Negotiating Students’ Conceptions of ‘Cheating’ in Video Games and in School

Negotiating Students’ Conceptions of ‘Cheating’ in Video Games and in School

Karla R. Hamlen (Cleveland State University, USA) and Holly E. Gage (Cleveland State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/jgcms.2011040103
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Abstract

Technology use, and video game play in particular, occupies a large amount of time in a typical teenager’s life. Methods of learning and playing video games differ from that of traditional learning settings in that it is common to collaborate and use alternative methods known as “cheats” in the gaming world, strategies that might be considered unethical in the traditional classroom setting. This study took a phenomenological approach to developing an understanding of student views of cheating in these two different settings, and investigating their motivations for engaging in cheating behaviors. Researchers explore the narratives of three teenage males as they described their experiences in gaming and in school, and their views of ethics, honesty, and acceptable forms of information gathering in the two contexts. Analyses reveal three themes relating to students’ conceptions of cheating. Implications are discussed, particularly as they relate to setting and maintaining ethical standards in the school setting.
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Definitions

What constitutes cheating in a video game is still an emerging issue with widely varying opinions on the matter. With such diverse possibilities, it becomes difficult to define cheating within this realm. A weblog entry (O’Halloran, 2007) discussing cheating in the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft illustrates the complexity of this issue, stating:

Most people would probably say that cheating is breaking the rules. Paying someone else to level your character or to give you gold for RL [real life] money is currently viewed as “unfair.” … So if using RL resources to get ahead is cheating, what about people who are rich with time? After all, the principal mechanic for MMO progression is time spent playing the game. Aren't people with enormous amounts of free time using their RL resources to gain an unfair advantage of those who have limited play time? Where is the line between cheating and working within the game rules to get the most out of your game time?

Before engaging in a discussion of which practices players may consider to be cheating in a video game, we must first define the gaming-specific terms used by the three participants in the current study:

  • (1)

    Walkthroughs are detailed explanations of how to solve a video game. They are written by those who have already figured out the secrets of a game and are posted online to benefit others who are stuck. Often walkthroughs are collaborative, with other users adding their comments and secrets to the cumulative guide.

  • (2)

    Video games often contain cheats, codes intentionally programmed into the game to allow players who know the codes access to higher levels, rewards, or different experiences than they would have if they played through the game in the traditional way.

  • (3)

    Another way to circumvent traditional game play is through glitching. This involves taking advantage of unintentional programming mistakes or glitches in order to do things the game designers did not intend to be possible, such as walking through walls. Some glitches are easily found online, while other times players choose to search for them independently, as this gives a person distinction in the gaming world (Bainbridge & Bainbridge, 2007; Stevens, Satwicz, & McCarthy, 2008).

  • (4)

    Even more extreme methods of gaining advantage in video games involve paying others to play as your character or buying virtual, in-game items with real money. There are also websites for sharing cheat codes and game glitches, and discussion forums devoted to the practice of sharing information for succeeding in video games.

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