The Kobayashi Maru, or "Designing a Game to Mandate Cheating"

edited June 2012 in Story Games
Cheating in games is bad, of course...


...but it's also a fascinating tactical situation. Check out this presentation and article that Boingboing.net brings us. Some military security educators presented their students with an impossible task (memorize 100 digits of pi overnight) and told them that the only way to pass the test was to cheat without getting caught. So students created interesting, creative ways to cheat at the test. (Inserting answers onto soda cans, course books, Powerpoint presentations or, in one case, bringing in a filled out test sheet ahead of time.


So then... could you make a game where the only way to succeed was to cheat? Could you make a roleplaying game where PCs only succeed by players cheating? You would need a robust system in place (so that the players have some noise to work with and lie about). But that system would ultimately need to be weighted against the PCs. Possibly the system would need to be something more than pass/fail in some way. This would give players some levers to push the game the way that they want.

Is this a terrible idea? I don't know. Maybe. In the wrong hands it might really damage people's trust for one another. Perhaps it's not functional as an actual game, but it might be an interesting thought experiment.

(Cheating as a game mechanic would also would be interestingly thematic for games about hackers or the like.)

Comments

  • Kinda did something like this with Companies & Carpools, where players are Cthuloid horrors playing a game about mundane humans. Higher dice are bad for mundane humans (who really can't handle anything beyond their 4th dimensional reality), so the players either have to deal with failure a lot of the time (because they're power gamers and can't get past the idea that they want smaller-sided dice for their rolls), or cheat, which causes their extradimensional evil to leak into the gameworld.
    Instead of making a bad batch of coffee, Alice the Administrative Assistance (as played by Azathoth) rips off the head of her useless cubicle neighbor Joe, and turns his spurting blood into a finely brewed French roast.

    Not quite what you had in mind, I imagine.
  • The only game of which I am aware that codifies cheating is Munchkin, and only to say, "If you ain't caught, it ain't cheating, and you don't go back and 'fix' any 'mistakes' that are noticed later."

    Rules FOR cheating the rules seems kind of... oxymoronic. Like, if the RULES have a "cheat mechanic," then you're following the rules when you "cheat." I think you'll find that, as you try to come up with systems, they quickly morph into "player systems" versus "character systems" and don't feel much like cheating after all.
  • Freemarket explicitly encourages you to count cards, which is cheating under normal circumstances.
  • I like this idea in general. At its simplest, what about an Apocalypse World hack where only a 10+ was any sort of success and 7-9 was just a stupid failure and 6- was lethal. And players would be encouraged to mess with the dice, fudge their rolls, do whatever dice cheats they could get away with.
  • In the old card game Illuminati, there's a variant where the only punishment for being caught Cheating is that you have to undo whatever it was you did. There are, somewhat entertainingly, a few rules about what you can't cheat about, simply because the effort for other players to be vigilant about those things and ensure that you're following the rules is too great (the specific example I can think of is putting your income on each of your groups.)

    Which, as an example, shows that it's worth considering if it's worth it to try drawing lines: like "Cheating-'approved' D&D" sounds like a bit of a lark, but would you really want to keep track of everybody's hit points, each time they take damage, and everyone's attack bonuses even considering situational modifiers, etc?
  • I'm now imagining a Vagabond class for D&D4, where one of the basic class powers is:

    Cheat
    When declaring your final to-hit score against an enemy, you can lie about the cumulative total. If the DM calls on you to prove it and you're lying, the attack misses and the monster gets an attack of opportunity against you. If the DM calls on you to prove it and you were telling the truth, it counts as a critical hit.
  • Beaten to mentioning Illuminati. I dug that variant. Years ago, I also used to play a homebrew version of Sabbacc with friends, in which cheating without getting caught was the entire point. One friend got very good at dealing from the bottom of the deck; I got very good at hiding poker chips in places my friends wouldn't think to look, filching a few here and there and fooling players into thinking I was closer to losing than I was.

