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Where Have All the Cheats Gone?

Mike Wehner | 12 Sep 2011 10:00
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Games were getting bigger and bigger, and cheat codes stayed with them every step of the way. If we knew the right button patterns, the Grand Theft Auto titles would reward us with infinite lives, mounds of cash, and more guns than one man should legally be able to own. But if we didn't know the code, the Action Replay devices were still there to help us out, regardless of what console we owned. Cheaters remained satisfied.

Developers gave up on adding fun cheats to their games, instead focusing on ensuring we play the adventures the way they were "meant" to be played.

Then everything changed. In 2005, the Xbox 360 introduced a new concept to home gaming that would forever alter how we played videogames. Whether you call them Achievements or Trophies, these meta-rewards are a cheater's worst nightmare. Developers gave up on adding fun cheats to their games, instead focusing on ensuring we play the adventures the way they were "meant" to be played. This made total sense of course, since an Achievement isn't really an Achievement unless you earn it, and loopholes would undermine the entire system.

Handing out a reward for making it to Level 2 doesn't make much sense if the game includes a handy level skip code. And even beating a game - which often carries a hefty helping of Achievement points or a gold Trophy - isn't much of a challenge when you can use an invincibility code and breeze to the end with little trouble. This revolution has led the vast majority of games to skip cheat codes entirely. In the rare instance that a code or two makes it into a retail release, using them typically disables the ability to earn Achievements and Trophies entirely, even if the code in question has no bearing on the Achievement you're after.

And where are the accessories that once helped us cheat the night away? Microsoft took the bold step of prohibiting cheat devices on its system, and since MadCatz now owns the GameShark name - and holds a Microsoft license for accessories - the brand has been reduced to media management tools and movie players on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Action Replay devices took a similar dive, rendering dedicated cheat code accessories officially dead.

Where is the game magazine cheat section? Gone. And dedicated websites specializing in the latest codes? Extinct. A simple Google Trends query clearly shows the decline of cheat code searches, while achievement and trophy tips have already spawned countless websites that specialize in beefing up your various gamer meta-scores. Now, the Nintendo Wii stands alone. Its lack of an overarching Achievement or Trophy structure should serve as a last bastion for cheaters. Unfortunately, game philosophy has already shifted, and secret codes are nearly as scarce on the Wii as they are on its two competing consoles.

So where do we go from here? Can cheat codes ever dominate the gaming landscape as they once did? Sadly, it's doubtful. Achievements and Trophies are a huge hit, and we seem just as addicted to scoring those sweet, sweet meta-points as we were to besting our favorite games with the help of a code or two. There's no question that as long as developers and console makers remain dedicated to letting you show off your hard-earned points and badges, cheat codes will remain little more than relics of a bygone era.

Mike Wehner has been a gamer since the Atari 2600 days, and holds a somewhat unhealthy adoration for Mega Man. He is the Senior News Editor for Tecca, which specializes in consumer technology.

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