You are all cheaters! .. or are we?

Raph has been sparring with Tobold on the topic of RMT, and now Raph threw a curveball: Information not provided within the game is cheating. Of course, I disagree. Otherwise this would have been a very boring blog post.

The central idea in Raph's argument is that information is a mechanic. Poker would be a very boring game if everyone knew what cards the other players have. Card counting, card marking, spotters, or other methods of knowing your opponents' cards is considered cheating. Likewise, strategy guides, videos and searchable database sites provide information about a computer game. So using that information is cheating, right?

Wrong. There are variations of poker, like Texas Hold'Em, where other players do get to see some of your cards. And you are allowed to plan your next move according to that extra information. Nobody's forcing you to look at those exposed cards, but you'd be a fool if you didn't.

Raph continues by addressing a common counterpoint:

Any info you get that isn’t presented to you by the game in normal gameplay sequence is not supposed to be available to you.

* But everyone has access to the info, which makes it OK. This may not have been the case back in the mud days.

So if everyone cheats, it’s OK. :)

If you consider playing Texas Hold'em cheating in poker, be my guest. Just don't be surprised if other players do not share your opinion.

We are not playing the same game as in the MUD days. MUD admins were well within their rights to say that using information sites is cheating. It's their game and their rules. These are different games with different rules. These rules do allow players access to more information, whether it's in-game, via vendor-approved APIs and web services, web sites or from other players. The games are balanced with the assumption that players have access to all this information, just like Texas Hold'Em is balanced on the assumption that players see some of the opponents' cards. And this is an ongoing process. It wasn't that long ago when people were making the argument that WoW addons that display the name and the estimated casting time for an enemy spell were a form of cheating. But now WoW gives you that information out of the box. The developers felt that not only was using that information allowed, but that it would be required in the future. For example, at the Reliquary of Souls. A part of that encounter relies on the flawless reaction to enemy casting, and reacting flawlessly does (in practice) require knowing the spell being cast and the estimated casting time. Otherwise it would be too difficult and stop being fun.

To his credit, Raph does acknowledge this:
Because of this, designers have increasingly simply designed around the assumption that the info will be shared — that players will cheat.

But still insists that it's cheating:
In the case of something like WoW’s Armory, they simply threw up their hands, and instead said “this isn’t cheating anymore” by providing it themselves.

If you feel that seeing some of the other players' cards in Texas Hold'Em is cheating, you're free to stop playing and find a vanilla poker game. You, the player, are not the authority on what is cheating and what's allowed. The organizer of the game, or the house, is. Whether that organizer is a casino holding a poker tournament or Blizzard maintaining a WoW server is irrelevant. It's their game with their rules. If you disagree, you are free to try to convince them otherwise, or to find an another game.

Finally, Raph says that this change is a bad thing, that we are losing the ability to teach them those lessons that come from hidden info.. Personally, I'd say that those lessons weren't worth much anyway. Lessons that rely on hidden information are only challenging for the first few tries. Security by obscurity is worthless after the veil of secrecy has been lifted. Once you learn those precious few gimmicks, the encounters are trivial and therefore boring.


Raph Koster said...

Umm, I actually used Texas Hold 'Em as an example myself. It's an example of the game rules revealing info -- therefore looking at the cards that are face-up is not cheating.

My point is that the game rules specify info that is revealed and info that is not. Making use of info that is not is cheating.

Shalkis said...

I know, but I'm drawing completely different conclusions from the same example. Texas Hold 'Em works even if it reveals more information than plain poker.

My point is that game designers not only assume that players share information, some of them even encourage it and balance their game with that assumption in mind.

If the game does release information such as enemy locations, item statistics and such, the information is "in the wild", as you said yourself. Furthermore, you say that the player is free to do "whatever you want" with it. But why is writing strategy guides or maintaining database sites excluded from "whatever you want"? Are we not allowed to share information? Or is just reading forbidden, not writing?

Jayhawk said...

There's a few issues I have with this.

First of all, the auction information is in the game. If you were to sit down and write down all the things you could do the same things as Auctioneer does, but it takes a lot more effort.
Similarly with the information shared by players. It's in the game, it'sjust made more easily accessible.

Secondly, if information can only come from within the game once, Raph apparently never plays a game twice. After all, the second time he'd be using information inside his head, i.e. according to his own stance he'd be cheating.

Shalkis said...

An interesting point, yes. However, if we apply that same principle to poker or other games we run into a dilemma. While some card counters do use hidden computers to gain an advantage, some simply have an excellent memory and do the necessary math without seeming absent-minded. Yet, both types are generally considered to be cheaters. But then again, warlocks are also generally considered to be overpowered. ;-)