    It's easier for me to conceptualize "cheating" in gamist games, where "winning" is a clearly defined goal, but I imagine there are some settings where cheating would be a fun and thematically-appropriate complement to the regular rules.
  • I think a game about cheating would be more fun. I'd love to see the scene from Spies Like Us played out with characters forming a plan to beat the test and then trying to pull it off. (Fiasco, I'm looking at you. Where's my middle school during state exams playset full of stressed administrators, cheating teachers, anxious parents, and butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth students? Where's my SAT/MCAT/GRE this-is-the-only-way-we'll-get-into-Harvard playset?)
  • I think a game about cheating would be more fun. I'd love to see the scene from Spies Like Us played out with characters forming a plan to beat the test and then trying to pull it off. (Fiasco, I'm looking at you. Where's my middle school during state exams playset full of stressed administrators, cheating teachers, anxious parents, and butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth students? Where's my SAT/MCAT/GRE this-is-the-only-way-we'll-get-into-Harvard playset?)
    Perhaps we can convince @TheOtherTracy to add a section on cheating to School Daze.

  • Cheat
    When declaring your final to-hit score against an enemy, you can lie about the cumulative total. If the DM calls on you to prove it and you're lying, the attack misses and the monster gets an attack of opportunity against you. If the DM calls on you to prove it and you were telling the truth, it counts as a critical hit.
    Fascinating. This definitely gets at the sort of thing I find interesting in this idea: the cheating puts the player and GM in an entertainingly complicated adversarial relationship. Do I push my luck on the die roll and lie even though it's technically a miss? How much do I inflate my numbers before the GM starts to get suspicious? And you as GM are questioning every number I give you, to try to guess which are real and which are fake. A very interesting game emerges that is entirely alien to the standard D&D combat.
  • I've been thinking a lot lately about cheating in computer games—I'm super interested in the ways that games are often or always detourned to do things that are often silly (aka creative) and sometimes useful competitively. I was talking with a friend who is really into street-fighter type competitive play about the ways that gaming culture embraces mechanics perceived as broken and you end up with homogenous competitive fields all using the same technique—except for when you meet someone from a different culture and suddenly you're rooting for their alternative play style.

    The other ingredient that interests me is the way that scripted video game narratives are almost invariably about underdog outsider characters kicking the asses of a system that is getting them down. I'd love to see games that took that to its limit and started to require going outside of the system, giving the narrative a real quality to it. A great example is Portal which has a cliche, scripted narrative which makes a big deal about getting outside the box of the games levels, but even as you do so you are following pre-written puzzle solutions. What if you had to find bugs instead? Is this even a possible model?
  • edited June 2012
    I like this idea in general. At its simplest, what about an Apocalypse World hack where only a 10+ was any sort of success and 7-9 was just a stupid failure and 6- was lethal. And players would be encouraged to mess with the dice, fudge their rolls, do whatever dice cheats they could get away with.
    In this sort of game, all the player's weird dice superstitions would be (sort of) justified. I don't want you fiddling with my dice, because you might expose to the GM that my d6 has three "6" faces. You don't want me touching them and revealing the weights hidden inside. "This die is for when I roll for damage, while that one governs my treasure rolls" (because in damage higher is better but on the treasure tables the lower results are more valuable, and my dice are weighted to match.)
  • There are parts of AD&D which are basically like this. I mean, sure, you might legitimately roll up a character who qualifies for paladin... but it's so unlikely that it encourages, if not mandates, cheating.
  • I don't know about RPGs, but I've been futzing around with a design for a "House" board game, based on the show. Basically, it's a cooperative game where each player picks a doctor to play, except one who is House. The goal is to solve the mystery of what the sick person of the week has.

    If it's figured out in time, everyone wins.

    Here's the caveat, the House player can cheat. As much or as little as they want.
    Also, if any of the other doctor players catch the House player cheating, the doctor player wins immediately. And is the only winner. It would be a lot easier for House to cheat or to catch House cheating than it would be to cure the patient normally.
  • I love the idea of the House game. Me, I like the idea of cheating, even more so the idea of players who are so inexperienced or absent-minded that they end up cheating anyway, just give them enough time. Me, I actually feel that each game necessitates entirely different forms of cheating.

    In D&D, for instance, fudging high rolls (or otherwise "crafting" a character that constantly produces high rolls) is the main mode of cheating because that's pretty much the only event in the game where something interesting happens. Now, in games that make the event of a "failure" produce as interesting or as intense a result as a "success," the cheating probably happens different.

    With a quick speculative example just off the top of my head, I imagine that Burning Wheel invites more cheating in Duel of Wits, Fight, and skill advancement ("How did you get those seven challenging tests? We've only been playing ten minutes!"), since those produce the most interesting feedback from the game. I guess I haven't thought very deeply about Artha, but, well...

