What does it really mean to cheat in a Facebook game like FarmVille? Is it any different from breaking the rules in a traditional video game? A team of researchers explored how players bend the rules in social media games and judge others for doing the same. They found that players often dismiss the seriousness of social network games, meaning cheating is not so serious when it is done on Facebook.
Concordia communications researchers Mia Consalvo and Irene Serrano Vazquez polled 151 social media gamers between the ages of 18 and 70 years. They asked them to respond to questions about why people would choose to cheat on a social media game. They wanted to understand how do players define cheating in general and cheating in social network games? What cheating-related practices do players engage in while playing social media games? And how is cheating in social network games conceptualized differently by players, compared to cheating in more traditional video or PC-based games?
Consalvo said, "Clearly, rules are not the same thing for every player. For some participants, specific actions or practices do not determine what is cheating, instead, they define cheating by the purposes or motives behind those actions or practices."
Majority of the survey respondents reported at least some kind of cheating- they admitted to playing social network games to help friends (65%) or family members (58.3%) advance their scores, and to asking friends (52.1%) or family (50%) to play a social network game in order to advance their own scores, and to adding strangers (53.9%) to do the same.
A high number of study participants also admitted to purchasing currency to advance play (40.2%), creating multiple accounts (31.1%) and logging into someone else's account (20.6%). The use of cheat codes, a means of cheating requiring greater technical skill, was a much rarer practice among the survey participants, with only 8.2% admitting to doing so.
Consalvo said, "Players believe cheating might be different based on the platform on which play takes place. They believe social network games are not 'real' games, so you can't cheat at them. Future studies will consider how playing with real profiles affects players' game ethics and their attitudes toward various practices."
The study appears in New Media and Society.