Do league tables make you cheat?

Earlier in the year I touched on Pac-man scores and the motivating factors around being the highest. Is it possible for the rewards linked to these scores to be high enough that I’m encouraged to cheat? And, how many of these answers related to GBL also apply to grading in school?

Why I might cheat

Quite simply, so I can be the best. Games commonly reward you as you progress, the better you do, the better the reward.

This is never really a problem all the time the reward is a sideline to my reason for playing. In my time in WOW achieving a higher level was not a direct goal for me. It’s nice when it happens, but my motivation is not to just get to the next level. In a teaching and learning sense- I do well in history lessons because I am interested in the subject and motivated to learn more about it, not because I need a C to get to college.

Introducing competition moves the bar. The in-game league table is a nice way to see how you’re doing against everybody else, but as soon as you’re placed in an environment where you are competing against others it’s easier to justify trying things to make your score higher. For all the Words with Friends users out there- have you ever been tempted to let Google help you find a higher scoring word so you can beat your opponent? In the classroom our grading systems can create these types of league tables pitching students against each other, grading on a curve pretty much the worst example of this.

Stopping the cheats

A game designer may do everything they can to remove ways for players to cheat, in the same way that plagiarism software gets better and better at catching me copying my essay or the web filter in your school more intelligently blocks content. But, you’ll never close off all the options, it becomes a losing battle. For example, 4 hours after COD Modern Warfare 3 was released the first cheats were available.

In some games users are encouraged to report others they find cheating so they can be banned. I like the community driven aspect of this, but it’s still not a 100% successful method. Would I just be encouraged to find co-conspirators to my actions? Is it a bit like bribing the examiner marking my paper?

Encouraging cheating

Again, a topic I’ve touched on before. When does an original new way to achieve a goal become a cheat?

In some cases game designers seem to not worry about it. The 98 season of Championship Manager included a data editor that allowed players to directly alter stats in the game. Yes there are positive reasons to do this, but in opening up this option Sports Interactive must have been very aware that it also gives me the choice to artificially elevate my team beyond what is fair.

In others the designers actively build in cheat codes for players to find. This suggests that for the designer completion/highest score isn’t a hugely significant factor.

Intrinsic motivation again

The reason cheating happens is because playing for enjoyment is not always enough. As a game designer you may not mind too much about this- once the game has been purchased is it too important how the player completes the objectives as long as they enjoy the experience? Maybe.. But it’s not so simple when you consider that many games use different business models now.

We need to think very carefully about this whole topic if we’re using games for learning.

Potentially this is because cheating my way to the final level of a game teaching me the content of GCSE History is in conflict with our need for the student to actually learn what is in each level. Completing is not the target, experiencing the content is. All feels a little bit like the conflict in the assessment system to me. Is getting my 5 A*-C’s my goal, or is it a sideline of the actual goal to learn as much as I can about the subjects while at school?

PS- Found a really interesting read on grading that others might want to save to their Instapapers for when you have more time to read.

Image sources- CHEAT by Michael Brownlee, COD at FinestDaily.comChampionship Manager at

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