Poll: What's your opinion on cheating in IF?

I don’t think the term “cheating” is meaningful except in a multiplayer context. If there were a player competition based on “who can finish this IF game first” - then I’d consider it cheating for someone to look up walkthroughs or disassemble the source code. When there are established rules in place, and everyone has agreed to them, then breaking the rules is not cool.

Apart from that - I put games into the world to create a good player experience. If reading a walkthrough or disassembling my source code will enhance a player’s experience of my game, then I see nothing wrong with it.

I see art as an act of communication through which the sender creates an “uncompressible” experience for the receiver. By uncompressible, I mean that any summary of the work of art (“Oh yeah, Moby Dick. This guy is obsessed with chasing down this whale. And the whale, like, represents stuff.”), or shortcut through it, would degrade or destroy the intended communication; it’s an ineffable thing that must be experienced. In that context, I see walkthroughs, hints, and dissassembling code as destructive to the art of IF.

I wouldn’t argue that the creator has any right to dictate what people do once the art’s been sent out into the world, any more than a speaker has a right to force people to listen to him or to agree with him.

One thing to consider is that some games will never be experience able without hints. I don’t know if there is a human alive that has beaten Lydia’s Heart of Finding Martin without a large number of hints, because these games are huge and hard.

Beyond these, as I’ve played through the IF canon I’ve seen so many games that have good writing but are essentially unplayable due to bad puzzle design. These games will never be enjoyed without a walkthrough, hints, or decompiling.

In a perfect world, all games would be playable without hints, but in a world of imperfect games, it’s only fair to allow users to find workarounds.

For me, it sometimes comes down to a question of, do I want to (A) experience this game imperfectly, or (B) not finish it at all? Because I don’t feel I can justify spending lots of time fruitlessly experimenting on something that I’m playing for recreation, especially since there’s always a chance the difficulty is related to a bug or spotty implementation. If it’s a game I’m interested enough in, I will almost certainly choose A over B.

As a game author, I put the hints and walkthrough there because I want people to feel free to use them (though I have also tried to clue things well enough in-game that hints aren’t necessary). My games are not high art, and life is short. I don’t want to waste people’s time.

I agree with all of this. But due to my genes and environment, using lots of hints generally takes me out of the game and thwarts my experience with it. If I reach that stage where I just need a pile of consecutive hints from the walkthrough, it pretty much coincides with me feeling so grumpy that I’ve lost all interest in typing them in. And I view this as some kind of failure on the game’s part. It happened to me with Anchorhead. That’s why I’m unlikely to play games where I know they have this reputation of: ‘You’re gonna be glued to the walkthrough for this one.’

A lot of those are from way back in the day, and back in that day, the games had fewer resources at their disposal to create an experience that would help you avoid super brickwalling. Small parsers, short descriptions, memory restrictions, etc. That’s why the older the game is, the less I experience my problem, or care. Sometimes I played it in its day in the first place.

I feel like if someone makes a difficult parser game today, they do have the power to round it out to vastly enhance its finishability ™ in-game. And I want them to do that, and I tend be pretty unforgiving of new games that don’t, or at least verbosely critical of that aspect while still liking other stuff.

A Killer Headache - ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=14qjb3ersoyn4efx
Changes - ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=3q8lfs4x52le1vu0

But not many people are writing parser games that are both long and difficult, now. Even compared to a few years ago. D’oh!


In a separate observation on cheating in IF in general, one IF system had an actual culture of cheating and cheat wars between authors and players: Eamon.

If that idea interests you, my first two Eamon reviews on this page offer something of a summary of what was going on:

ifdb.tads.org/allreviews?id=pnol … &tag=Eamon


I don’t even take this attitude toward fiction–is it destructive to the art of W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants if someone who wouldn’t have got the other reference

reads an article about [url=https://ambiguities.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/gone-to-ithaca-with-the-butterfly-man/]where Vladimir Nabokov appears in the novel?

Or if someone looks at the notes that explain some of the diction and references in Shakespeare? A supporting apparatus can make a work more accessible.

In IF, I suppose, the experience of figuring the thing out may be more of the intended experience–but then again, that experience will vary widely for different players in ways the author may not have intended, and as bg points out, a player who doesn’t solve it often won’t get to see the rest of the game. (Still in the market for a hint for Sparrow’s Song, by the way!) It’s not as though the second half of the Emigrants is glued shut if you don’t discover the fact I spoilered above. So I do think that if you aim to communicate something incompressible in IF that would be ruined by the use of a hint or walkthrough, and your target audience winds up needing a hint or walkthrough to complete your game, then you have failed at your goal.

