Video Game Cheat Codes Are Video Game History

Have you seen the hot new video game meme? Right now your fastest way to an online laugh is to mash-up some innocuous game with overwrought text about how “You not only cheated the game, but also yourself” should the player try and do anything to make their experience a little easier. Trust us, it’s funnier seen than explained.

Take a look!

Like any meme though this joke didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s making fun of a hyperbolic but sincere tweet harassing PCGamer for daring to talk about how they’ve been enjoying the hyper-difficult Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice while using cheat codes.

We already know where I stand when it comes to Sekiro’s difficulty (I think it’s needlessly tedious and makes the game worse) but the game has kicked off an ongoing discussion about difficulty in video games that not even FromSoftware’s previous Dark Souls series managed to sustain for this long. On one hand, you have people who believe lower difficulties take away from the feeling of meaningful accomplishment they get from these games.

And on the other hand you have the people who are correct. The people who realize someone else having an easier experience doesn’t take away from your more difficult experience. The people who can separate winning a fake video game from actual real-world growth. The people who think different kinds of accessibility are more important than “gitting gud” or whatever other gamer gatekeeping garbage.

But even beyond the dumb difficulty debate, the original post that inspired this meme also irked me by suggesting cheat codes (along with speedrunners) are some kind of malicious perversion of video games. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Video game cheat codes are video game history.

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Games are games because they are interactive. Developers provide you the tools, the sandbox, and whatever guidance they feel is appropriate, but from there it’s you the player poking and prodding at the thing making the magic happen. Cheat codes are absolutely a way valid of changing how you relate to the space. There are no “rules” being broken. There’s no morality being ignored. Anything you’re allowed to do in a game, from infinite ammo to big heads, is okay if it’s in the game, through codes or external (single-player) hacks.

Furthermore, cheat codes form a vital part of video game culture. The Konami 30-lives code for Contra (up up down down left right left right B A Start) is practically a gaming Psalm. Rumors of different Fatality codes in Mortal Kombat not only bonded arcade crowds but helped seed the mysterious forbidden playground knowledge of the early internet. There is no cow level! There are whole cottage industries surrounding cheat codes, from calling Nintendo for help to buying strategy guides. Big video game websites still get tons of traffic from walkthroughs. If you don’t think cheating is a part of video games then you just don’t know video games.

However, these days it is unfortunately easier than ever to convince yourself cheat codes in video games just aren’t a thing. And not just because the games industry is still so abysmal about preserving its own history. With so many online multiplayer games these days, fair competitive balance for pro paid players is understandably more important the goofing around locally with friends giving yourself unbalanced perks with a Game Genie or whatever.

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But more cynically, game publishers have also realized that they can make way more money selling different bonuses to you in paid microtransactions rather than including them as cheat codes. Why do I have to spend ten dollars for an XP boost in a single-player game like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey rather than just press some hidden combination of buttons? Free-to-play pay-to-win mobile games are cheat codes where the only winners are shareholders. But don’t blame cheat codes themselves for this shift in mindset. Blame capitalism.

So as always, there’s no wrong way to play a video game. If you want to play on easy mode that’s cool. Hard mode? That’s cool, too. Just want to pet dogs? Even better. Don’t let any hardcore gamer tell you otherwise. And by continuing to slander and deny the value of cheat codes in video game history, we’re not only cheating games, we’re cheating ourselves.

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