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January 25, 2012 / jwaxo

Heroes of Might and Magic (Multiplayer Cheating)

Honestly, my main goal with this game was to make cool-looking cities. Weeee! Gryphons!

Few things are more exciting than visiting a friend and having them ask you if you’ve played a certain game before, especially if you’ve never even heard of the game in question.

Heroes of Might and Magic?” I exclaimed. “It sounds cool!”

For unknown reasons I had been dumped off at the house of a friend a few years older than I, possibly in a feeble attempt by my mom to make me friends with someone other than my relatively small pool of Kid Down the Street and Best Friend Next Door. We had already gotten through the mandatory “here is my awesome Lego collection” and the usual “check out my sweet backyard” kind of thing that little kids go through, and immediately jumped to video games.

“It’s really cool,” he told me, and we set off for the computer.

Within minutes we were all set up, two chairs in front of ye old desktop, and he was explaining the basics of the game to me. I did my best to pay attention and leech off of what was happening in the sterile environment of a simple game, but there were so many things going on that it was nearly impossible. Units and cities and enemies and resources, all of them a lot more intensive than any strategy game I had played before. Battles took place on a different screen! Cities showed what buildings you had chosen!

Basically this.

So I agreed to jump headfirst into the water. We’d play the ol’ hotseat game, something with which I had not truly been acquaintanced with, and I’d figure out what was going on as we went. As far as eight-year-olds went, I was pretty sure of my abilities to adapt.

“Sure thing,” my friend said, and went about preparing a map for us to play on. “To make sure it’s fair,” he said, and whipped out the map editor. I watched him with the same “I am so lost” expression I had on my face for the previous half-hour, but soon the game was set up and we were going.

My friend helped walk me through getting my army set up, got me exploring the surrounding area like I had seen him do in his example game. Then his turn came, and, to my surprise, the second his hero unit stepped outside of his castle, he instantly began receiving gold and tribute for, supposedly, finding a lost artifact. And then he found another one, without even moving. And another one.

Despite his assurance that this was not an unusual circumstance, I wasn’t an idiot: I remembered him fooling around in the map editor around that tile (the one right outside his main town) and doing something there, I just hadn’t understood what. Now I knew.

He was a cheater.

I had to go before we could finish the game, but by that time I was quite thoroughly trounced by my “friend.” His extra resources, as well as other boosters he had given himself, had enabled him to quickly plow through my armies and units. He had essentially handed himself invincible, undefeatable advantages from the beginning of a game with someone who had never even touched it before.

Like a rabbit confronted with a Holy Hand Grenade.

As anyone who has ever had “that one friend” can testify, this was not an unusual case. It happened (and continues to happen) all the time.

I was lucky enough to learn the lesson about cheating early on; namely, that it is only fun in very specific instances, and can quickly lose its flavor. But cheating to actually beat someone? That’s just cold.

That experience taught me something very specific about that kind of cheating, too: it’s no fun to be the person cheated against. Losing in a fair-and-square game would have been perfectly fine, even if it wasn’t truly “fair” in the sense that I hadn’t been playing the game for more than thirty minutes. But then having the other kid flat-out lie about cheating against me, and then proceeding to trounce me thoroughly. Well, that was just unnecessary.

The thing that bugged me the most about it, and continues to bug me, is that there was no point. Cheating doesn’t assert your superiority over the game to someone else, merely your ability to meta-game, if you will. Your ability to know how to use the game in ways the other person doesn’t. Not a bad competition, really, unless the other person isn’t even aware which game you’re playing; the actual game, or the game that arises when cheating comes up?

I eventually bought Heroes for myself (the journey to finding it itself an epic odyssey that should probably be told) and realized that my version of the game didn’t even come with a level editor. So, like, come on. That’s, like, mega-cheating.

Of course, sometimes pretending you’re cheating can be fun. Especially when the other players fall for it.

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