I caught him red-handed. He couldn’t get out of it. I had dropped in unexpectedly to say hello, asked to check my email on his machine, and found it there it on his desktop. A shortcut with the title “aimbot.exe”.
My friend shall remain nameless. No - actually, let’s just call him ‘Cheating Scum’. This incident was a serious test of our friendship. As a long time lover of the first person shooter, nothing winds me up more than a cheater. Just the idea that there are cheaters enrages me. In fact, foam is beginning to collect around my mouth as I type this.
For me, it’s personal. Cheaters pretty much ended my relationship with online gaming. I had started on Doom nearly ten years ago, had a few brief affairs with Quake and Unreal, before I finally met and fell in love with Half-Life: Counterstrike. For two years that game owned me. I played it every day. Sometimes for an hour. Sometimes for two. Sometimes for thirty six. I’d go out onto the streets afterwards and be scanning rooftops for snipers. In films, I’d recognise guns like the MP5 Navy SMG and know exactly how many rounds they took per clip. I’d scoff as the actors pulled off impossible shots. I knew because I had used them.
More than all that, I was good at it. I practised hard and reaped the rewards. Sure, other people were better. But when I was on form, I ruled.
"In films, I’d recognise guns like the MP5 Navy SMG and know exactly how many rounds they took per clip. I’d scoff as the actors pulled off impossible shots."
Then, suddenly, it all changed. While researching a piece for a newspaper about cheating in games, an interviewee pointed me to a leading cheat site. I was aghast. The list for Counterstrike was massive. Hundreds of aimbots, wallhacks, and illegal scripts, all coded to evade the array of anti-cheat technologies deployed against them. I downloaded and installed one nervously. This was in the time when anti-cheat systems would scan your hard-drives for illegal code. Being caught cheating could get you blacklisted. But I had to see what it did.
I logged onto a favourite server and the cheat went undetected. I played a few rounds and dominated each one effortlessly. The cheat was unbelievable. As well as see-through walls and a hacked radar, it had an IRC client and hooked into Winamp to play MP3s! The aimbot was so skilfully programmed, it simulated human error and fuzziness. No one could tell I was using it. I got a welter of "well played’s" and "nice1’s" for my skill.
I was furious. Years of dedication, practice, sleepless nights, broadband bills, and rows with my girlfriend wasted, thanks to some talentless scriptkiddie player and his aimbot. What an insult to my skills. What an insult to the game. I flipped. I quit out, de-installed Counterstrike and threw my disks out of the window. I’ve never played it since.
So to discover that a friend of mine was a cheat was a sore test for me. Angry, I confronted Cheating Scum with the evidence. I demanded that he explain himself. He did. And, surprisingly, I ended up sympathising with him.
Cheating Scum loves online gaming, you see, but he’s got one problem: he’s simply not good enough anymore. Now thirty-ish, working most days, a kid on the go, his powers are weak. He’s not fast enough and mouse-skilled enough to survive long enough any more. He doesn’t have the time to dedicate serious hours to building up his skills. In his prime he would hit top three in every leaderboard but now he scrapes bottom. He doesn’t have the time to practice. It’s humiliating for him. He can no longer enjoy his favourite hobby. So, he cheats.
He justifies it by using the cheat to enhance his existing skills, not to dominate games. Like a Tour-De-France cyclist using a performance enhancing drug, Dwayne Chambers taking steroids, or George Best with booze. (Hmmm maybe not the last one). He tunes his cheat to give him a slight edge, to restore the gaming vigour of his youth. He turns the slider on his aimbot down low to improve his marksmanship ever-so-slightly. He doesn’t use a wallhack. And when it’s down to just one-to-one, he turns it off completely. He sets rules for himself. He calls it ethical cheating.
Hmmmmm. Well, I’m sure it’s as hard to swallow for you as it was for me. But I understood where he was coming from. His habit highlights a broader issue. Online gaming, at least with shooters, is pretty much a closed shop. If you’re a newbie, you haven’t got a chance. You log onto any server in the land, you’re a dead man. You spawn and are instantly torn down. Everyone on those servers has at least three months of experience behind them. Most have a couple of years. Elder gamers, like me, as much as ten. The skill level is now so high that, unless you put in a few good hours a day, you’re fated to be bottom of the leaderboard with “Unnamed player” and “Too$toned2sh00t”. This may be one of the reasons online gaming has never – will never – take off as a mainstream sport.
Sensing my sympathy, like Nick O’Teen, Cheating Scum says to me: “Why don’t you try it?” I was reluctant, but curiosity won out. I gave it a spin for a couple of hours.
"Having cheated myself now, I now have an insight into the mind of the cheater. One word sums it up: paranoia."
I’m glad I did. Having cheated myself now, I now have an insight into the mind of the cheater. One word sums it up: “paranoia”. When you cheat, something curious happens: you start to think everyone else is cheating. Almost instantly, you distrust everyone. Anyone shoots you – they’re using an aimbot. Anyone sneaks up on you – they’re wallhacking.
In the cheater’s eyes, you see, no one has skill. Dead, I found myself bitterly scrutinizing other people’s POV or killcams, hunting for tell-tail signs of performance enhancement. Too many headshots. Jumpy crosshairs. Impossible shots. 32-0 kill:death ratios.
Then, you start thinking others are doing the same to you, watching your every move for signs of subterfuge. Can they tell? Do they know? You feel exposed guilty, self-conscious. So you start pretending that you’re not cheating to throw them off the scent. It’s like a whole new style of play. Acting surprised. Being overly cautious. Missing on purpose. Allowing yourself to get killed. And even throwing the odd game.
My attitude to cheaters has changed. I no longer want to dash their heads like eggs against the cobblestones - I feel sorry for them. Playing with a cheat simply isn’t enjoyable, I know that now for a fact. You don’t get a win-rush to the head if you dominate the round. You don’t experience sky-blue joy nailing a series of pixel-perfect headshots, from 500 yards, while under fire. You’re not playing the game.
My friend, Cheating Scum, apologised and said that he’d never use the cheat when we were playing together. I said okay. I understood why he used it. But you know what? On the occasions I play, I kind of avoid the servers we used to meet up on. I’m not sure why. I just feel somehow…cheated.