Friday, May 8, 2009


A discussion on the Hexwar forum prompts this musing --why cheat?

Any Ty Bomba game that involved an element of hidden information usually carries the warning that social science research shows that anyone will cheat if they perceive the stakes are high enough.

I'm not entirely sure this is true. I suppose anybody who refused to cheat would just, by definition, not believe the stakes are high enough. Yet we do have plenty of examples of people maintaining their honor at great cost, so I am not entirely on board. Still, I will admit that most of us would cheat under certain high stakes circumstances. And cheating at casinos, for example, seems pretty easy to understand.

But it's hard to imagine that a game played for pleasure could achieve the status of "high stakes." Yet clearly it does. I just can't figure out what those stakes must be. If it's ego, then surely that ego must feel empty because the cheater knows he's just a fraud. Or can self-delusion protect the ego from that?

I've never been one to worry overmuch about Ws and Ls. I used to track them for a while and under certain conditions it can be useful knowledge that may help improve the quality of one's play. But as a general rule it doesn't mean very much. If i have a 24-4 record in a game does that mean I am a good player or does it just mean I'm careful to select weak opponents? Can't tell unless you examine many factors.

The bottom line is that cheating only makes sense if you care an awful lot about winning and THAT only makes sense if you're willing to play under controlled conditions that give the games meaning. The allegation is that Hexwar's die rolling program is either flawed or can be manipulated. I don't know which it is, if either. But what is the point of winning that way? There's no money and very little fame involved. it's not the World Series of Poker. It's only even known to a hundred or so hardcore wargamers. Winning a trophy at the WBC is a much bigger deal.

I hope some resolution to the issue can be found, because it does threaten the trust needed to keep the site going.


  1. My sense is that for some people, "knowing" that they are "better" than those around them is very important to them, sometimes to the detriment of their relationships. Perhaps high tech attracts these sorts of people, because I sure ran into a lot of them there.

    My sense is that cheaters do so because they have serious inferiority complexes and must win in order to feel self-worth. While it may seem strange to those of us who don't cheat, that very goal does in fact become high-stakes because the alternative is to reinforce an extremely negative self image.

    The other reason to cheat is that one sees it as a natural thing to do. Given the business environment in the US, where the larger the business, the more likely they are cutting corners, it should come at no surprise. In that case, however, you are usually talking about people's careers or the financial future of their families, so the stakes would naturally seem to be fairly high.

    Fortunately, since I'm not playing for money, I know that most of the people I play against don't cheat. If they did, they would a) be very poor losers, and/or b) accuse me of cheating when things went wrong.

    Regardless, I like to sleep well at night and be able to look at myself in the mirror enough that cheating has only occurred to me on a few occasions, and when it has I've been ashamed to have even considered it.

    The sad thing is that you'll never be able to "cure" a cheater. Once you've gone down that path, you'll always look for the easy way rather than the right way in various aspects of your life.

  2. You are probably right.

    Thankfully it doesn't come up often. It would be depressing otherwise.

  3. To some extent. the stakes may be that one wants to see how a plan develops and one may have the sense that bad die rolls are wrecking that plan. That's delusional, of course, because a plan that cannot survive a random number of setbacks is not a good plan. Or, there is just the visceral desire for conquest. Maybe the feeling that is obtained by some in "winning" leads to the cheating.

    In Hexwar, if there is a problem with the die roll mechanism, that's an easy justification for cheating to get around an "unfair" or inaccurate system.