Cheaters Never Win…

… Except when they do and then you find out who you are based on whether your initial reaction is, “Oh dear God, what have I done?!” or “Suckas!”

Ask anyone you know or a stranger on the street if he thinks cheating is wrong and most likely the answer will be “cheating is wrong.”

But if you get more specific, the answerer may start to hedge.

  • Cheating on your spouse/significant other? Definitely wrong.
  • Cheating on your federal taxes? A little wrong, but everyone does it and if you only cheat a little (a couple more Goodwill donations, not declaring small amounts of under-the-table income), who does it hurt, really?
  • Cheating on an academic test? Wrong, but if you need a passing grade and the test is on something you’re never going to use in real life, does it matter?
  • Cheating by not paying for parking at a metered lot? Not wrong because construction is still ongoing and you only received a day’s notice that paid parking was back in effect, besides, who carries that many coins? (True story – I overheard this explanation this morning at the Malvern train station when someone asked why I and another guy were bothering to pay)
  • Cheating by weighting down a controller to level up skills or using an online walkthrough to figure out a tough part of a game? Not wrong because it’s the only to move on in the game and keep having fun, right?

Cheat It Up, Cheatin' Cheater!

Then there’s the grey area of cheating/bad manners/lying – if you tip on the final amount of a restaurant check when you used the discount instead of the prediscount total, is it bad tip etiquette, lack of knowledge or are you cheating your server out of a couple bucks because you printed something from the web? If you discover a prior employee overpaid you and don’t pay them back or don’t bring it to their attention, is it cheating, lying or just a windfall you hope no one ever discovers?

I’m sure you can come with your own examples of things in the grey area, which is grey only because I don’t know whether it’s cheating or lying, or along the spectrum of cheating.

Wow, I just wrote “spectrum of cheating.” That implies some types of cheating are okay, maybe a little acceptable. Hey, I paid $50 for a game and I want to finish it and have a good time throughout, so if I figure out how to increase a skill with a Lego robot or get advice from someone who’s already found the hidden minerals or the best way to survive a specific combat, it should be all good.

And that’s the problem with moral absolutes. I’d like to tell you I firmly believe cheating is wrong and I will not condone or participate in it, but I’ll use a walkthrough again. I can’t lie and tell you I won’t. Unlike prostitution, cheating in a single-player game is a victimless crime (says she who rationalizes); I’m only hurting myself and I did buy the game to enjoy it not to throw the controller through the TV in a fit of frustration. Plus, it’s not like I’m adjusting the code to give myself a gazillion simoleons or unlimited health (says she who continues to rationalize). In a multi-player game, cheating would be an unfair advantage and that’s not right, in spite of the countless 14-year-olds who do so.

Here’s the thing about cheating though: It boils down to an abuse of trust.

HandshakeWhen the object of trust is a corporation or someone you don’t know on a personal level, it’s all too easy to cheat a little. You rationalize based on assumptions that the cheated parties won’t even notice and even if they did, they may not be able to identify you so no consequences will affect you adversely.

Guess what? I think it’s still wrong. I paid for parking starting on the day SEPTA told me parking charges took effect. I let my former employer know about the overpayment of wages and am sending it a check this week.

And when the object of trust is someone you know? Again, cheating is wrong. When someone gives you a win because another team cheated and the arbiter can’t stand cheating, you should be pleased you rose above temptation … unless, of course, you didn’t and you just weren’t caught cheating. Still wrong. Because even if you weren’t the person who looked up the answer to a stupid question in a game for which the prize is free food you don’t even like, you didn’t protest or tell teammates not to do it again. Heck, you even wrote the answer down.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I like to think I’m a better person than that.

I want to be a better person than that.

So, I will not cheat on my taxes, nor on any future significant other, nor on employers who may deserve to be taken advantage of, nor on Quizzo. And I hope I will call someone out on cheating behavior or refuse to be a part of it.

Video game walkthroughs, however, will remain bookmarked on my computer. I may be a sanctimonious prig at times, but, as such, I reserve the right to be (just a little) hypocritical.

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