Schoolyard currency took many forms. For some of us it was collecting Pokémon or football cards, for others it was teaching our Tamagotchi a new trick, for me though (and, since you’re reading this, I suspect you too) it was cheat codes.
Cheats brought something to the schoolyard that trading cards and electrical gizmos never could. Paper and gadgets may be physical, but codes were mythical.
Like an urban legend, I’d hear whispers of a new code as I walked down the corridor, tall-tales of how the roommate of a friend’s older brother had discovered how to make cars fly in GTA, or how to unlock the full blood and gore on Mortal Kombat. Of course, once I’d heard a code existed, I had to have it.
Trading cheat codes wasn’t as easy as trading cards; you couldn’t just hand over a code. You had to have the relevant game, you had to rely on your memory to store the code correctly for several hours until you got home (sure you could write it down then and there, but what kind of child carries a pen and paper around the school yard?) and above all else, you had to be able to trust whoever you were trading with. There was nothing worse than exchanging your best code with someone, getting home, turning on your console, typing in that code and……. nothing! You’d been cheated (pun intended). Still, you had a chance to get your own back next time.
During a recent discussion with my nephew (yes, I’m old now), I attempted to be the ‘cool uncle’ by asking what the kids are collecting in the playground these days. I don’t remember exactly what his response was, but I nodded and mentioned that I use to spend all my time trading cheat codes when I was his age. I was not prepared for what followed.
As I sat back, and took a large swig from my cup of coffee, my nephew stared up at me, with uncharacteristically quizzical eyes and asked, what was perhaps the single most horrific question that has ever been put to me; “What’s a cheat code?” Understandably, I spat my drink across the room, disowned the child, and immediately left the house. How could a relative of mine be so uneducated in the ways of gaming? Was it my fault? Had I failed him?
It was somewhere between his front door and my car that I understood. Games don’t have cheat codes in them anymore. Which begs the question, what happened to them? To answer that, we first need to understand how cheats came into existence in the first place.
Cheats were made for the developer, not the player.
Things like infinite ammo, invincibility and level select allowed developers to test various aspects of the game without ending up with a ‘Game Over’ screen and having to start again. Once a game was considered ‘consumer ready’, it was often too risky to remove these cheats in case they caused a glitch to occur somewhere in the code. So they were left in, until they were either discovered or leaked.
Of course once developers cottoned on just how popular these cheats were, they started adding extra codes that were purely aesthetic. Anyone remember big head mode for Goldeneye on the N64? Cheats became synonymous with gaming culture. Some developers even used the same cheat code in a number of their titles. The most famous example of this is of course the Konami Code, originally created for Contra, on the NES: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A and start (but you knew that already, didn’t you?)
Obviously, as technology improved, cheats were required less and less by developers to create their games, but they were still as popular as ever amongst the gaming community, and many developers continued to include fun little codes for gamers to find. Indeed developers would often leak cheats to the likes of IGN or Cheat Code Central at launch, under the agreement that they would not be published until several weeks after in order to give the game a second round of publicity. Cheats were how players showed their knowledge of a game; cheats were bragging rights. So why don’t they appear anymore?
Suits. The corporate powers killed them. Microsoft held them down with the introduction of ‘Achievements’ on Xbox, and Sony bludgeoned them with ‘Trophies’ on Playstation. These were instantly accessible, instantly comparable statistics that elevated bragging rights from the school yard to the global stage. This was how gamers would define commitment to their craft from now on. And you couldn’t earn these with cheats.
Overnight, the cheater was transformed from the coolest kid around, with behind the scenes access to the best secrets of a game, to a common fraudster, lacking the necessary ‘skillz’ to fully master one. It was the end of an era, and many of us never recovered from it.
But with a series of the classic games being re-mastered for current gen consoles recently, and in some cases old consoles being re-mastered, many young gamers are discovering cheats for the first time. Could this lead to a cheat code revival? Only time will tell.
Vive La Revolution!
Vive La Cheat Codes!
Feature image is a screen shot by the author taken during game play of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas developed by Rockstar North, and published by Rockstar Games.