Solving puzzles is part of the core experience of puzzle-based IF, and walkthroughs short-circuit that experience. It seems different to me than missing an allusion in traditional literature. The aha experience of “yes, I got that reference!” is similar to solving a puzzle, but an explained allusion isn’t as wrecked for future enjoyment as an explained puzzle. If someone misses enough of them, then, yes, there’s a significant degradation, but perhaps that person isn’t yet part of the target audience for that work.

Why does a player who doesn’t meet a game’s challenges feel entitled to the rewards for doing so? What if the experience being communicated is (ripping off Labyrinth) “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle”?

This I agree with, although “target audience” is a key point, and “needing” should be interpreted with respect to a target timeframe and level of effort. If one wants to create a game with wide appeal, then one has to select a target audience accordingly. I’d advise authors to ease players into the challenge of solving puzzles and gradually ratchet up the difficulty over the course of the game so that they’re already deeply engaged when it’s time to bang their heads against the more difficult puzzles.

@vlaviano I feel like it comes down to different interpretations: author-centric, or player-centric.

As you said, “Why does a player who doesn’t meet a game’s challenges feel entitled to the rewards for doing so?”. This view is author-centric. It implies that the author has produced a work of art that is meant to be experienced in a certain way, and that there is great artistic benefit in doing so. The burden is on the player.

However, having seen the game creation process through beta testing and writing, I feel like most games end up as only a clouded version of their original vision. Many authors are unable to create the game that they hoped, and after several years of neglect, it seems that most authors just wish that someone would play their game at all. In this view, the burden is on the author to demonstrate that their game is worth playing at all, let alone in their intended way.

I played a few games as originally intended; I played Adventure without a walkthrough over a month, for instance, and that was a wonderful experience. But that game was written by a genius, and is exceptionally good. For most games, what’s the worth in realizing that the author wants me to “push ladder under fire escape” instead of “drop ladder” or “put ladder under fire escape” or “open ladder”? How is the player supposed to know that they need to search the fifteenth gravel pit they’ve seen instead of the fourteenth or sixteenth? If the aliens are allergic to peanut butter, why can’t I just put it on them instead of eating it and letting them eat me? A flawed game is no fun, and in general will only be played by walkthroughs or decompiling or not at all.

And I’m not talking about hard puzzles, I’m talking about under-implemented puzzles, padding with mazes/hidden exits/tons of searchable containers, or bad coding, which, due to the amateur nature of IF, constitutes 90% of all parser games in IFDB. In a world of perfect authors or great beta-testing, the sanctity of artistic vision should be preserved, but in the reality of amateur IF, it’s open season.

I’d also add, puzzles that don’t conform to a present-day player’s expectations. I’ve gotten brickwalled in several classic late-90s games because they didn’t explicitly say what the exits were. (In a couple of places this was a puzzle, but that type of puzzle works very differently in today’s games, and I also think it’s very anti-mimetic.)

I wouldn’t call my view author-centric; I’d call it game-centric.

It’s not that the game must be experienced in a rigid way because of the sanctity of an artistic vision. It’s that a game is a challenge, and the meaning in a game comes from the process of facing and overcoming that challenge. The player is offered entrance to the arena, not certain victory. I reject the notion that, if a game’s not worth playing, the solution is to cheat at it. The solution is to go play a better game.

Rules of Play defines a game as “a system in which players engage in artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.”

In puzzle-oriented IF games, the kind to which a conversation about cheating applies, the conflict is solving puzzles set by the author. The rules of a game typically prohibit outside assistance, and I’d argue that this is true of puzzle solving challenges. Unfortunately, unlike the referee of a traditional game, a computer program can’t enforce this.

If the core of a game is conflict defined by rules, and a person is bypassing the conflict by breaking the rules, how can we even say that he’s playing the game?

If we care about the art of a game, we can go on to ask: if he’s not playing the game, how can he participate in the artistic communication embodied in the process of playing it?

The art that is threatened is not the overt communication of pretty prose, but the subtle communication inherent in the dynamic process of interacting with a game world to solve its puzzles. Imagine a clichéd puzzle that involves searching a long hallway hung with family portraits for a secret door. Beyond the room descriptions and the family history in the portrait descriptions, there is the underlying vibe of inhabiting the hallway and carrying out the search: the length of the hallway; the tedium of examining, turning, pushing, pulling, looking behind each portrait; the grandfather clock that breaks the monotony; the scouring of familiar room descriptions as the player retreads the hallway looking for a clue.

