Cheating sounds like a bad word. In video games is a good way to get yourself instantly banned from popular online services. But what is cheating when it comes to recreational video games? When there is potentially money on the line it could be an issue of basic fairness, but in a private instance of a game where no money or fame is on the line it is merely a self-imposed standard not to spoil the game. Those who remember the video games of the 90’s and early 00’s can probably still name their favourite cheat codes. In the hands of a person who is simply playing (rather than testing, demonstrating, or reviewing) the game these are basically spoilers: you can get on with the plot, see the “victory” screen and all that without being subjected to the challenges inherent in the game. This, in itself, is not immoral. Only when one brags about having beat the game does it become so, and in that case, it’s not the dodging of the rules itself but attempting to lie to people about how you got to the end. For oneself, the only reason not to cheat is to be able to enjoy the game as it was intended and to preserve your own belief that you are progressing fair and square.
But what about a sandbox-ish game where there isn’t an “end” where the credits roll and the game is over? In Your Own Objectives I wrote about what I am doing in Terraria where there is a boss monster progression but the building and crafting game is largely up to the player to decide what their goals are. In pursuit of my goal of ridding the world of the crimson blight legitimately (that is, within the play of the game rather than simply deleting it with a third-party map editor), I hit a wall at 1% as reported by the Dryad NPC. I thoroughly excavated large areas of the world in an effort to eradicate the crimson. But, eventually, the reality that I can’t spend all of my time tracking down that one last block I missed caused me to break down and download a map viewer called TerraMap. I used that to highlight all remaining crimson tiles. It showed me where that one last block was, as seen in the screenshot below.
I went and removed that one tiny little piece of red ice. But, when I went back to the Dryad, she still reported that my world was 1% crimson. How can that possibly be?!? I went back to TerraMap. The only thing it highlighted were not terrain blocks, but the locations of various chests, and then it finally occurred to me: the reason the chests were being highlighted was that the Dryad was reporting on the crimstone blocks inside the chests. I never would have guessed this if I had dug out every last one of the approximately five million blocks in a small world if TerraMap had not given me the hint. None of the forums and wikis that I usually use as a companion to the game ever mentioned blocks inside of chests. Now, armed with that knowledge, I was able to go through and dispose of the blighted blocks that were safely ensconced in boxes but counted nevertheless. The Dryad now reports complete purity of the world.
Was that cheating more than using the wiki to look up crafting recipes instead of manually presenting materials to the Guide NPC inside the game? More than when I found this forum post that tells a person how to make horizontal tunnels through sand in apparent defiance of how sand is supposed to work in the game? Yes, in the sense that the map editor did not merely relay general knowledge but actually read data from game files and presented it in a way not possible within the game itself. If I was absolutely true to my original goal of making a tamed world without reducing it to pixel art created in a map editor then I sure did cheat. However, as far as my enjoyment of the game goes, it is infinitely greater than if I had insisted on continuing the hunt for the last block even after that angled ice block pictured above was found. And I don’t use that word lightly: if I had stuck to my goal without giving up AND stuck to an absolute standard of purity then my enjoyment of the game would have been zero. So take any number of seconds I will spend enjoying the game from this point forward, then divide by zero.
So, back to building pyramids for now. Will I load up TerraMap again? I can’t promise I won’t. But neither do I think that the ongoing project of a small world that is completely under control will be illegitimate if I need a second hint in the event that my post-hardmode world has one of those tiny angled blocks that escape the cleantaminator sweeps. There are things I am willing to do in pursuit of an in-game goal, and things I would be willing to “cheat” to avoid if it leads to less spoiling of the enjoyment of the game rather than more.