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Where Have All the Cheats Gone?

Mike Wehner | 12 Sep 2011 10:00
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Cheating. It's a practice looked down on in almost every profession, sport, and activity on the planet. Videogames used to be the exception, and gamers far and wide once enjoyed built-in secrets that let them act like the hand of God. Those fortunate enough to have enjoyed the 8- and 16-bit eras will fondly remember typing cryptic codes and complex button combinations into title screens to get a leg up, while onlookers sat slack-jawed in amazement.

Cheating, as we once knew it, is dead - and we have Achievements to blame.

Friends traded these top-secret tricks at school lunch tables and comic book stores, and gamers grabbed every magazine they could find, immediately flipping to the last 5 or 6 pages to see if their favorite game had yet been exploited. We sat in the glow of our CRT televisions hoping that we'd eventually hit all the correct buttons at just the right time to unlock a new character, map, or mode.

It was a time of innocence. Games were meant to be bested at all costs, even if that meant resorting to unlimited ammo and infinite lives. We didn't feel bad about it, and the games didn't punish us for learning their secrets.

Sadly, those days are gone. We live in a time where a cheat is no longer a secret coded into the game by fun-loving developers, or an exploit unlocked using a popular, store-bought accessory. Cheating, as we once knew it, is dead - and we have Achievements to blame.

But before we get into how our newest gaming obsession left the concept of cheat codes for dead in a dark alley, let's take a trip back in time to Feb. 2, 1988. An NES title graced store shelves on that fateful day that would become the poster child for videogame cheat codes. The game was Contra, and the code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start) has since been chiseled into the minds of dedicated gamers the world over.

The cheat, which is commonly known as either the "Contra Code" or "Konami Code," first debuted in the classic NES shooter Gradius, but most gamers fell in love with it thanks to Contra. When entered at the title screen, the code provided the player with a bounty of 30 lives, but its impact reached much further than the edges of the screen. It wasn't the first cheat code, but its massive popularity introduced an entire generation of gamers to the idea that videogame rules were meant to be broken.

In the years that followed Contra's release, the world of cheat codes exploded. We learned that developers had been hiding secrets in our games for a while, and they were ready to be found. NES games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 and Shinobi were made infinitely more playable thanks to codes that allowed us to skip levels, while Captain Skyhawk and Rambo let us feel like untouchable badasses by using invincibility cheats.

Cheating was such an accepted and enjoyable way to experience games both new and old that gamers demanded a way to cheat at games that didn't sport built-in secrets. Enter the Game Genie, an accessory designed by Codemasters that allowed gamers to modify aspects of their favorite titles by entering special codes. Reduced damage, unlimited lives, and abilities like super jumping helped breathe new life into old and unforgivingly difficult titles.

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