Contrast that with “N. N. N. PUSH BARON’S NOSE. E” from a walkthrough. The experience is gone, because the deep interaction and attention to detail that arise from the frustrated pursuit of a goal are gone.

I don’t think of puzzle-solving challenges (without any players competing against you) as having implied rules against outside assistance. For example, it’s almost a cliche for people to work on crossword puzzles together, or at least for someone to ask someone walking by if they can think of a word that’s n letters long that means whatever. Crossword puzzle books come with answer keys. As for IF, it often comes with a hint system, put there by the author–I think it’s safe to say that if an author puts a resource there, the author is open to people using it. Infocom had InvisiClues, so there’s even an IF-specific tradition of clues.

When I think of referees, I think of teams competing against each other. I can’t think of a non-competitive game that involves a referee.

To me, the word cheating suggests that there’s some kind of ethical violation involved–but using clues to solve a puzzle in a single-player computer game doesn’t strike me as an ethical issue at all, unless you’re somehow harming someone or doing something that violates the software license. And if you own a copy of the game, the author has presumably received whatever payment they’re owed. Can using a walkthrough possibly spoil the fun? Sure. But I don’t see it as morally wrong.

Generally speaking, yes, it’s more satisfying to solve a puzzle unassisted than to use a walkthrough or hints. But if I solve the majority of a game without help, but use hints for, say, one puzzle, I can still have the satisfaction of solving the other puzzles. For me it’s not an all or nothing deal. Obviously you feel differently.

What’s a non-competitive game? If a game requires conflict, then all games are competitive. Single player games involve competition with one’s self, the author, and potentially other players.

Referee: maybe Guinness Book of World Records adjudicator.

I don’t think that one hint will totally destroy a game (unless it’s Spider and Web). There’s a spectrum between full walkthrough on autopilot and a single hint after days of effort with no forward progress. I enjoy being able to say “I solved $PUZZLE_GAME with 0 hints”, so I prefer to use hints as a last resort.

This point of view caused me to bounce off of Endless, Nameless once I encountered a group of NPCs handing out seeming hints like candy. It was unclear if they were the hint system or within scope of the challenge. I’m aware that approaching that game in this way was a bit *** you have missed the point entirely ***, but the style of game that Adam was pastiching is appealing to me even without all the meta.

I meant a game in which you’re not competing against other players.

Ok, if you’re competing for a world record, then yeah, there are probably more rules you have to follow, including rules about outside help.

Dungeons and Dragons? (or any DM’d tabletop?)

Also Mysterious Island is a co-op game where players work together against the mechanization of a deck of cards.

If you’re saying there are games with a referee where you don’t compete against other players, ok, I believe you. I haven’t played the games you mention.

Actually, D&D does seem like a good comparison here. When I run a tabletop game it’s usually in a fairly casual style, so if the players all came to me and said “we aren’t enjoying this part” I would give them a hint or change a part of the plot–the end goal is the players’ enjoyment, which should come before my plans if necessary. (I know others run things differently; this is just my personal philosophy on it.)

But you’re competing. Just not against each other.

I played this brilliant game called Shadows of Camelot with a few friends, and it was fun because it was co-operative. We were all working together against, if you will, the game. Similarly, in DnD you’re competing with the monsters and puzzles you face. And the possibility of failure - catastrophic, crippling failure - exists. If it didn’t, it probably wouldn’t be an interesting game… and even if it’s a possibility of failure where a judicious DM has a heavy thumb on the scales to keep it fun and light.

Straying a bit off-topic, possibly, but just to clarify this was directly related to, and supporting, vlaviano’s bit where he says

“If a game requires conflict, then all games are competitive” was in reference to the definition of a game that I posted earlier: “a system in which players engage in artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” By this definition, anything that doesn’t involve conflict isn’t a game. Some game designers refer to such things as toys rather than games.

Nice No True Scotsman there.

This is exactly how and I and my friends approach (most) tabletop roleplaying games. As a DM I feel my job is to make the game session memorable and interesting, which may involve creating conflict, but may just as well involve reacting to what my players do and moving things forward without any conflict at all.

But maybe tabletop roleplaying games are just “toys”.