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November 19th, 2018
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Everyone hates a cheater, yet there is so much emphasis placed on doing well that “cheating” is often turned to. Cheating comes in many varieties and rears its ugly head all around the place, but the severity and connotations behind the word change dramatically. This gives rise to an interesting code of ethics involving where to exactly draw the line for cheaters. Even more interestingly, the person judging the cheater has a different outlook than those cheating themselves.

What is “Cheating”?

Cheating is defined as:

  1. To deceive somebody: to deceive or mislead somebody, especially for personal advantage
  2. To break rules to gain advantage: to break the rules in a game, examination, or contest, in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage
  3. To be unfaithful: to have a sexual relationship with somebody other than a spouse or regular sexual partner

Let’s focus on the first and second definition as they are the most relevant to this discussion. In a competition or game, deceiving and misleading the enemy is commonplace; sometimes it is called cheating and sometimes it’s strategy or mind-games. What is the difference exactly? Let’s look at an example from Magic: The Gathering Trading Card Game.

When you’re playing against an opponent, you can keep your cards in a neat pile to hide how many cards they see. You can put your ace-in-the-hole activated land card under your other land cards to try and have the opponent forget you have it. You can make disgruntled noises or be exasperated at a draw that is actually a good card but you want them to do something stupid on the premise it’s a bad draw.


Not that kind of tactics

Now the opponent can ask you how many cards are in your hand, or for you to spread your lands out, but it’s not against the rules to do those things unless you are being obnoxious or refuse to answer. Are these things cheating? Say you win a game on the activated effect of a hidden land because the opponent forgot about it and misplayed.

By definition, this is cheating. You’re deceiving somebody for personal advantage. But where is the line drawn between strategy, mind games, reading your opponent, tactful deception and cheating? If you intentionally take damage in lane because your jungler is there and you want to bait out your laner, you’re purposefully deceiving someone for personal advantage. For this reason, the first definition of cheating leaves a lot hanging in the air.

Breaking the Rules

The second definition is much easier to swallow: it has a hard condition. There are rules, and you have broken them. This ranges from steroid use in sports to hacking in video games. These are obvious infractions and are usually punished harshly. Everyone dislikes this sort of cheating because it creates an advantage that not everyone has– therefore making it unfair.

From the standpoint of the person doing the cheating, they also know what they’re doing. Someone that is exploiting the mastery tree system to have infinite flash/smite is clearly cheating. Woong glancing up at the monitor at the Season 2 championship was clearly cheating. What about a situation in a tournament where members of a certain team leaked compositions and strategies of other teams? Technically this isn’t against the rules. Leaking strategies leaves a bad taste in your mouth despite not being explicitly against the rules. How about attacking and killing someone who is AFK or has disconnected from the game? It’s not against the rules to do that.


Riot never said I couldn’t punch your face.

Advantage can be created in more ways than just exploiting the rules, like using an expensive, high DPI gaming mouse. Are an expensive mouse, powerful computer and fancy keyboard cheating? Well no, anyone can buy the hardware and it isn’t banned, so it’s not cheating. Will it still create unfair advantage between players of equal skill? Sure, it could. Let’s say you had a keyboard macro program that perfect casts your combo. That’s definitely cheating, right? Both have created advantage, but only one is considered cheating. Why is this?

Cheating can then just be broken down into three general sticking points:

  1. Removal of skill
  2. Requiring less work or practice
  3. Breaking the established rules

The first issue is removal of skill. This isn’t really a punishable offense on its own, in fact it is often rewarded. New kitchen gadgets and power tools often seek to remove the skills and craft required to make or repair things. The difference is there isn’t typically a competition for “Who can cut and de-seed the apple the fastest” and so having a tool that does that in one action isn’t really slighting anyone but helping you. As you can see, in competitive environments this is turned on its head. Removal of skill makes the wonder and competitive aspect much harder to appreciate and standardize. Someone grinding a clearly overpowered pre-nerf Yorick to the top of the ladder is removing skill from the equation. They just grind out ghouls and win every lane and herp derp their way to the top.


No, she’s not overpowered…I’m just amazing!

The last one is the hard condition: breaking the rules. This seems like it is really straightforward, but again can be confused and pushed to technicality. Rules are established to prevent cheating and unfair advantage, but by their nature are complex. The simple existence of a set of rules means that there are ways around the rules and ways to interpret rules. If a rule states that you “can’t intentionally stall a game of Magic” what’s to say you’re doing it intentionally? If a rule says “No third party software” when playing a game, does that count keyboard macros or extra mouse features you may have? Rules can do a great job at regulating a game, however they can also outline ways for people to be “cheating” while exploiting a technicality in the rules.


Still not against the rules…

So what does all of this random babbling about cheating and dissection of definitions and terms that I’ve strung out mean? The point of all of this is that cheating is cheating and what one person defines as cheating can be entirely different than another. Aside from blatant infractions like hacking the game, the feel of being cheated can come even when they’re not cheating. Similarly, you can feel as if you’re doing nothing but exercising a strong advantage or strategy when cheating.

This creates an interesting effect that you should be aware of when evaluating things in your life. It’s important to realize whether you feel cheated because the offender is actually cheating or they’ve exercised a set of morals you don’t want to. I’m not saying go out there and find ways to push and bend the rules to take advantage of other people, but simply that everyone isn’t you. Just because someone finds a way to better their situation in a manner you’re not comfortable with doesn’t mean it’s always cheating.

When your Ethernet cable popped out and the opposing laner killed you when you totally wouldn’t do that to someone doesn’t necessarily make them a cheater. It also doesn’t make you weak or a non-cheater. It’s simply that you don’t feel right killing the disconnecter. The world is a complicated place filled with complicated decisions, reasoning and interactions. Declaring something as black and white can’t be done, and always remember to keep this in mind.