Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames
MIT Press, 21 août 2009 - 240 pages
A cultural history of digital gameplay that investigates a wide range of player behavior, including cheating, and its relationship to the game industry.
The widely varying experiences of players of digital games challenge the notions that there is only one correct way to play a game. Some players routinely use cheat codes, consult strategy guides, or buy and sell in-game accounts, while others consider any or all of these practices off limits. Meanwhile, the game industry works to constrain certain readings or activities and promote certain ways of playing. In Cheating, Mia Consalvo investigates how players choose to play games, and what happens when they can't always play the way they'd like. She explores a broad range of player behavior, including cheating (alone and in groups), examines the varying ways that players and industry define cheating, describes how the game industry itself has helped systematize cheating, and studies online cheating in context in an online ethnography of Final Fantasy XI. She develops the concept of "gaming capital" as a key way to understand individuals' interaction with games, information about games, the game industry, and other players.
Consalvo provides a cultural history of cheating in videogames, looking at how the packaging and selling of such cheat-enablers as cheat books, GameSharks, and mod chips created a cheat industry. She investigates how players themselves define cheating and how their playing choices can be understood, with particular attention to online cheating. Finally, she examines the growth of the peripheral game industries that produce information about games rather than actual games. Digital games are spaces for play and experimentation; the way we use and think about digital games, Consalvo argues, is crucially important and reflects ethical choices in gameplay and elsewhere.
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The book is accessible and interesting, even for those who know little about the universe of video games. I was delighted to learn more about the history of video games and the evolution of cheating techniques. The presentation of the various contexts in which players cheat, as well as the numerous techniques available to them, highlights the fact that cheating should not only be seen as an illegal or dishonorable practice, but also as a way to push the limits of the game and transform the gaming experience. In Consalvo’s opinion, cheating cannot be considered as a gamer’s identity but rather as a practice gamers adopt in one form or another at various times. She describes the great creativity and perseverance gamers demonstrate to elaborate cheating schemes or techniques to counteract anti-cheating measures: the book can therefore be useful for the industry, as it implicitly highlights the limits and problems of games.
Gamers might be left disappointed with the data provided about cheating, however, while academics will no doubt find that Consalvo’s analysis of both literature and her data are superficial. Consalvo pays too little attention to academic work about video games and regarding the concepts that she uses in her analysis. For instance, she introduces in only 6 lines the concept of cultural capital she borrows from Bourdieu. It is a considerable short-coming of the book and a deeper theoretical discussion would have granted the book more credibility and quality.
In fact, the book reads a little like a patchwork and does not form a coherent whole: although the author’s fieldwork in FFXI online is first announced as a core element of her data collection, only one chapter is dedicated to it and her most interesting conclusions are not drawn from it but rather from surveys. If her approach was to be ethnographic, she should have presented her methodology, field of research and data in greater detail, and would have made this the focus of the book.
To conclude, Consalvo’s whole approach lacks credibility. Perhaps like many before her, she made the mistake to underestimate the complexities of producing high quality ethnographic work. Or perhaps she got swept away with enthusiasm, researching a topic that is dear to her, as she herself is a gamer. But simply because the topic of investigation is entertaining, the work should not be less serious. All these elements make her book an interesting read, but not a high quality academic publication.
IS THAT EVEN THE QUESTION?
Part I A Cultural History of Cheating in Games
EASTER EGGS AND SECRET AGENTS
THE RISE OF STRATEGY GUIDE PUBLISHERS
THE TECHNOLOGICAL SIDE TO CHEATING
Part II Game Players
HOW VIDEOGAME PLAYERS DEFINE AND NEGOTIATE CHEATING
5 THE CHEATERS