Single Player “Cheating”

The game I’ve been playing the most recently is the new Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’ll be writing a bit more about it later, but something interesting came up in it recently, so that’s what this post will be about.

For a bit of context, I would consider Animal Crossing to be a fairly casual game. It has a huge amount of customization and content, and things to do, but it’s much more of a simulation game then anything. The game on the whole is fairly non-punishing. Your town will never get hit by a tornado. You will never get robbed. No one will steal your identity and use it to take out fake credit cards in your name, etc.

So when I say casual, what I mean is more or less the following: The game will not punish you for failing to learn its mechanics, and it also has no real win condition. If you are enjoying playing Animal Crossing, you are winning. You are having fun. It’s more akin to a toy/lego set. You can’t lose at LEGO’s. You can put something together wrong, or different, but you can then just take it apart and start over, and there’s no real punishment for it, except in terms of time investment, and again, as long as you have fun, it’s fine.

So…. can you cheat in Animal Crossing? Well, maybe. It depends on how you interpret “cheating” in a primarily single player game where you can’t lose in a traditional manner.

See, there are two main gates in Animal Crossing to interacting with new content. They are in-game time, and in-game money. Money in Animal Crossing is earned by selling things, and there are more and less efficient ways to get it. Time however, is tied to your game system time. And when I say in-game time, I don’t mean “Oh, wait a week, wait a day”. Some things don’t show up except during certain months. Some things don’t show up except during various seasons. So, if you’re willing to change your the time on your system, you can more or less warp around and massively speed things up, manipulate the prices of in-game items, and perform other such tricks.

For me, that feels like cheating. Right? For me, if you’re willing manipulate the games parameters to that extent, then you might as well just cheat. But when I reached out to some friends, I heard a few different things.

One friend told me they didn’t consider anything cheating in a single player game, and that for multiplayer, it really only counted as cheating if it everyone involved didn’t agree to it. Another said that as long as it was in the unmodified game, it was fine. So, for them, time travel is fine because it doesn’t involve actually hacking the game, just making changes to the settings of the hardware you play it.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion I had was with a friend who actually makes games. For him, whether or not something was cheating was heavily dependent on the intention of the game designers, and the intended role that something was supposed to play as a mechanic. He didn’t consider it to be cheating in Animal Crossing to time travel, as long as you didn’t go back in time, because, well, it doesn’t make sense to go backwards in time narratively, but forwards is fine.

I think the big takeaway for me is that what people consider cheating is a lot more varied then I had expected, even in digital games where you would expect the automatic enforcement of the rules to be automated. But I’m also surprised by how different the reasoning behind those standards were.

Woof! Long post. Less theory, more games for the next one, and stay safe out there folks.