Monday, April 11, 2016

The Case of Phrakture: My Thoughts on Cheating, Justice and Mercy

I’ve recently come across several posts with intense discussions about cheating and the extent to which it should be punished. The topic was shut by admins nearly two years ago, but many of its words still ring true, and it stands as a testament to the difficult topic of cheaters, hackers, and their place in a community. In addition to this, it sparked my interest, which is not something many things can do these days, and inspired me to write my own opinion on the topic (which is never a good idea, but oh well).

To give a bit of background information, the community had discovered that one of their invite players, Phrakture, had an alternate account stained by a VAC ban. Further investigation revealed that the VAC ban had been achieved from his alt participating in a tf2lobby and blatantly hacking to grief the game, achieving 800dpm as sniper and making generally everyone unhappy with the game.

For those that are unsure what 800dpm means, it means that a person would have to hit a headshot literally every 10 seconds for 18 minutes, which is a feat not even the best of the best can perform; he was aimbotting, beyond doubt.

The thread exploded into the normal storms of accusations, blended with suspicion and seasoned by humour from nonsense posters seeking +frags (which are similar to Facebook likes). However, it fundamentally came down to two trains of thought: Phrakture should be banned from competing in ESEA Invite (which is the most prestigious league in North America) and Phrakture should be allowed to continue competing.

Camp Former’s belief stemmed from the fact that if Phrakture could cheat on alternate accounts, a lack of moral restraint was already present and that nothing would really stop him from using his undetectable hacks to gain advantages over his opponents in matches. Cheating his way victory would be possible, as long as he played with the client smartly and avoided the scrutiny of Anti-cheat administrators. This way of thinking was supported by suspicious activity from Phrakture himsel: he had previously dodged two LANs to which he had been invited, which in the eyes of this camp, was a sure sign that he was cheating and unable to perform similar feats on LAN then online.

Camp Latter’s belief came down to believing that Phrakture had not cheated in ESEA before. They believed that Phrakture hacking in tf2lobbies was a significantly less serious offense, and one that was not punishable by league bans. Quoted by BloodSire, an excellent sniper and well-known figure in the community, “The very fact that he signed on an alt and joined a lobby to do these things kind of shows me he was just being a clown”. They believed that any form of punishment for a trivial activity performed for laughs was overreaction. “Guilty until proven innocent has never worked. It never will,” was their argument against Phrakture being banned in Invite, for it was never proven that he had hacked in the matches that “actually mattered”; i.e. officials.

Both camps honestly had very reasonable trains of thought, which is impressive considering how retarded TF.TV arguments can become over time. However, as usual both sides refused to concede, and there was the overhanging shadow that none of the arguments mattered: ESEA was a competitive league and did not function by community vote or opinion. It was purely up to them whether Phrakture would be banned or not, and ESEA had held the stance in the past that as long as known cheaters weren’t caught by their (faulty) anti-cheat client, they were allowed to continue.

In the end, Phrakture came out and made an apology, saying that he had hacked because he was bored, had fun for a while, and eventually got bored of hacking as well. “But it quickly became dull as I realized how counterproductive it was towards my goal of being successful in invite.” The apology came after he had been banned from multiple MGE servers (of which he was allegedly fond of) and was also highly requested by several members of the community: an acknowledgement of the thread’s existence and his stance on the entire incident. The rest of the post was an almost textbook apology, worthy of PR experts. He stated that he loved the game and would never use any cheats to gain advantages over other players. Many were happy with his apology and statement. Many were not. However, when you’ve already committed the crime, redemption is hard to come by, and I honestly expected those reactions from the community. Who’s to say the apology was genuine? Who’s to say it wasn’t?

I digress. My take while reading the event swayed heavily to Camp Former. I’ve always despised cheaters and hackers, and actively seek to have them kicked/banned from servers I am playing on. To me, it makes no sense why you would make the game terrible for yourself, when the entire point of playing a video game is for the challenge and for the drive to improve overall as a player.

However, it’s a more sensitive topic when the person has hacked in games that have been deemed unimportant, and people attempt to stretch that to league bans.

After reading the thread, I realised that personally, hacking is a matter of moral and human principles. While cheating to win and gain acknowledgement as a player undeservingly is despicable in its own right, to me the worst thing about cheating is others suffer when it happens. This is a point that splits both camps that no one brought up in my opinion. Perhaps it is true that Phrakture was lacking a moral compass and that he could potentially cheat to win, since he has done it in the past. Perhaps it is also true that Phrakture would never do that in officials as he was only doing it to amuse himself in games that don’t matter.

But to me, what was most insufferable was the fact that he cheated at all, and other people had to put up with it. That is the fundamental reason that Phrakture should be punished in my mind. Perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that he was actively beating up other players over the internet by using hacks, but he was definitely using the misery of others to satisfy his own happiness.

However, I also believe in redemption and forgiveness. Justice must always be tempered by mercy, and if nothing he does (including apologizing) convinces the community when he truly wishes to repent, then that would be unfair to him. I like to believe that though the human nature is evil, we can constantly strive to become better as long as the effort is constant. A seasonal ban sounded reasonable in my mind; something not too harsh, but a definitive slap on the wrist.

Bottom-line, the point of this post is that a man should be punished, but he should also be forgiven. Balance in everything is the most appropriate course of action. It’s wrong to permanently ban him, but it’s also wrong to just let him go.


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