World Theory


philosophy: cheating is impossible

Designers and users are easily annoyed by cheating in their game worlds. This mentality is destructive for the world...

There are two main types of exploits:

In-world cheating takes place in the world and involves users breaking the norms that is imposed on them by themselves or others. The term is often used to refer to users who gain advantages by innovative exploitation of the environment.
Infrastructure abuse
Out-of-world infrastructure abuse involves using the interface, computer-system, network or other out-of-world means in unexpected ways to achieve effects which affects the world and the users of it in a negative fashion.

Let me start by a contradiction. Cheating doesn't happen within the world, as that is clearly not possible. If you think somebody else is cheating it just means that their local norms are different from yours. Cheating is all about breaking norms, but breaking norms should be allowed in a virtual world. That is, if you want it to be a world and not merely a game.

Games versus world

Games are all about global norms (rules) and climbing some power-ladder while staying within the limits of the rule set (either by lowering the powers of others or increasing one's own power). Worlds are all about not having to know the rules on which the game world physics relies.

In a game you are meant to stay within the confines of the intentions behind the rules. If you are not, the referee (game master) will make sure to interpret the rules for you and enforce it. In a world you shouldn't have to learn the rules, but do what you feel like and learn the consequences by success and failure. Whether you should be happy with the consequences of these successes and failures is really up to you and not up to global norms.

A game is different in the sense that it assumes that you want a dominating position. If other users optimize for loosing rather than winning, the game breaks. Not so with worlds. If it is a world, you simply live in a world full of loosers...

Design flaws

What you do have in virtual worlds are bugs and flawed designs. Whenever a user has to appeal to admin power the world has failed. The stronger presence admin power has in the world, the less it is a world, simply because admins are out-of-worldish and the ultimate failure you risk by challenging their rules is also out-of-worldish (i.e. a ban).

One could also argue that admin presence makes a shift from world to game, as the sole purpose of having admin moderation is to enforce global rules that are not embedded within the world. Such rules will be highly gameable as their enforcement is less strict, more subjective and easier to influence than hardcoded rules.

Immersion breaking exploits

When the world operator finds that users are using the world in ways which he doesn't like, he will think of them as cheaters and demand that they stop exploiting his system.

This is where the water gets really muddy. Its muddieness is best shown by the fact that some operators not only forbid users to use exploits, they also forbid users to communicate the exploits to others. You are basically assumed to know or accept that some consequences are intended while others are not. This is where the world dies and the game wins. It institutionalizes the idea that you should know the rules before you interact with the world and that you are not allowed to take the world for what it is.

This contradicts the main pre-requisite for deep immersion. In order to achieve deep immersion users will have to give up their norms and let their character's personality interact directly with the environment as experienced. Deep immersion doesn't allow for two parallel consciousnesses, the user must be allowed to yield to the character-in-the-world.


So what about role-acting where you rely on norms about separating what is done in-character (IC) and what is done out-of-character (OOC)?

Clearly this is a global norm generally enforced by the users themselves. The need for the norm arise because users always have an out-of-worldish component to them. In the case of role-acting other users constitute a vital part of the virtual world which you are exploring, and the isolation of the out-of-worldish aspect becomes important.

I will however still argue that the argument I have made about cheating also holds for the IC/OOC case. If a user starts to act OOC then role-actors will either ignore him, reply in IC or switch to OOC. The user is allowed to learn by success or failure. In the odd case that you have an operators that is enforcing IC/OOC separation by moderation then the very definition of OOC becomes gameable. If users are able to make the definition of what is IC a powerbase then the moderated role-acting system takes a swing from world towards game.


Cheating isn't possible in the world, only in the world's games. All attempts to get rid of cheating are detrimental to the key characteristic of virtual worlds.

The rules of the games in a virtual world work against the world when enforced. Such rules should instead be embedded in the world physics and deduced from the use context by the users. If they are enforced and defined out-of-the-world then you no longer have a contained world. If you forbid cheating you get a game, but you don't get a world.

Together we fall... Designers and users.


This article is based on a mud-dev discussion from 2004. It was triggered by the constant disturbing murmur of game-players who keep ranting about players who cheat. And, I might add, a slight annoyance with Espen Aarseth's claim that cheating is a play-style on the same level as Bartle's four play-styles.