I think it’s ok to cheat this time…

I hate cheating. I really, really do. it says something about the lack of character and moral fortitude for someone to resort to cheating. This mostly applies within the context of academia – people who obtain degrees (and subsequently jobs) through dishonest means really upset me. That’s another post for another blog, though.
What I’m talking about today is cheating in videogames. It’s not something I normally do. Historically I have avoided it because to cheat on most PC games requires altering some state of the program’s code. That is simply not something I’m comfortable doing. If I break something, I do not know how to fix it. That would be bad.

However, I’ve been playing Mass Effect again. It’s a game I’ve beaten multiple times before. Once doing goodie-two-shoes stuff, once being a racist, jingoistic space Republican and a third time to actually make the story choices I wanted to see in the game. Here’s the problem: that was on the 360. I have Mass Effect 2 on the PC. Luckily, there’s a repository of PC save files from Mass Effect up at the appropriately named MassEffectSaves.com. I found one that was reasonably close to what I had done in my “official” third play through and imported it into the sequel. It wasn’t exact, but it was close enough.

Enter my neuroses – I want to have my Mass Effect trilogy be a reflection of my choices. I also have to replay ME2 anyway (had a huge crash of my gaming PC and lost my saves) so I figured why not burn through a run of Mass Effect beforehand?

Well, there’s a problem with that. In order to make the choices I want, I have to have ridiculously high paragon and renegade scores to unlock charm and intimidate. This would involve multiple playthroughs and that’s just not cool. I don’t want to have to play through the game three more times just to have my choices be reflected in the sequels. I’ve already seen the story three times in full and numerous partial playthroughs. In order to facilitate my playthrough I did a bit of research and found that there’s a command line interface left over in the PC version, presumably from the QA phase. I used it to unlock the achievements I had obtained in my 360 playthroughs and then maxed out charm and intimidate with a bunch of bonus skill points to max them out. Since then I’ve been running amok through the galaxy on insanity difficulty. When a fight gets frustratingly hard (as in I fail the mission five or more times), I pop open the command line and give myself the QA Super Gun to eliminate the opposition quickly. My goal is to run through the relevant missions so that decisions carry forward into ME2 and I complete all of the missions from the squad members. Before the last battle I plan on bumping my level to max, just for the extra perks in ME2.

Here’s the thing, though. Unlike nearly all of the stories I’ve heard of people cheating at videogames have been focused on breaking the game or gaining an advantage over other players. I’m cheating because I want to see a particular story and I don’t want to have to go through ninety hours of game play to get it. It is the biggest point of frustration with me about Mass Effect that I cannot play the game the way I want to when I first sit down with it. I cannot be as persuasive as I ultimately want my character to be without playing the game multiple times or by playing the extremes. “My” version of the Mass Effect stories paints Shepard as a complex person, not a complete goody goody or a heartless bastard. He’s somewhere in the middle. But as a survivor of a batarian attack, he tends to lose his temper when they are involved. He’s got a soft spot for helpless people but soldiers ought to know better and get dressed down when they aren’t living up to standards. My Shepard is somewhere in the middle between paragon and renegade but he has a force of personality that is undeniable. Mass Effect 2 let me play that character immediately, no hoops involved.

Maybe cheating isn’t always bad…

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
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