Yes, I admit it, I'm a cheater.
The title of this post comes from a cheat entered at the console command line of the old Battlezone game for the PC. It allowed the use of console commands that gave you the ability to be invulnerable to attack (godmode) or fly through the scenery (no clipping) amongst other things.
These commands are usually accessible by activating an in-game console left over from the game's development. The console was usually used to test out gameplay mechanics not normally accessible with playing the game "straight up".
Maybe the developer wanted to see just how the game reacted with the maximum amount of action on the screen. If you're in god mode for example you could conceivably have hundreds of opponents on screen at the same time. That isn't going to happen if your character is dying every 5 seconds.
Other uses for the console include running benchmark tests or game customizations like mods. Mods are generally produced by a community who enjoy the game but want to change the experience to something other than the "as delivered" condition.
So is it ethical to go the easy route?
Definitely maybe could be kinda yes or no...
Ok, to be serious, it depends. If you're concerned about climbing to the top of the leaderboards then you may be tempted to gain a little advantage. Early on, this was more of a problem than it is now with players posting unrealistically high scores to the dismay of non-cheaters. Games are much more sophisticated now and have anti-cheating routines written right into them. It could be as simple as disabling the console or utilizing anti-cheating programs such as punkbuster which constantly monitor for known exploits. Another option is to do nothing at all but invalidate any accomplishment gained while using the cheat.
These days you see less concentration on cheating for single player games since you're only really cheating yourself. It's a tradeoff since you still get to play the game and explore all its dimensions but you don't get the bragging rights. That allows you to both enjoy the carrot but still get beaten by the stick. Steam is probably the best example of this since most of its games have single and multiplayer level achievements that function in exactly this way. Sometimes it means that you don't get the "Big Gun" or are ineligible for a tournament.
There are games that are almost unplayable for a lot of people because they're simply too difficult for anyone but the most adept game controller freak to master. Then there are games that are so easy that it's just insanely stupid to cheat. Personally I feel that if I plunked down my hard earned cash I have the right to do whatever I want with the game. However, I don't try to pass off my "assisted" accomplishments as anything but cheating.
Sounds kind of harsh but that's what it boils down to. Do what you like but don't expect the same rewards for someone who's invested more effort. To me it's a game and it's supposed to be fun, not a career. 8 hours trying to beat a level is a waste of time and I don't invest that much time in anything that doesn't put money in my wallet or add value to my investments. To someone else, however, it may be a lifestyle and I wouldn't deprive them of their "hardcore" version of the gaming experience.
So does that mean I'm totally against cheating? Not at all but I make it conditional. I'm at an age where I choose how I spend my time very carefully. I like games to be challenging but not impossible. I'd rather figure out a puzzle than a complex control sequence. This happened when I played Portal. I got through 3/4 of the game without a cheat but I hit one room that I couldn't get past after hours of trying. At that point I enabled the cheat mode and got through it. I love Portal and the concept is infinitely entertaining but there are parts of it that come down to jumping around in a certain sequence that ruined the experience for me. There was a great backstory and ambience to the game that didn't lend itself well to "Donkey Kong" gameplay.
So as far as single player gameplay, I'm in the anything goes camp. The picture changes quite a bit for Multiplayer gameplay however.
I will drop a game faster than a handful of scorpions if I experience cheating in multiplayer. Multiplayer gameplay should be free of anything but a level playing field.
I'm reminded of a few years back when I was playing Test Drive Unlimited. This was a gorgeous game visually but it had some faults. The most glaring was the bad car control. It took me months to get used to how game control worked but it was a worthwhile effort. So I decided to try the multiplayer component one day and soon found that so many players were using cheats that you almost couldn't find a match without someone cheating. Atari (the publisher) tried in vain to prevent multiplayer cheating but was never successful. Apparently I wasn't alone in my opinion because a few months later there was nobody on the multiplayer servers. Atari had to clear the leaderboards at least 3 times because of it. When the average speed of the top 10 players is 99999 you know something's up.
You shouldn't run into much cheating in multiplayer these days (in newer games) since there's so much technology to prevent it and the multiplayer maps are generally hosted on a server under the developers influence. Multiplayer is the big cash cow for game companies and anyone who "games the game" threatens that and if left unchecked it will eventually translate into a dropoff in new sales. If you watch the gaming industry you'll see a move toward what I like to call "Dynasty Games". Dynasty games are games that follow a common theme like Need For Speed, Call of Duty or Diablo but offer a new experience every few years in the form of a sequel or new incarnation of the franchise. It's not unlike those movie sequels that seem to come out every year. I'm sure SAW 94 is due out any day now :)
If a game gets a reputation for cheaters, especially in multiplayer, it can threaten the franchise and thus the cash cow. So in the end it's all about the cash and it's why World of Warcraft is a Billion dollar franchise and Test Drive Unlimited died within a year of its release mostly because of (In my opinion) Atari's inability to deal effectively with cheating among other issues.