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The Science of Gaming: Do Video Games Turn us Into Cheaters?

While many of us might look down on others for using walkthroughs and cheat codes to finish a game, it is likely that we would agree that it is worse to cheat in school or in the workplace. The question is: does the greater acceptance of “cheating” in video games increase the likelihood of cheating in the real world? In a recent paper, Hamlen (2011) examined this possibility.

It may surprise many to learn that those who played video games were more likely to cheat at school and in the workplace. However, it's actually difficult to say that this is because people learn to cheat from video games. I would argue that some people who play a lot of video games might simply have less time to devote to school and work, and that they may cheat to get a good grade. This idea is supported by the fact that people who were interested in sports were also more likely to cheat in school, something that has been reported in other studies. Again, this may be due to having less time to study due to increased extracurricular activities. So video games may not teach someone to cheat, but may make it necessary to cheat to achieve success in other areas of their life.

Surprisingly, people who used cheat codes were actually less likely to cheat in school or in the workplace. It is possible that these people actually worked hard to earn access to cheat codes within the game. Cheat codes may also allow the player to experience the game in a new way, or to unlock areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Therefore, use of cheat codes may in fact reflect a greater dedication to a project, whether it be a game or in some other aspect of life. However, those that used cheat codes specifically to skip over hard parts of the game were more likely to cheat in school and the workplace. This may reflect a general lack of perseverance in these people, and a tendency to use shortcuts to solve problems. This suggests that the way a person plays a game can say something about how that person will conduct themselves in other aspects of their life. Something to think about if you know someone who constantly uses walkthroughs and cheat codes to complete their games.

Overall, the results do not suggest video games make us cheat. Instead, like any hobby, video games can take time away from other responsibilities. Therefore, video games are no more negative in this regard than any other pastime.