How I got cheated: A Modern Warfare story – Part 2

You can find the first half of this post here.

So yeah, I'm pretty bummed about what happened. Maybe it sounds a bit silly, but I continue to feel a palpable sense of anger towards these hackers and their complete disregard for the game experience of other people. And it doesn't help when I heard Infinity Ward's official word on this whole mess. From their forums:

Games rely on the security of the encryption on the platforms they're played on, therefore; updates to the game through patches will not resolve this problem completely, unless the security exploit itself is resolved on the platform. However, that doesn't mean we're not going to look into every option available to us. Regretfully, Call of Duty games are receiving the bulk of the hacker's attention, due to its high player counts and popularity. However, the number of legitimate players severely outweighs the bad apples.

If you are concerned about playing with players who are hacking, I encourage you to play exclusively with friends by utilizing the party or private match options in Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Duty 4 to avoid such players as much as possible until this issue is resolved by Sony.

At this time, we do not have the ability to restore or adjust individual stats.

Damn. I suppose I can appreciate the pickle Infinity Ward is in, given that this these hacks are operating at the platform-level, but it doesn't make me feel much better about the fact that there's no way to reverse the damage here. And play "exclusively" on private servers? Seriously?

But I've ranted enough here. I got screwed - plain and simple - and I don't want this to be more of a tirade against hackers and inadequate security by developers than it already is. Instead, let's step back for a moment and consider the implications of my response to all this. What really happened here? What did I really lose? I'm not out any money or anything else tangible, and I can't honestly say that the fun I had playing before has somehow been erased. It's not that I can't show off my accomplishments to other MW2 players, either - I always got satisfaction from progressing through the levels for its own sake more than for how it made me look in comparison to others. In a way what's gone is something akin to a scrapbook - a record of past exploits and accomplishments that reminds me of the pleasure I had when I achieved them. But even that doesn't seem quite right...these aren't family photos that I can imagine hanging on the wall to remind me of good times I might otherwise forget. I know that the day would come when I decided to quit playing this game, and that I would put it behind me without any strong feelings of nostalgia.

So I ask again, what did I really lose? What it comes down to, I believe, is intimately tied to our most fundamental notions of what defines a game.

Answers abound to the question, "What is a game?", but a common theme (with which I agree) is that games tap our need to solve problems, to engage in what the philosopher Bernard Suits called the "voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles" (credit to Reality is Broken for the quote). Game designer Jesse Schell takes a similar stance, defining a game as "a problem solving activity, approached with a playful attitude" in his book The Art of Game Design. Any game, from tennis to hearts to Modern Warfare 2, taps our desire to find solutions to problems, even if the gameplay itself might be motivating for very different reasons. Modern video games are constantly adding greater and greater depth and breadth to the problems they offer players, and it makes sense that, thanks to the natural sense of satisfaction we get from problem solving, this serves to make games all the more engaging.

Designers must, however, be careful not to present players with TOO many problems, or problems that are prohibitively hard. Problem solving may be an extremely rewarding activity, and the level of satisfaction may increase with the difficulty and number of problems solved, but pushing too far in this direction creates acute frustration. To be presented with a problem that CANNOT be solved can be downright infuriating. Jane McGonigal contends that games are at their best when you're "on the very edge of your skill level, always on the brink of falling off". But when you're forcefully pushed off that precipice, and there's no way back on, it's enough to drive you mad. The player and the game designer make a tacit agreement that the game will offer problems that are challenging, but not impossible, and what happened to me is tantamount to a violation of that agreement (though admittedly not through any fault of the game designer).

When my account was hacked, I was pushed off that edge. I was deeply engaged in the solving the myriad problems offered by the challenge system of the game, and being forced into a position where those problems were no longer solvable created exactly the kind of frustration I describe above. The fundamental core of my game experience was shattered, and to have that happen with a game that has absorbed so much time and energy is - forgive the melodramatics - really tough to deal with, precisely because there is no way to deal with it. The damage is done and there is no way to fix it. True, bad things happen all the time in the real world that we cannot fix, but we play games precisely to be offered problems that we CAN fix. That's the whole point, and I would argue that more time spent trying to solve a problem, the greater the frustration is when you find out that you can't.

Ha! I bet those hackers didn't realize how they were toying with the fabric of gaming reality, did they? But in all seriousness, I think this perspective offers some insight into why this kind of experience can be so upsetting. I don't mean to imply that this is the only factor at play here - there's clearly an element of simple anger at having something taken away from me, but we must recognize the importance of the solvable-problem expectation in games.

Finally, this scenario hints at interesting questions about the value of the time we invest in games (thanks to Travis for suggesting this). Obviously if someone destroys my physical copy of a game, they are legally indebted to pay for the damages. A less physical, but no less obvious case would be if someone hacked an account and stole digital property with real-world monetary value. But at what point can we say that the destruction of achievements with value not in dollars but hours spent is on the same legal footing? That's a topic that deserves its own discussion, but is definitely worth thinking about.

How I got cheated: A Modern Warfare story – Part 2 by Jared Lorince, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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