No cheating!

A few days ago I had a very interesting conversation about cheating and cheaters in board games which made me think a lot more (than needed probably) about this topic. As it turns out, there are people who cheat while playing board games… and I am not talking here about poker for money or Russian roulette, the events in question are plain ol’ euro games, like Agricola and its kind. I must admit that it felt like a surprise to hear that, so I decided to internalize this idea and figure out exactly where I stand.

First of all, let’s take a look at why do people cheat:

  • they do not know how to lose or they want to make sure they win,
  • they have no moral compass and therefore do not care how they win,
  • they want to win so badly that cheating seems the right path to take,
  • they’re afraid of social exclusion because they cannot win and thus they cheat to improve their chances, etc.

I believe that most people have a moral compass and that they see cheating in games as acceptable because the stakes are low… at least the official ones. You play a game which is just a game, it does not come with any financial gain or punishment, it does not affect your future and it will most likely be forgotten in a matter of days, if not hours. Our morality mechanism doesn’t really engulf board games properly and thus it keeps some of us in not-so-tight ropes and we allow ourselves to cheat. Well, that was my first thought, but them I took some more time to look into that.

Why do people really cheat in a game with literally no stakes? First of all, that’s not true, there are stakes, even though it’s they do not seem life changing or material. It’s players’ self worth. Here’s what I think makes people cheat in board games and other low stakes endeavors:

  • they associate winning with higher intelligence,
  • they need social recognition as they believe others see winners in board games as smarter that people who do not win so often.

Ask people why not why they cheat, but what does their performance at board games tell about them and you will most likely get at least a few awkward answers, you’ll find some people who dodge the question and try to escape with a joke. I cannot say how do these people really feel, but I suspect that they suffer from low self esteem, they want to prove themselves in your (the smart gal/guy who does not cheat) eyes and they have no idea of how to deal with losing.

In my opinion, your ability to win specific games or your ability to do well in certain genres tells this about you: you are good at that. There are things I noticed in my still rather short years of experience with board games:

  • genius level IQ does not necessarily make one good at board games, it might but it doesn’t have to,
  • being very good at one game (I have a friend who won 9 Terra Mystica games out of the 10 he played) does not make you good at all games (the same friend is not winning many games which have negative interaction),
  • people with below average IQ and real problems in their day to day life can be brilliant at one or more games (my parents have a friend who can barely manage at his easy job, but he is one of the best bridge players I have ever encountered).

Losing and dealing gracefully with it is a matter of education and knowing your self worth. Cheating is the way of people to circumvent life questions such as “Who am I really?”, “Am I a smart person?”, “How do others see me and what do I do with their opinions?”. My only advice for those who cheat at board games is to… not. If you cheat, you will always know you did that, it will lower your self esteem ever further because you will never know if you could have done it without cheating. Even if you’re not caught (ever) and you get to win, people will only see you as a person who has a way with board games, but life is more complicated and cheating is not an option. You’re only cheating yourself.

As for how to deal with people who cheat… that’s the real question. A few years ago I would have simply said take them out completely of your lives, what’s the purpose of having cheaters around? Today, I believe there’s a better way:

  • first off, catch them and expose them, but…
  • do not make them feel ashamed and small (they probably do that already),
  • explain to them that winning is not everything, losing is OK, the experience matters and it is about having fun, learning and spending time with friends and family,  make them feel human again and give them another chance. Show them that you do not think less of them if they lose, but you will think less of them if they’re cheating again.

How would you deal with people who cheat?

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