It’s very telling that the first blog I post is on the topic of cheating; I am not going to lie, I am a serial cheater. But what exactly is it about cheat codes that is so enticing? I am going to be covering this topic using my own personal accounts of cheating, as well as common stories where my experience falters. Since I hold this topic near and dear to my heart, I am hoping to portray cheating as a more complex phenomenon than just an easy way for “lazy” gamers to seem skilled without the challenge of gaining gamer skills.
This is a very vast topic, so I intend on making this a multi-part article. First, I would like to cover the most famous cheats, and what it is about them that I believe has kept them a living cornerstone of gaming for both casual gamers and pros, alike.
Throughout gaming history, cheat codes have always had a mixed reputation as both taboo, but also somewhat endearing. One of the most notorious cheats is the Konami code, used first on the NES version of Gradius, and later, Contra. These games are somewhat before my time and are now played on consoles with different button-mapping, but the famous “up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A” is still a very popular reference in all generations of gaming communities.
Cheats such as this were a way to get ahead in a game that just seemed so difficult otherwise. Gradius and Contra both started out as coin-op cabinets in the mid-80’s and can still be found today. A local brewery by my house just invested in a cabinet that contains over a hundred remastered games, so we played a couple levels of Contra. If the cabinet hadn’t been set to free play, I would’ve lost my mind; that game is mad difficult. Cabinet games have always been admired for their difficulty, especially by the owners who made money off your “Game Over” misery.
When these games were released on NES, they hadn’t gotten any easier, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone if they didn’t want to endure the same frustration the original cabinet had left them. Thus came the Konami code, an easy way to acquire 30 lives and stave off the constant need to restart after you encounter doom. The way I see it, Contra is a good game, but if I ever want to experience the whole game, I’m going to need help, like, 30 helps, to be exact. So the cheat code lives in infamy, from memes to easter eggs, understood even by those who have no clue what these Konami games even are.
This is true also of other, more recent game franchises. “Rosebud” and “Motherlode” are notorious for those who do not want to work their Sim to death just to get the mansion on the hill. A slew of button commands can give you any weapon you want, or even reset your “Wanted Level”, creating a free, urban world to explore. For these two examples, the goal for most players was to side-step the obstacles that otherwise give the games their challenge. Or perhaps it goes a little deeper.
Not everyone is down for the grind of living a middle-class suburban life, only hoping one day you will be able to afford a vibrating love bed. Who wants to simulate the most boring part of reality in their play time? I strongly believe this is a huge part of why the cheats for The Sims are so well-known, and so openly accepted. I know for certain that this is the reason I indulge in them. I play the Sims not to create nuclear families who most certainly are counting down the days until their kids are grown and they can retire, but to give them the lives so many of us know are impossible to achieve in reality. That’s right, I have entire towns full of money tree farmers who need no sleep, and have become experts in every skill known to sim. Why, you ask? Because if I had it my way, I would live forever and fill my time with only things I wanted to do.
Granted, that isn’t a very challenging way to live, but then again, the Sims hasn’t really been set up as a challenging game. Aside from console versions which include story lines and established goals, the main point of the Sims is that there really isn’t one. It’s free and open to interpretation. “Build a life, live a life. Or don’t, we don’t care; please buy all of our expansion packs, sincerely EA”. Okay, they didn’t say that, but that’s the basic gist. So if you want to cheat to increase funds, or keep their needs static, or even make everyone like you; go for it. It doesn’t really make any difference, except allowing you to strategically navigate yourself around the real-world nonsense that I personally would never choose to have in my perfect world.
Many of us find a sense of freedom in gaming, a freedom we don’t always have otherwise; these codes take that a step further and give us a bit more creative license in the way we game.
In the case of Grand Theft Auto, who doesn’t want the freedom of wreaking a little free-form havoc and knowing no one can stop you? Granted, many use the cheats to get through the very difficult story line. I’m not personally acquainted with that since I kind of got distracted from the main quest after I found the cheats and decided I’d rather just sit on street corners with a rocket launcher.
