“It’s a legitimate strategy!” ~Rocket Camper (Red vs. Blue)

“Exploiting loopholes” and “cheating” in games have come up more than once in our class discussions, and merit revisiting.   Koster separates the two by whether or not the action is contained within the game’s “magic circle.”  Unlike cheating, which I shall define as rigging a game in a way that disturbs a level (or otherwise agreed upon) playing field, exploiting a loophole can be understood as abusing mistakes left by the developer, and thus playing in a way which the designers did not intend.  Whiny cries are often heard from both courts, but I believe that it in picking sides we are falling prey to an irrelevant dichotomy.

We all agree that cheating is bad.  It is bad because it destroys the competitive nature of any game.  But exploiting loopholes is not so simply characterized.   One may claim that it is bad because the designer did not intend for you to be able to glitch your way onto a particular ledge or rooftop, but at risk of oversimplifying the matter, the answer is “so what?”  What the designer intended is irrelevant from the standpoint of whether or not a competitive game is well-constructed.  What is truly important is contained in two questions:

(1) Does the loophole hurt a game’s competitiveness in anyway?  Does it tilt the playing field?  Does it remove skill?  Does it make it boring?

(2) Is the loophole accessible by everyone?

If the answer to (1) is no, then the loophole is irrelevant.  If the glitch allows you to carry an otherwise non-interactive flowerpot on your head in Call of Duty, for example, then no one should worry.  If the answer is yes, then (2) becomes important.  If the answer to (2) is no, then it is a problem.  But loopholes are almost always accessible by everyone by the nature of game code.  If only player can do it, it is likely because they cheated, which is clearly a problem.  (It should also be noted that cheating does not necessarily require “hacking” or changing a game’s fundamentals.  Players can easily subvert a game’s fun/competiveness entirely within the game.)

There have been plenty of “unintended” aspects of games which have vastly improved gameplay rather than ruined it, surely to the delight of the developers.  Starcraft, for example, is full of these.  Many of the staple techniques used by competent players, such as peon-stacking, muta-stacking, spell-splitting, etc., arose from the game’s physics in ways completely unforeseen by Blizzard.  They have not only added flavor to the game and expanded the role of dexterity, but have actually allowed the game to be balanced and therefore competitive.

(Oops!  In going back to add more thoughts, I allowed midnight to slip right by…)