Monday, July 20, 2009

A Word (Yet Again) on Cheating

We like playing games in our home. I'm a particular fan of word games, any and all types. The Internet has been a boon to me in this, as whenever I feel like or need to take a few minutes to relax, there is always a word game available somewhere.

One of the sites I particularly like put up a new version of Boggle last week. Players are assigned to tables and, as a table, they vie to get certain types of words or a certain number of words. If the table makes the set goal then all the individual players also get extra points, in addition to whatever they earn themselves. And, of course, as soon as the new game went up, the cheaters found a new place to be.

There have been available for years and years programs that will take a scrambled word list and give you all the words possible in that list of letters. In some cases a "player" doesn't even have to enter the words: just plug in the program and it plays for you. Yup, you guessed it, there has been a whole lot of discussion on this site about the cheating going on.

Mostly people just don't get why those using the programs bother. It's so obvious that a program is being used that no one is going to applaud that player when he/she consistently finds six zillion words where others are only finding 50-60. It annoys people. They make nasty comments about the "bot enhanced" players.

Well, some of the cheaters have joined in in the conversation. One pointed out that if he were not cheating the table would not either meet its goals or would not get as high a score. His take was that he was doing all of us a favor by cheating. Another wanted to know why we were so bent out of shape about something that's only a game; it wasn't like he was costing anyone money or anything important like that. And yes, a few of those cheaters vehemently denied that they were cheating. They ranted at us that we just couldn't take it that they were better players. They said the problem was ours, not theirs.

Some players wanted to report those using the bots to the game site; they believe the cheaters should be banned (I've been playing boggle in one form or another online for 10 years and no site has yet figured out how to ban those using the bots). Others posted some rather "warm" comments about the cheaters' ancestors. A few suggested finding another room to play in. But basically everyone agreed that the cheating shouldn't take place, no matter what "benefits" some of the cheaters argued they were giving the rest of us. A lot of the comments said that those who feel it's okay to cheat in a game room are going to carry that attitude out to the "real" world and cheat there too. Better to try and show them that cheating doesn't get them what they may be looking for now, then to face a real problem when they cheat and it can truly hurt someone. And yes, Madoff has entered the lexicon as a word standing for "cheater of the big variety," as more than a few people suggested that he probably began his cheating in little ways and then applied that cheating to some bigger areas.

For me there is another side affect of the cheating. Not boasting, but I'm a really good boggle player--lots of experience and yes, I've learned over the years a whole load of those weird words that word games love--words like toea. There have been a few people who have questioned whether or not I'm using a bot to play, whether I'm cheating. No, I'm not cheating. But, anyone who has legitimately done the work to be able to play the game on a high level is now being looked at funny because of the cheaters. Real accomplishment, real skills are coming under suspicion. You see, cheating, even on a game, does have effect, negative effect.

And I ask myself this: if they get away with the cheating in a boggle game, what's next? Where will I find myself with these cheaters where the outcome may really have consequences?

Cheating is not just a petty annoyance. Cheating is not just something we all have to get used to because "everybody does it." Cheating is a bacterium that seems to be developing immunity to most antibiotics we have to fight it with, when we bother fighting it all all. Nobody was sanguine about Madoff's cheating--well, if you don't catch it early that's where it heads. Next time you're tempted to cheat in one of those "nobody is getting hurt" situations, think of that cheating as only the first stop on the journey. Do you really want to go where you are heading?


Meir said...

Still puzzles me why people put cheating into a different class then other types of forbidden behavior. People who get caught lieing or stealing don't offer the excuse that everyone does it or that it was for the good of the person being lied to or stolen from.

Maybe the problem is that everyone does cheat, one way or the other. Listen to a group talking around tax time and you'll hear all kinds of "creative" ways people have filed. Cheating the government doesn't seem to be looked at as real cheating, as long as you get away with it.

Anonymously said...

A lot of people make themselves feel better by not calling cheating cheating. They call it taking a shortcut. And everyone knows that a shortcut saves you time and money and aggravation. i guess this is how they justify the cheating.

I've had some experience with those game cheaters. I still don't get it. It's so obvious that they are cheating so what do they get out of it? It's not like they are fooling anyone.

Mike S. said...

Frankly, I can understand cheating on a school exam better than cheating at Boggle. the school performs both an educational function and a credentialing one. Cheating defeats the former; if that were the only function of a school cheating would be pointless. On the other hand, unearned credentials can be quite profitable, at least for a while.

Boggle on the other hand is a game, that is it is done for amusement. The only point to the game is the challenge to succeed within the constraints of the rules. What is the fun of getting your computer to fill in the answer by brute force? Would anyone try to win a game of chess by shooting the other fellow's king with a shotgun? What would the point be?

jb said...

Mike S- That's pretty much along the lines of what my mom told me once when I was a kid and she caught me cheating at some board game. When confronted, I said "What's the big deal? Nobody is actually getting hurt here. It's just a game." To which she responded, "Well if it's just a game, why is winning it so important to you that you have to cheat?" I have not cheated on board games (or anything else for that matter!) since :-)