Are “Game Cheats” a Misnomer? Kids, Ethics & Virtual Worlds

Yesterday I had yet another mondo three-hour lunch with Michael Carter, PhD, mastermind of informal learning and Chief Playwright at cool new upstart virtual world Zookazoo. (feature forthcoming on their eco/animal endangerment efforts in their inspiring tween world soon!)

As I was recapping the Ypulse Mashup session on kids’ virtual worlds, we zinged off on a variety of thought tangents, including the community’s topic of the week, Ethics and Virtual Worlds. (RezEd is a hub for learning and virtual worlds, and this topic is moderated by Sam Gilbert of the GoodPlay Project, headed by Howard Gardner at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; insightful research, take a peek!)

I’d mentioned that Ypulse founder Anastasia Goodstein had just been on the Early Show in this CBS video on the topic of ‘Avatars Behaving Badly’ and addressed the ‘game cheat’ sites with Chloe Spencer, founder of NeopetsFanatic, in the final session of the youth media “Mashup” conference…

I wondered aloud to Michael Carter about kids’ ethics, extending from ‘wiki-cheats’ to looting of virtual goods, skirting chat filters, and deploying copybots to rip off WIPO designs and where all this is going both online and offline. Where do tips and shortcuts (cheat codes) leave off and “win at all costs/siege mentalities” set in?

No soapbox here. Trust me…There are two sides to these debates confirming that digital media can’t be demonized…for even within one complex multiplayer environ there are multiple levels of pro and con.

Example? Like it or not, multiplayer role-playing games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft are 10 million players strong, surging up 4 million even since I wrote this article, after attending a talk by PARC research scientist Nick Yee, about online behaviors in immersive worlds…

The infamous ‘gold-farming’ opportunism and racism taking place, (where people would literally buy laborers to hold their spot in the game while they were offline, or buy overseas ‘gold’ on ebay to ‘level up’ without earning it) prompted me to delve deeper into the phenom…And what did I discover?

A paradox of racial/gender misfires juxtaposed alongside team-leadership, community-building life skills and corporate ideology with its ‘guild’ leaders and such.

Yep. Higher management life skills alongside degrading stereotypes; ALL levels of ethics and outcomes in one very complex game.

Of particular interest to me along the ethics front?

Community-based values in self-policing style, like this icon at left in the WoW world which is kinda like a ‘dolphin free tuna’ logo telling people they ascribe to a certain set of social mores.

Interesting. Gamer academics Jill Walker Rettberg and Hilde G. Corneliussen address this in their newly released book from MIT press all about “WoW” called Digital Culture, Play and Identity.”

As for “avatars behaving badly?”

(Yes, that’s duct tape on her mouth at left to silence her for chat filter violation) as this L.A. Times article describes, moderation is key to establishing the civility of game play and community environs overall.

All the press makes me wonder though…

Will this be an opportunity to deconstruct kids’ ethical conundrums and online/offline risk-taking to look deeper into the ways kids use the internet for role play, experimentation, and causal links to cyberbullying?

Or will this become another press blitz of scapegoats and scandals akin to MySpace scare tactics sending parents into ban-n-blame sensationalism?

Remains to be seen…

This new U.K. OnlineTimes article opens up yet another conversation about ethics, multitasking and the implications of digital shortcuts, gaming cheats, and gizmos that have ‘dumbed down’ our culture instead of raising the bar in, “Stoooopid, Why the Google Generation Isn’t As Smart As it Thinks.”

What do YOU think? What’s happening in your world with youth?

Are kids learning new methods of social collaboration and survival in virtual settings? Or gleaning one-upsmanship and invincibility at the expense of peers?

As Sam Gilbert sums nicely in the post,

“…The same anonymity and freedom that allows young people to explore new identities and to create and collaborate in new and productive ways online allows them to deceive others and undermine community norms with little accountability.”

What HELPS foster ethical thinking?”

Weigh in with your thoughts…part two tomorrow…

Related Resources

Digital Youth Research: Kids’ Informal Learning With Digital Media

Ethics & Virtual Worlds Thread on

World of Warcraft Anthology Sent to MIT Press (author’s blog)

Digital Culture, Play and Identity (newly released May ’08)

World of Warcraft Forum: Nazsh’s Guide to Dealing With Griefers

Digital Media: The GoodPlay Project (funded by the MacArthur Foundation)

Inc. research papers:



  1. I think that you worry far too much. Most people with healthy minds are capable of telling the difference between a video game and real life. Game cheats are simply codes that are programmed in to the games by the designer to make it more interesting.

  2. Hi Nina, well, that’s essentially what the article is saying…n’est ce pas? Read the sequels (part 2 & 3) as well?

  3. Interesting blog, i have bookmarked it for future referrence

  4. I’m playing computer games since i was a child and i’m normal 😉

  5. Glad to hear it… 😉 Actually, it’ll be an interesting dynamic to watch on the data front, because I’m finding many are using games and virtual worlds in therapeutic circles as well, as well as social norming and friendship outreach, so there are considerable research positives, which I’ll be covering in a follow up post to the ‘virtual worlds in hospitals piece that I just wrote Sunday.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment…come back again with more input soon!? (e.g. what are your favorite ‘games’ and what have you gleaned from them both pro/con?)

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