Cheaters never win or so the saying goes, but that doesn’t seem right at all does it? Cheaters do win, and they win a lot otherwise they’d stop cheating. In gaming they come in all different forms from Glitchers to Modders to Boosters. Those damn Boosters! Just the name can make your skin crawl. I hate them, they’re appalling, those freakin’ Boosters. We’ve all heard it before and most of us have our own colorful words to describe them. While one of the other two types of cheaters deserve their own resentment, today’s focus is on “The Booster”.
The most prominent images of acne-stained youth come to mind. Dark basement dwellers giggling like a little school girl as they ruin the game for everyone else. As most gamers hide their boosting exploits like nerd shame, it’s rare that you’ll actually see anyone come to the defense of that cookie cutter imagery. While trying to come up with a few reasons why gamers boost I arrived at an interested thought. Was I a booster too? More accurately had I been a booster in the past? I’ll try to explain what I mean and then later show why it’s not worth caring about it.
The reason I find myself at least somewhat empathetic towards Booster is because I learn at one point, I was one too. Not in the form we see today, but certainly closer to its core meaning. Chances are that if you’ve been gaming long enough, you were probably one too. Proving it can be as easy as reciting a rhythmic line most every gamer holds dear. It flows from our tongues like a well rehearsed verse paced to perfection having repeating it a million times. Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start. I present to you, The Konami Code.
Back in 1985 the Konami developer Kazuhisa Hashimoto was working on a NES home version of the arcade game Gradius. While in testing he found the game to be overly difficult so he programmed in a code to give his player a full set of power-ups. With these god-mode type powers Kazuhisa completed testing of Gradius and prepared it for console use. The code was left in the final copy of the game and sent out into the market. Once discovered, gamers used the code to “boost” their ship to maximum levels making it far easier to complete the game. Three years later the code was immortalized in the renowned shooter Contra. The Konami Code allowed gamers to start this difficult game with 30 lives, thus making it easily to beat, and in the process cementing the code in gamers minds forever. Many codes followed, often listed in popular gaming magazines, but the Konami Code is the seed from which most boosters were born.
There are examples of this type of boosting throughout game folklore. Codes and tricks were shared in schoolyards like trading cards. Everyone had their favorite and many wore them like a badge of honor earned in battle. The Super Mario Bros (NES 1985) had an infinite life boost that was one of my favorites. Using good timing and coordination you could trap a green shell on the stairway leading to the first castle. By doing so you could continually earn lives to infinity.
There are some gamers that have the Nintendo 1987 Mike Tyson Punch-Out’s code number sequence memorized like it were their social security number. The code allowed gamers to skip straight to the end to face Mike Tyson. With the opportunity to “practice” fighting the intimidating titan, gamer could learn his rhythms and thus defeat him regularly. Each gamer has their favorite, I am interested to hear yours. These tricks and code, often viewed as nostalgia from the good ole days, are all boosts. Most of us just never gave it a second thought when we were young. It was part of gaming and we accepted that.
So what has changed? What took this casually common practice of boosting to beat difficult games and made it into a gaming epidemic? I find myself looking over the current landscape of boosters and noticing two glaring aspects that make its popularity continue to grow: Multiplayer and XP.