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Why “Cheating” in Video Games Is Worse Than You Thought


A recent article in Wired caused me to pause when I read the title: “Sometimes It’s OK to Cheat in Video Games.”

The author, Swapna Krishna, talked about watching a YouTube video to figure out how to get past a difficult level in the God of War video game franchise. (We just reviewed the latest installment of the franchise, in fact—God of War: Ragnarok.) “This isn’t a full-throated defense of cheat codes or hacks,” Krishna explained. “I’m just going to fire up some God of War YouTube playthroughs and not feel guilty about it.”

At first, I empathized with Krishna. I myself have used YouTube tutorials or video game forums to find solutions when I run into a snag.

But upon further reflection, I discovered an even deeper problem than the “cheating” itself: my shortened attention span, resulting impatience and lack of perseverance.

I can get so eager to move on in a game, and so frustrated with the amount of time it takes to complete a task, that I look for a shortcut. I cheat. I’m no longer willing to explore and take the time to smell the virtual roses. I just want to reach 100% completion and move on to the next thing.

And when we’re only talking about gaming, that might be excusable. After all, I’m only short-changing myself by watching a tutorial. My impatience may cause me to blaze past a fun Easter egg or ignore the beautiful artistry of the game’s landscapes (and you know what I mean if you’ve ever taken a gander at the horizon of Horizon Zero Dawn).

But what about when my inability to focus longer than a few minutes extends into other aspects of life?

Recent studies show that an over-reliance on technology has slowly but surely changed the average attention span. (From 12 minutes down to a staggering five!) And while these studies often point to the popularity of short-form video apps, such as TikTok, as the culprit, it’s not the only thing to blame.

I don’t use TikTok. Or Snapchat. Or Instagram Reels. Or any of the other video apps out there. I’m a prolific book reader. I’ll spend hours listening to podcasts or binging television shows. And I watch the extended version of The Lord of the Rings every year.

However, I did grow up in the Digital Age. And I’m used to having anything I have ever wanted to know available at my fingertips. I don’t have to go to the library and check out an actor’s biography because I can look up what other shows an actor has been in, read an article about their life, watch a trailer for their next film and send that information to all my friends with the swipe of a finger.

Having instant information is sometimes really useful—such as when I need to know how much money is in my bank account or I want to verify the correct way to jump start a car. But at other times, it actually impedes my ability to persevere. It makes me lazy.

When I was in college, rather than read my textbook and learn how to solve complex calculus equations, I used the internet to show me how. And while this quicker solution got me good grades on my homework, I couldn’t retain that information for the test. I essentially traded an extra hour of free time for a lesser grade.

One could argue that since I wasn’t pursuing a career that required calculus (or any math skills, for that matter), it was just fine to make that decision—that it didn’t matter. But you want to know what I did with that extra hour of free time? Nothing. Or at least nothing productive. I wasn’t using the time to work on homework for the classes that did count toward my major. I wasn’t using it to develop skills in my other passions. I was using it to sleep, or watch TV, or scroll mindlessly through my social media feed. I wanted the extra free time so I could be lazy.

And when you hear your teen say, “Why do I have to learn this? I can look it up on my phone,” I challenge you to rebuff, “Why don’t you want to learn this? What are you going to do instead?”

They might have a good answer. Maybe they have an assignment in another class that needs more attention. Maybe they have a real passion—writing a book or playing piano—that they’d rather be doing instead. They’ll still need to do their work, of course, but such conversations can help you figure out how your teen is wired, and maybe form the groundwork for some mutually beneficial solutions.

But it’s far more likely that their attention span has simply grown so short they just want to move on to the next thing. “I’m bored,” they’ll say.

Parents, I encourage you, talk to your kids about this problem. And encourage them to push through. Don’t make the promise that persevering through their math homework will have a big payoff. (I’ve known too many adults whose parents made that promise and all it resulted in was sour memories of running math drills while their friends ran outside.)

But explain how learning to push through an undesirable task now will give them the grit to persevere through other unsavory tasks later.

It’s an old cliché to say that it’s not the destination that counts: It’s the journey that matters. When it comes to our habits, though, it’s absolutely true. Does it matter to a video game how you get past a dungeon? Does it matter to your GPA how you do your homework? Maybe not so much. But it’s the journey—the ability to learn how to push through difficult tasks and maybe even find meaning in them—that matters. After all, the real monster you’re battling isn’t in the game. It’s our own tendencies to find the easy way out.

Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

2 Responses

  1. -Thank you for writing this article. I agree with everything you say in it. I would like to add my own two cents.

    While cheating is rightfully frowned upon most of the time, video/computer game companies do not really mind if you cheat while playing their games. That’s why they add cheat codes to their games. That’s why they allow companies like Prima to publish detailed game strategy guides. They want to enable you to complete the game as quickly as possible so you’ll want to buy another game. In their eyes, the most dishonest people will make them the most money. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future, video/computer games move to a pricing model where you have to pay by the month, which would undoubtedly make cheating more commonplace.

    I get around this problem by avoiding games that lock you into a linear storyline. The games I like are games where you can chart your own course, or better yet, build your own worlds. Here are some examples:

    -Microsoft Flight Simulator
    -Planet Coaster
    -Cities: Skylines

    And when I don’t want to look at a screen and I have no other humans to play with, I have an electronic chess board with physical pieces I can move. There are even chess computers with self-moving pieces, so it looks like you’re playing against a ghost.

    I like reading articles like this more than I like reading your movie, game, music and book reviews. I would like to see you write more articles like this in the future that discuss ethical issues in a very broad context. Here are some of my suggestions for future articles:

    -When Can I Ever Give Up? (Because, sadly, some things are impossible.)
    -The Prom: It’s Neither Mandatory Nor Inevitable (I didn’t attend my prom, and after hearing from other people who have been to their proms and saw them as overrated, I’m glad I didn’t.)
    -Is Standing Up For Yourself Or Others Always Brave? (Too many people in this world have a very skewed sense of what’s unfair, and become worse than who they’re standing up to, such as the woman who punched an umpire at a softball game for 12 year-olds, or when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony.)

    Best of luck to you, and God Bless You.

  2. -I actually don’t see an issue with “cheating” in video games because if you’re cheating against yourself as a player, is it really cheating? I grew up in the Game Genie era, and I’ve made use of it many times. I’ve used YouTube to help find ways to defeat the bosses in Elden Ring because there were only so many times I could lose before it stopped being enjoyable and just bordered on unfair. While perseverance is important to learn, the key thing about video games is enjoying it. If you want to challenge yourself, that’s great. I just don’t see the problem of cheating when you play against you.

    Now, cheating in co-op play, that’s a different story.