of his HK gold pirate:

“The practice is analogous to someone who maintains a beautiful garden but doesn’t always have enough time to perform all the yard work himself, and therefore hires a gardener,” [HK/Singapore gold farming firm IGE’s chief operating officer, James Clarke] wrote in an e-mailed response to questions about the company. “Some purists might call hiring a gardener ‘cheating,’ but we believe most people are quite comfortable with it.”

Uh huh. I guess some purists might think hiring a gardener is “cheating,” but most people are quite comfortable with gardeners. What does that have to do with cheating in a game? Does this guy really think most WoW players are comfortable with the idea that the lvl 14 rogue in their PUG is an underpaid Chinese sweat shop laborer? Should I not care that someone paid money to “accomplish” in a moment what I worked (well, played) hard to accomplish?

I’ve made a big deal of the fact that MMOs are not competitive games. I’ve suggested that MMO players are meant to share strategies and resources, and not hoard them. But this raises the question, so what if someone buys levels? Or gold? Or items? Isn’t that just “sharing?”

The only way to answer a question like this is to ask, “How does it affect the game?” The kinds of sharing I’m talking about take place in the game, between characters. It’s part of the game itself. Power leveling and gold farming involve transactions outside the game, between players, made for out-of-game benefit (money). That’s what makes it cheating.

When playing Monopoly, I can state in front of everyone that another player and I are ganging up on a third player. That’s not cheating. But if I steal money from the bank and pass it surreptitiously to the second player, in exchange for non-game-related favor later, that’s just plain old cheating.

Of course, Monopoly is a competitive game with one winner. WoW is a cooperative game with no winners. But they are still both GAMES. And if you don’t play by the rules, you’re not playing. You’re just taking up bandwidth that could be used by people who actually want to play.

I’m not surprised that a Washington Post columnist lacks the internal ethical compass to recognize cheating. He’s probably one of those people who thinks that because Alberto Gonzalez didn’t break the law, he didn’t do anything wrong. Power leveling isn’t illegal, therefore it must not be wrong.

Link. Via MMO Gaming.


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