As long as there have been video games, there have been ways to cheat in them. They range from harmless codes that change the weather in Red Dead Redemption to serious hacks that make your aim perfect in Counter-strike. There are different layers of the severity as well; while wallhacking will get you a VAC ban on Steam, it’s likely that no one is going to care if you turn on The Sims 3 and give everyone in your town some free Simoleons.
Cheating, for me, all started with the first Pokémon game. It all went downhill from there. In fact, it almost killed gaming for me.
As a younger gamer, I walked across the world armed with my Gameboy–from gym to gym, my Blastoise in tow. I beat almost the entirety of Pokémon Blue without exploiting. I leveled up my army, I babied my Eevee until I was able to get a rare stone and evolve it. I played by Pallet Town’s rules.
Until I caught wind of a rumor, anyway.
Off the coast of Seafoam island, rumor had it that there was an exploit that Nintendo had left in the game. It was an unidentified pokémon, a piece of errant code named MissingNo. Like any gamer, I had to see it for myself to believe it. Once encountering MissingNo and capturing it, I noticed that its presence duplicated the sixth item in my inventory over a hundred times. Of course, after this discovery, it only made sense that I put arguably the most valuable game items in the sixth slot and sought out MissingNo several more times. Initially I had just wanted to prove a rumor, but eventually I ceded to greed. I duplicated rare candies, gold nuggets, and master balls then I used them. My original Blastoise, a respectable self-leveled 70 at the end of the game, became a level so high it didn’t exist in the game. I went back and captured the legendary birds in a single toss of a pokéball. The end result was that instead of experiencing a challenging final fight, I destroyed the Elite Four; knocking out their pokémon in one hit.
(Ed. note: A couple people have said that the Elite Four would have been easily knocked out at 70 anyway. I never fought them normally, since I cheated, so I would not know this. Additionally, the level cap goes beyond 100 if you encounter MissingNo, which is what I was referring to–while it is an artificial cap, that is what I meant by “so high it doesn’t exist in the game.”)
At this point, after beating the game and augmenting every pokémon I had in my possession, the only thing left to do was brag. That’s exactly what my eleven-year-old self did, too. I quickly told my friends, both offline and online, that I had leveled my pokémon for days–and reached the level-cap.
For some reason, I turned the story around. I didn’t know who MissingNo was. I was, rather, a Pokémon master. I’d created an all-star roster by myself. Part of me was ashamed I’d cheated, the other part relished in the power, and neither part wanted to admit my embarrassing secret. I spent weeks dueling my friends, absolutely destroying them with little to no effort. Even if their team was a similar level, mine had been hit with various potions and rare TMs. They stood no chance.
I never got called out, either. But I did have some consequences to deal with. When Pokémon Silver came out, I had to play a ridiculous amount of hours to get my pokémon half as strong as they had been in Blue. Still, no one was the wiser. Cheating had set the bar, and I worked hard to keep it there.
The problem was that once the cheating bug gets you, it can take a while to shake. It can become an easy solution to when a game gets boring or too hard. Without realizing it, you sort of become a magnet for exploits and underhanded adventures. What started innocuously with the hunt for MissingNo consumed my early gaming years. After Pokémon came The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
OoT didn’t have any cheats per se, but it had tons of rumors. There were an amazing amount of creative speculations released daily for Ocarina of Time by fans. They were posted on fansites and message boards all over the internet. Unsurprisingly, they spread like wildfire. Each one was different yet somehow unique, giving it an air of authenticity until proven otherwise. They told me that you could unfreeze Zora’s Domain, uncover the Triforce, and even steal Ganondorf’s horse if you just did the right actions. Most of them involved complex routines and series of events to obtain; things like “beating the game without dying” or “hitting every Gossip Stone with your sword twice” were common core conditions.
In case you haven’t caught where this is going–yes, you’re reading the words of probably one of the only people in the world who actually beat The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with only three heart containers and without dying. It was all for the glory, for the supposed immortality it would reward; in reality, this noble quest took almost half a year to master and dozens of replays.
And, as a side note, you should also know that you are reading the words of probably the only person in the world who lost that immortality on one of the final bosses, Bongo Bongo in the Shadow Temple, and had to start all over again.
Life, circa 1998, was quite cruel–and unrewarding.