    Anyway, my own very recent game, 05 B00P (a story game about Swedish robots telling one another secrets in the dark), takes into account the notion of cheating, but mostly in an interpretive sense. Mostly, I invite the players merely to consider that their friends might be cheating, either intentionally or not. So yeah, players who cheat might get to tell more stories, but the other players are invited to listen for those things and to treat their friends in an appropriate but still friendly fashion.

    Eh, well, sorry to plug my own game, but it's an example of the topic at hand. Really, I'd prefer to keep talking about other games and how cheating occurs in them.
  • Isn't any heist/caper/Leverage game out there about the PCs cheating the NPCs?
    --
    TAZ
  • Isn't any heist/caper/Leverage game out there about the PCs cheating the NPCs?
    --
    TAZ
    Yes, of course. But in such a case, aren't the players following the rules? That is, the way the system works is: You play a PC who cheats NPC's. Now, is there a situation in a Leverage game where the players, as players, are actually engaging with the game system in some way by choosing to cheat their GM?
  • I think the important element of cheating is not defying the rules, but specifically establishing a rule where you get a strong benefit for performing an action in secret, in other words "not getting caught."

    Back in High School, we used to play the old Steve Jackson Illuminati game in the cafeteria with the "cheating rule" in full force (you were allowed to sneak money from the megabucks pile if no one caught you.)

    That meant we'd sometimes spend the entire lunch period arguing about the placement of the megabucks pile.
  • I also wonder about the potential of straight-up cheating on non-random stuff. Like when we played Crawl Jongg at Camp Nerdly, my ten-year-old nephew did his XP hash marks with six hashes instead of five, perhaps innocently but I think not.

    "1, 2, 3, 4 ... 5-6"
  • Isn't any heist/caper/Leverage game out there about the PCs cheating the NPCs?
    --
    TAZ
    I think this is more about "cheating/not following the rules" rather than "playing to the theme of cheating within the game."

    For example, the best cheating I've ever employed was in Clue. I'm not sure how the cards are designed now, but older sets had an asymmetrical card back design, with the word "CLUE" on the bottom of the card. So the cheat is easy...

    A) Volunteer to be the one who shuffles the cards and place them in the confidential folder.
    B) Organize all of the cards to that their card backs are all facing the same way.
    C) Select the one card from each deck you want to "force" into the folder. And rotate that card 180 degrees (so that the card back is upside down)
    D) Continue to shuffle each deck for long periods of time (carefully making sure you don't rotate any of the cards), while watching for the upside down card to appear on the top of the deck. Stop shuffling, and place the top card into the envelope.
    E) On your very first turn, announce the murder, and get the info correct and win.
    F) Never play the game again, since your friends now hate you.

  • I just noticed that I'd support this level of cheating in a Paranoia game. It already encourages that sort of adversarial positioning between the GM/The Computer and the players/characters.

    Now that I think about it, I bet Hackmaster is all over this. But I don't actually know that much about it.
  • I'm working opportunities for gaining "unfair advantage" into a one-shot larp event I'm running next week at WyrdCon.

    I made a wikispaces site last night, that I'll be adding a coded message to tonight. Decoding the message will earn you useful stuff for the event. Plus, it will give you time to practice the substitution cypher, and I'll be using the same one during the event. So those who practice it will be able to decode messages quickly during the event.

    Also, I'll be giving out "extra credit assignments" in person during the weekend leading up to the event. So those who find me can get other tasks to do that will give them more useful stuff during the game.

    The event is based on Harry Potter's TriWizard Tournament. So all this "cheating" intentionally coincides with the way that other characters help and hinder Harry during the tournament. And things like the way people bespell his broomstick during Quidditch matches.

    So it's a PvP competitive game, which normally I would play extremely straight up in order to level the playing ground as much as possible. But in this case, a bit of bumpy unfairness and arbitrary sillyness fits the theme perfectly.

    Anybody have a spare dead cat lying around? I need a sorting cat.
  • I've had similar experiences in games before, but .. I'm not sure.
    There are a few games out there that I didn't "get" at first, and when I was pushed into tougher and tougher spots, eventually I "broke" and started doing something that I thought was cheating, but was actually part of the game.

    Is this the kind of experience you're talking to? Have other people had this play experience?

