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Medal of dishonour: why do so many people cheat in online video games?

Online cheating has become an infestation – but the idea of bending the rules has been part of gaming culture from the start

Fall Guys had only been online for two days when it started. This bright, silly multiplayer game, in which rotund Day-Glo bean people race toward a finishing line avoiding giant tumbling fruit pieces – a sort of digital equivalent of a school sports day, albeit a slightly hallucinogenic one – had tens of thousands of players, but it didn’t seem like it would attract cheaters. Surely it was too frivolous, too much about the shared joy of slapstick comedy? Yet in they came: players using speed hacks (a type of cheat that increases the speed your avatar can run at) to win races against other Day-Glo bean people. A totally meaningless, seemingly reward-free victory. Why?

For many, cheating utterly ruins the experience of a multiplayer video game. Even if you are not directly affected, it breaks the social contract. “When people play a competitive game together, they conjure the world of that game into existence through mutual agreement: this is the aim, these are the restrictions on how we can achieve that aim,” says game designer Holly Gramazio. “When you realise that someone is cheating, it can disrupt that mutual agreement and call the whole experience into question.”

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