Is Cheating Integral to Video Game Aesthetics?

  (Edited: )

Michael Thomsen, whom many of us may remember as a long-time reviewer at IGN and as a gaming writer on other more general interest sites, has an interesting article up here discussing the relationship between video gaming and cheating.  I'm hoping to get a conversation started in this academic section, if only because I know there's academic literature out there on this and other tangential topics, and I would imagine that more than a few of you have some insight.

Thomsen's basic conclusion is that cheating constitutes an ethical imperative in gaming, and so rather than shunning it or discouraging it, we all ought, in fact, to be participating in it, ourselves.  His argument for this conclusion is that the game designers require a sort of unethical or immoral acceptance of arbitrary rule systems on the part of gamers, and therefore, the only ethical action in the face of this basic fact about gaming is to subvert the required rule acceptance by cheating.  

I offered a response in the actual comments of the article, but I imagine it'll get better traction here at Day[9]'s site.  

Cheating introduces a sort of meta-aspect into gameplay that reveal just how dependent the feelings of success and achievement that are unique to video games depends upon obedience to (and, one must admit, mastery of) rules. In Dark Souls, for example, the Kiln jump cheat allows players the achievement of 'reaching the end of the game' without going through almost any of its most difficult levels. What the 'cheat' reveals, then, is just how meaningless it is to 'beat the game' when skipping so much of the frustration and difficulty that motivated the player to cheat in the first place. The 'empty' feeling of having achieved nothing, then, will move the player not to cheat in the future - and thus, cheating only reinforces the importance of obedience to (and mastery of) the rules. In other words, rather than reveal the cheapness of rewards that come from obedience, it turns out that cheating reveals how integrally obedience and any valuable video game reward are tied to one another.

Board games make for an exact analogue here. Consider that one can always cheat in chess: just 'illegally' move your pieces and checkmate the other king. What this cheating reveals is not how cheap is the satisfaction that comes from following the rules. On the contrary: cheating reveals how important following the rules is if one is ever to receive the sort of satisfaction that games have the ability to offer. So, the author's premises actually prove the contradiction of his conclusion.

I'm looking forward to people's thoughts on this argument - both Thomsen's and my sort of hand-wavey response.  I'm sure it's something we've all thought a lot about, given the more or less pervasive temptation to cheat in any game.