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Battling the hackers: Video game companies entrenched in a different war

What motivates someone to utilize aimbots and other banned cheats in an online? How do those inclined go about cheating and what can game developers do about this?

Chinese regulators have scrambled to keep up with the country's voracious appetite for video games, which have been blamed for social ills including online addiction - © AFP/File Mohd RASFAN
Chinese regulators have scrambled to keep up with the country's voracious appetite for video games, which have been blamed for social ills including online addiction - © AFP/File Mohd RASFAN

The most popular video games are often war games, and while video game companies are spending time developing the latest iteration of a past, current, or future-set battle, the same companies are having to combat sites that offer opportunities for players to hack the game and seek an advantage.

Objectives of video game cheaters

There are different forms of computer game hacking. This can be to access a new level or to disrupt the play for another use, in a multi-player environment. Another example is memory searching, which is the method malicious user hacks into game memory and revise game scores or the capacity of item. Where tokens are available, sometimes the objective of the hacking is to exploit this and collect unearned tokens.

Computer game hacking is unlikely to ever be legal unless there is an explicit (verbal or written) authorization from the developers of a video game. Additional permission may be required from the person or company that owns the server. While some sites may be reputable, the hacking activity is invariably outside the rules relating to the specific video game.

Ways to cheat at video games

Cheating in online games generally occurs with the use of third-party software. Examples of some of the biggest, with titles clearly signalling the intention, include Lavicheats, Arcade Prehacks, and Games With Cheats, among many others. These types of sites sell various codes or applications that enable a user to gain an unfair advantage or to cause disruption.

On offer through some of these types of sites are aimbots, which are computer game bots that can be used in first-person shooter games in order to provide varying levels of automated target acquisition and calibration to the player.

One of the biggest games in the world, Fortnite, has been attempting to protect its content from such hacking sites. As an example, the use of aimbot software is forbidden under Fortnite’s rules and cheaters deploying the software risk having their account locked and deleted if they are caught using it.

Psychology of cheaters

As to the use of websites or using codes to cheat, one academic psychology paper concluded: “The tendency to cheat results from personality traits and situational factors. Individuals with a high level of this tendency cheat in games and in life.” The thrust of the argument was that video gaming playing does not make someone a cheater; those inclined to cheat will always find the means to do so. See: “Cheating in video games – causes and some consequences.”

What is to be done?

Sometimes game developers are making things too easy for hackers. This includes adding in Easter eggs and cheat codes, as gameplay attractions for legitimate players but which can act as gateways for hackers.

A different tactic is artificial lagging, where the stream of data between one or more players is deliberately slowed down, causing the play movement to stutter for an opponent leading the opposing player to behave erratically. A further delay tactic is centred on delaying, where a user gains an unfair advantage by using software to delay their actions to see what other players do before announcing their own action. While video game develops seek to combat such practices, the challenge stems from their being many facets of cheating in online games, according to The Guardian. This makes the creation of a system to stop cheating very difficult. Given the lucrative nature of the video games market and the growing interest in activities like eSports, the temptation for hackers to proffer services for financial gain and for less scrupulous players to seek such services out will undoubtedly grow.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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