Don’t get me wrong, San Andreas had a pretty good story that introduced “little high school Brenna” to some topics I would probably have been oblivious to otherwise. But I still always found myself popping in that disc for the free-world game play and the hilarious encounters with NPCs. CJ would just rip people out of cars, and blow people up, and there I was deleting his Wanted Level so he would never get caught. Now that I think of it, I was kind of a remorseless accessory to murder, and it didn’t bother me…But that’s a topic for another day.
On the other hand, for games like GTA, an extremely popular franchise in my childhood as well as today, completing the game was a right of passage among some gaming groups. This, I think, is the fine line where console cheating grew from being mostly just for enhancing your personal gaming experience, to an affront to other gamers who feel like a cheater should not take credit for something others worked hard to attain. We will talk about this more a little later.
Probably my most favorite cheat as a child growing up in the late 90’s wasn’t even a cheat code, but a glitch. The Missingno glitch in Pokemon Red and Blue, which holds a very special place in my heart.
When my older brother had come home with a piece of paper, which had been given to him by a friend at school, containing instructions on how to get unlimited master balls, I was beyond ecstatic. The cool thing about this glitch is you kind of had to already be pretty good at Pokemon in order to use it, since you needed access to Cinnabar Island, the last badge-holding town before you went to face the elite four.
At this time, I was about eight years old, and between my four siblings and I, we had acquired multiple copies of Pokemon Red version, blue, yellow, silver, and gold. Not only that, we had bought even further into the franchise by purchasing both Pokemon Stadium, and Pokemon Stadium 2 (among other Pokemon-branded commodities). My little brother and I were so stoked, thinking we were going to be able to really work this glitch in our favor with our Pokemon Stadium prowess.
However, we were disappointed to find out that the item storage system did not allow you to transfer items to a second generation game pack if it was stored by a first gen game. So instead, we decided to just catch as many types of Pokemon as possible and trade them to the second gen games (which was allowed). We used it for other items too, like rare candies, gold bars, and items that increased Pokemon stats. This gave the traded Pokemon quite the kick, which definitely helped when trading to games we hadn’t beaten yet.
Although the advantage wasn’t as great as we had hoped it would be, we were definitely pleased to be able to work around the “one master ball per game” rule, which was always meant to be used on MewTwo. Now we could use our plethora of balls on all of the ancient bird Pokemon, a huge deal for anyone who wanted a more complete Pokedex and who didn’t like playing roulette with single-encounter characters.
It still lacked many pros when it came to big picture advantages. We were still forced to play through the whole game, and you couldn’t even control your lv. 100 Snorlax (the level capped at 100 after the trade) unless you had all the badges anyway. Plus, when I’d battle other human players, we would put level restrictions, so even if someone had cheated, they couldn’t use that Pokemon in the battle.
I also proved that I could not handle such power as Missingno, ignoring those who said “Don’t catch it”. When I caught it, I ignored those who said, “Fine, but don’t trade it to other versions!”. Alas, I ignored the warnings that told me, “Okay! Whatever! But if you put it in the daycare and breed it, you’ll be sorry!”. And so sometimes you have to make very bad mistakes and start your Pokemon Silver from scratch in order to learn your lesson.
A take away note about this glitch is that even though the system hadn’t worked out the way we had wanted it to, this marked the first time our little minds had attempted to take advantage of a coding weakness to try and maximize our gain. Granted, this was nothing like hacking, but it definitely opened our eyes and brains to the idea that programs are not perfect and the right tools can help you capitalize on those weaknesses.
For the most part, these ways of cheating are universally known and loved on a personal basis, because people liked a game, but they also enjoyed playing it a different way. These ways of gaming don’t really have any effect on other gamer’s, aside from a possible demotion in your gamer street cred, and are deemed relatively harmless. But what if you take the lessons like those that Missingno taught my siblings and I to another level?
It is this way of thinking that will lead us into the next part of this article, where I will talk about a more nefarious type of cheating that hadn’t been an option in offline, solo games. A world where not only are you disliked by fellow gamers, but a constant worry to the developers.
Thank you for reading, and feel free to share YOUR experience with early cheats! And don’t forget to stay tuned for part 2!