Cheating Online for Cash

Two young children playing a game of chess. The one facing the camera has a TShirt that says "Don'tPanic."
Cheating online for cash and in chess

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My son told us he was doing tutoring online after school and getting paid for it. But it turned out he was actually cheating online for cash. He was playing video games with other kids in an arranged game. The arrangement was that he would lose when they played together, so that the competing player could progress in their online rankings. My son, who is only eleven, charged them for this service. My wife and I are not quite sure how to react! Bill, San Francisco

Dear Bill: It’s been a while since I got to answer a question in the “bad etiquette” category, and it has also been a while since I’ve been reminded how clever teens and tweens are when it comes to technology. Although we might do our best as parents and educators to teach digital literacy (see last week’s column) it will never cover all the bases. Young people are going to experiment with communication tools and expose us to ideas that are unique to their generation.

Still, in a juvenile court-of-law your son might be sentenced to community service to correct the ‘cheating online for cash’ misdeed. Perhaps he would be required to provide tutoring and support for his peers.  But, since you have a budding entrepreneur at home you want to channel that spark.

His acumen seems to be in either business studies or computer programming. Perhaps both. You might demand as reparation that he go deeper with his skills and work on a written report, for your eyes only, on how to detect fraud and cheating. Down the road, that might turn into an polished essay for college applications or a term paper for a civics class.

Your son, of course, is not alone in the world of online cheating and games. A few weeks ago the chess world was turned upside down when the chess championships suspended a nineteen year old named Hans Niemann. The suspicion is that Niemann cheated in more than 100 games by secretly getting recommendations from a computer program, known as a chess engine. Since 2020 he had been suspected of foul-play.

The irony, you will appreciate this, is that Niemann publicly admitted using electronic devices to cheat- but insisted he only did so when he was 12 and 16 years old! In the first instance, Niemann said, he was “just a child.” He called the second incident, “an absolutely ridiculous mistake.” Your son, being age 11, falls right into the appropriate age brackets!

There is a simple solution for Niemann’s bad behavior. A professor of engineering and authority on online chess games says Niemann should be allowed to play, but only in person. Your son should be allowed to play video games (in moderation)  but only with a responsible adult looking over his shoulder.

At the end of the day, the problem you describe pervades much of sports/entertainment. The mania to win encourages us to do extreme things. It’s the antithesis of a culture where games evoke cooperation, competence, and sheer enjoyment. The kids that your son fixed the games for have been equally sucked into this online dystopian paradigm to play for cash and win at all cost. Your eleven year old son is at the appropriate age to learn about “fair play.” In the chess world, computer scientists are working on programs that can detect cheating by these engines. In the parenting world, that tough assignment falls on the Moms and Dads.

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