[MUD-Dev] What is cheating? [Was: Strong encryption for authentication]

Caliban Tiresias Darklock caliban at darklock.com
Sun Jul 22 20:35:25 New Zealand Standard Time 2001


I'm going to boil this down a little to a more interesting question,
since I think the effective resolution of the encryption question is
"whether encryption is a good idea depends on the nature of the
MUD". We pretty much all have to agree to disagree on that, I think,
because on *what* it depends is too complex an issue to resolve with
any certainty.

However, Travis Casey brought up an extremely interesting
point... which just MAY be my ticket into Koster's Laws. Yes, I'm
still trying. It just keeps getting harder and harder to come up
with good candidates. ;)

On Thu, 19 Jul 2001 19:38:43 -0400, Travis Casey
<efindel at earthlink.net> wrote:

> Many -- I'd dare say most -- people believe that using exterior
> means to influence the play of a game is cheating.  Why should
> that be any different just because the means used is
> technological?

I think this is a semantic issue. There are two issues here: play
and game. (Raph has written some stuff on this, I believe.) The way
I see it, "play" is what the players are *doing*, and "game" is what
the server is *managing*.

The important factor here is that external utilities which influence
the PLAY are by definition good, unless they are external utilities
which influence the GAME -- which are by definition bad.

More specifically, this leads me to Darklock's First Law, if I may
be so bold:

Cheating is an apparently advantageous violation of player
assumptions about the game. When those assumptions are satisfied,
all apparently advantageous methods are fair. When they are
violated, no apparently advantageous methods are fair.

Using exterior means to influence the play of a game is not
necessarily cheating. It is only cheating if it violates the
assumptions of other players *and* provides an advantage. When a
player expects that gaining levels in a game takes a long period of
time, he will call any method of gaining them rapidly "cheating" --
even if it is an intentional feature of the game. When he expects
that gaining levels is a rapid process, however, he will not think
the people gaining them slowly are cheating... because that is not
an apparently advantageous situation.

It does not matter whether this actually *is* an advantageous
situation, only whether it *appears* advantageous. In some systems,
such as my own, being of low level can provide a distinct advantage
because you drop off the "radar scope" of higher level
players. Since a low-rank player tends not to have much of interest
or value, high-rank players are more likely to ignore them. But
knowing how the ranking system works can not only artificially
inflate your ranking, but also artificially *deflate* it -- so those
who prefer to be left alone can carefully manipulate the system to
keep their rankings low. In the old days, when this system ran under
DOS as a BBS door, the ability to artificially increase your ranking
was assumed... but the ability to artificially *decrease* it was
commonly reported as either cheating or a game bug, depending on
whether the player recognised the advantage in it.

Which leads to the Corollary to Darklock's First Law:

A bug is an apparently *disadvantageous* violation of player
assumptions about the game.

This may be viewed as a specific application of Dundee's Law,
"Fighting the battle for nomenclature with your players is a futile
act. Whatever they want to call things is what they will be called." 
It does not matter whether "cheating" or a "bug" was an intentional
part of the game design; it only matters whether the players
*assumed* they were intentional.

And this leads us to Darklock's Second Law:

Any violation of player assumptions is bad.

This follows from the first law because allowing violation of player
assumptions is -- pathologically -- a unilateral "license to cheat".
When you license any player to violate the assumptions of others,
you imply a right for ALL players to violate the assumptions of
others, and they will attempt to do so in an apparently advantageous
fashion. This turns your playerbase into a society of cheaters,
under the umbrella of truths we hold to be self-evident. (Which is,
of course, a "slippery slope" argument. It does not logically follow
that *any* such playerbase MUST degenerate into a society of
cheaters; only that human nature and psychology make some degree of
such degeneration likely. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.)

I could go on at great length here, but I'm going to open things up
to the floor while it's still open enough to be a discussion instead
of an argument. ;)

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