I'm Kind Of A Big Deal (in a footnote)

Earlier today, while digging up the link for an article I wrote five years ago about the political economy of Diablo II, I discovered that I'm referenced in a book! Published by a reputable university press! Written by a professor!

Alas, my 15 minutes of fame came and went long before I realized my short lived glory. But it's still heartwarming in retrospect. Those many hours I spent playing Diablo II all throughout undergrad were not a complete waste.

Here is some additional background on the article I wrote. And here is a description of the book, Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames, by Mia Consalvo, an Associate Professor of Telecommunications at Ohio University:

The widely varying experiences of players of digital games challenge the notions that there is only one correct way to play a game. Some players routinely use cheat codes, consult strategy guides, or buy and sell in-game accounts, while others consider any or all of these practices off limits. Meanwhile, the game industry works to constrain certain readings or activities and promote certain ways of playing. In Cheating, Mia Consalvo investigates how players choose to play games and what happens when they can't always play the way they'd like. She explores a broad range of player behavior, including cheating (alone and in groups), examines the varying ways that players and industry define cheating, describes how the game industry itself has helped systematize cheating, and studies online cheating in context in an online ethnography of Final Fantasy XI. She develops the concept of "gaming capital" as a key way to understand individuals' interaction with games, information about games, the game industry, and other players.

Consalvo provides a cultural history of cheating in videogames, looking at how the packaging and selling of such cheat-enablers as cheat books, GameSharks, and mod chips created a cheat industry. She investigates how players themselves define cheating and how their playing choices can be understood, with particular attention to online cheating. Finally, she examines the growth of the peripheral game industries that produce information about games rather than actual games. Digital games are spaces for play and experimentation; the way we use and think about digital games, Consalvo argues, is crucially important and reflects ethical choices in gameplay and elsewhere.

Cheating is a contested term in gaming (and in real life!), for a variety of reasons. I like to distinguish between internal and external forms of cheating. Almost everyone frowns upon external cheating (even cheaters themselves); the classic example being the sleazy poker player with an Ace up his sleeve. External cheating involves an explicit violation of the rules, by bringing something forbidden from outside the game into the game environment, whether it be an object (such as an additional card), or an idea (such as knowledge of another player's hand). The only exception people usually make for external forms of cheating is for solo games, such as solitaire or single-player video games. Even in solo games, however, people often frown upon external cheating, on the grounds that in most cases one is merely cheating oneself out of a enjoyable and lasting gaming experience; game designers are usually (but not always) smarter than the casual player when it comes to determining the best rules by which to play.

Internal cheating, on the other hand, is much more implicit and subjective. Sometimes internal cheating is a result of a player exploiting a bug, design flaw, or power imbalance unintentionally left inside the game by the designers themselves. Other times, the accusation of internal cheating arises from the conflicting motivations different kinds of gamers bring to the games they play. Mark Rosewater made a classic distinction between three different types of gamers who play Magic: The Gathering: Timmy, Johnny, and Spike.

A psychographic profile separates players into categories based on their psychological make-up. What motivates that player to play? What kind of cards do they like? What kind of things encourages that player to keep on playing?

Because R&D loves naming things, we have given each of these three category types a name: Timmy, Johnny, and Spike.

  • Timmy wants to experience something. Timmy plays Magic because he enjoys the feeling he gets when he plays. What that feeling is will vary from Timmy to Timmy, but what all Timmies have in common is that they enjoy the visceral experience of playing. As you will see, Johnny and Spike have a destination in mind when they play. Timmy is in it for the journey.
  • Johnny wants to express something. To Johnny, Magic is an opportunity to show the world something about himself, be it how creative he is or how clever he is or how offbeat he is. As such, Johnny is very focused on the customizability of the game. Deck building isn't an aspect of the game to Johnny; it's the aspect.
  • Spike wants to prove something, primarily to prove how good he is. You see, Spike sees the game as a mental challenge by which he can define and demonstrate his abilities. Spike gets his greatest joy from winning because his motivation is using the game to show what he is capable of. Anything less than success is a failure, because that is the yardstick he is judging himself against.

Spike plays to win. But Spike is often accused of a kind of internal cheating, or at least poor form or lack of style. Spike doesn't care about creativity like Johnny does, nor the experience of the journey like Timmy does; Spike is willing to copy whatever seems to be the dominant strategy, and will exploit whatever weaknesses in game design that may have been overlooked.

The conflict between these players arises because of different expectations about how the game should be played. And whenever an economist starts talking about conflict and differing expectations, you know that a discussion of the Coase theorem is probably right around the corner...

Which is why my next post will deal with objections raised by fellow gaming geek and economist Bryan Caplan to my previous post on cheating in the context of marriage.

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Congrats Micha. Very cool.

Congrats Micha. Very cool.

External cheating

Almost everyone frowns upon external cheating (even cheaters themselves); the classic example being the sleazy poker player with an Ace up his sleeve. External cheating involves an explicit violation of the rules, by bringing something forbidden from outside the game into the game environment, whether it be an object (such as an additional card), or an idea (such as knowledge of another player's hand)

Or, say, a bot?

Not everyone here frowns on it. Patri has blogged about using bots in online poker in explicit violation of the rules and user agreement. I think he would frown on illegal collaboration at the table but I've never been able to see any moral difference.

Or perhaps cheating is just metagaming.

Internal cheating

Got an example?

Maybe this is an example: In what I believe was his final championship game Michael Jordan sank the winning shot after very artfully pushing the defender our of his way. It's painfully obvious in slow motion but in was done so smoothly that it was hardly visible in real time. It was a blatant foul that should have negated the shot and might have cost the Bulls the Championship. It was also clearly intentional, Jordan had practiced such illegal moves until they were second nature.

Simply fouling an opponent though is not considered cheating. Intentional fouling is a completely above-the-board accepted tactic in certain situations. But attempting to conceal an intentional foul with misdirection and sleight of hand - would that be an example of internal cheating?

I think most basketball fans who saw what happened do not consider it cheating or even poor sportsmanship, I think they generally accept it as metagaming and hold it to be the responsibility of the referee to catch him in the act.

That's sounds like a good

That's sounds like a good example of what I was getting at with the term internal cheating. I've got a few examples from video games (and Magic) that I may write about when I get a chance.