How badly do you want to win? Enough that you'd pay to strap on a gaming headset that shocks your brain? Maybe that sounds insane, but then again, many of the things people do to gain an edge in multiplayer games are ridiculous.
You might be familiar with more 'tame' practices. I for instance have totally bought special controllers to play stuff online—specifically, Razer controllers for my Xbox 360. Why not? They offer a better experience than the 360's original controllers thanks to remappable, mouse-like buttons and a decent D-pad. Still, the MLG tends to ban controllers like it—and although I'm not interested in going pro or anything, the way the controller allowed me to customize the experience did allow me to play better. Whether or not that's taboo is arguable (hey, PC gaming lets you customize to your hearts content...). But did I buy it so that I could win a little more? Totally.
The desire to win also fuels the practice of cheating—notably, hacks like the one they call Aim-Bot. Using aim-botting, players can do things like auto lock-on, auto-spot players, and kill with a single bullet—amongst all sorts of other things. All for a price, of course. Ah, yes. Winning can be sold, winning has a price—and it's not always hours of practice and dedication. Nor is it as boring as special controllers or cheating.
Soon, brain shock will become a thing that people can actually do thanks to "fo.cus," a gaming headset meant to "overclock your head" via direct current stimulation. The idea is that the shocks will help your brain fire its neurons faster—which can then allegedly translate to better performance in games. The product doesn't come out until sometime in July, and it'll drop for a cool $249 dollars according to the official website. Whether or not it works, I can't say. Never tried it, and people who have seem unsure about its effects.
What I have managed to try are "digital drugs" made specifically with the purpose of enhancing your abilities in-game. Depending on the genre, there are different binaural beats you can buy. Administering a dose is easy: you put on a pair of headphones, you dim the lights, and then you listen to a special track of binaural beats. It's mostly random sounds. Like the fo.cus, binaural beats are supposed to influence your brain. Some say the beats can get you high; I have no idea if that's true, but the beats did manage to make me feel weird. I'm not sure they improved how I gamed, though.
So far, these methods all require you to actually play the game. But unlike most things outside of the digital world, being competitive in an online game can be wholly about appearances. Many games will allow you to see other player's statistics—meaning that you could hypothetically embarrass yourself without even having to do anything. Having shitty stats is something some people like to avoid. I've been in lobbies where people try to sell their "boost" services—which basically means that you can pay them to play the game for you, typically with the purpose of improving your kill/death ratio. You won't play any better—hell, you might not be any good—but as far as your stats are concerned, you're awesome.
Similarly there are services for World of Warcraft where players will power-level your characters for you. If that makes you raise eyebrows, remember that games like Battlefield 3 allow players to buy entire unlock packs that would normally only be available after many hours of play. Maybe that doesn't seem like the same thing, but while the starting weapons are serviceable, the most powerful weapons can still be better in the right hands. Being competitive can either take time, or it can cost money. Your pick.
Then we have games like League of Legends, which sometimes attract players who sell ELO boosting services. ELO is League's rating system, which calculates the relative skill levels of players. ELO dictates what players the matchmaking system pits you against, typically aiming to put you against players of similar skill in ranked games. Unsurprisingly, websites such as League Boosters have popped up in response. I'm told websites like these are promptly taken down, so here are a few screenshots that explain the service, and tell you about the company (so reliable and trust-worthy, this cheating service!) as well as some price-points:
The prices go up to $1,100 dollars, which is absurd—especially when ranking systems are supposed to help you have a good time. If things are too easy or too difficult, you might not have as fun as you would when up against a decent challenge. Is cheating to have a better ranking worth it if you can't keep up? Heck, is being good at a game worth hundreds upon hundreds of dollars? That's for you to decide, of course...though these services—which could very well be scams!—know that people are desperate to be good at games, no matter the cost.
I'm curious: have you done any of these things? Why or why not? How far would you go to be good at a game, outside of actually playing it and improving?
The Multiplayer is a weekly column that looks at how people crash into each other while playing games. It runs every Monday at 6PM ET.