    In a sense, so long as people don't get angry and leave the table, you're still "playing by the rules of Saturday night," even if you break the rules of "Pathfinder." Are you talking about reaching into other strata for advantages and then exploiting them? If everyone "assumes" you have fair dice, you're kind of exploiting a loophole in that social trust level... am I getting this?
  • Here's the challenge:

    If you put "cheating is okay" in the rules, the thrill of cheating is gone.

    If you don't put it in the rules, but set up the rules in such a way that success is vanishingly unlikely without cheating, unless people are already committed to playing this particular game (solitaire, etc.) then they will just go "oh, this game is impossible" and discard it.
  • Not really. You don't state cheating is okay, you just leave really easy ways to cheat. You then make penalties that will hurt if the players are caught cheating. Then you say cheating is okay as long as you aren't caught. If you are caught it will hurt.

    Game on.
  • Wouldn't part of the thrill remain if there were negative consequences to being caught? So it isn't about why you cheat, but rather, how, how much and when.
  • edited June 2012
    Also, I'm not sure that cheating (especially in RPGs) is about "the thrill of cheating" as much as it is about being generally successful in the game.

    Even in the most egregious examples I can think of (from high school, naturally), I don't think the biggest cheaters I knew were getting their kicks purely (or even mostly) from how they got away with it. I think what they really enjoyed was that their half-orc assassin or whatever could handily slaughter any opposition put in front of him, outperform nearly every other PC in nearly every other regard, and generally could do whatever he wanted to do without failure. Getting away with it was more of an etiquette requirement (ie, don't go "too far" and get kicked out of the game) than it was a reward in its own right.
    If you don't put it in the rules, but set up the rules in such a way that success is vanishingly unlikely without cheating, unless people are already committed to playing this particular game (solitaire, etc.) then they will just go "oh, this game is impossible" and discard it.
    This seems to be in line with my experience; games with especially punishing failure rates for PCs definitely encourage cheat-prone players to start cheating because they cannot possibly succeed as much as they want to if they don't, but are also less attractive to cheat-prone players to begin with because there are other games where success does not require so much cheating to achieve.

    I think you really do lose more than you gain if you don't call out the premise up front and let everyone know that the game IS about cheating and that they are expected to do it. Without that understanding going in, the cheating is going to feel less like "This is where the point of the game is" and more like "What idiot designed this stupid game, anyway?"
  • edited June 2012

    I think you really do lose more than you gain if you don't call out the premise up front and let everyone know that the game IS about cheating and that they are expected to do it. Without that understanding going in, the cheating is going to feel less like "This is where the point of the game is" and more like "What idiot designed this stupid game, anyway?"
    This is very analogous to the situation in the security training exercise I linked to initially. The instructors wanted to make the test so hard that the students would have to cheat to pass, and would decide that of their own initiative. But they determined that put students in an unfair ethical situation and that many students would choose to fail rather than cheat. (They didn't mention that this would set a bad example for future courses or that the students who didn't cheat would fail to learn the intended lesson.) In the end, they determined that they had to inform the students that cheating was part of the test, at which point the real test could begin. In a game as well, stating up front "this isn't really a game about memorizing strings of random numbers; it's a game about cheating" would help get players and GMs all on the same page.

  • If you put "cheating is okay" in the rules, the thrill of cheating is gone.
    While you may remove the thrill of breaking the rules, you still have plenty of other forms of fun involved. Your PC is still succeeding (the primary emotional reward in most RPGs). And you've pulled one over on your friends, who didn't catch your cheating. That seems like a very satisfying emotional payoff, especially if there's a post-session (post-campaign?) bit where you each reveal your secret methods and everyone else is amazed and amused at how you fooled them. (Bonus XP for most creative or elaborate cheat?)


    Perhaps at the end of each session, the GM can introduce one new 'security measure' to make cheating harder. If the GM thinks that players are using loaded dice, then he might declare that the players must use his dice for the next session. (These restrictions might be freeform or might be from a predefined list.) but the players are informed of this in advance, so they have until next session to figure out new cheating methods (sneak into the GM's house and tamper with those dice? Get an identical weighted set and pull some sleight of hand to switch them in play? Adjust your PC's stats up by small amounts across the board?). This would prompt players to start to think up new methods every session or every few sessions, depending on what system they have working already.
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