Why Did Video Games Have Cheat Codes?

And why don’t they anymore?

Grant Piper
4 min readOct 13, 2021


Photo by Slava Pluzhnov on Unsplash

Many people who played video games in their youth probably remember mashing in a complex string of commands in order to unlock cheat codes. The commands had to be timed just right and done in a specific order but if you managed to input them correctly, you would unlock unlimited lives, unlimited ammo, super speed, and other game-breaking advantages. These were fun distractions that kids used to cheat their way through games.

The sequences would look something like this:

A, A, X, Y, B, UP, UP, DOWN

A successful cheat code would open up a new options menu or coincide with a satisfying sound that granted new powers or extra lives.

Today, cheating is severely frowned upon in gaming. Using hacks, aimbots, glitches or exploits will get you banned from online games and criticized. Cheating in modern games has become so prevalent and maligned that a ring of cheat makers was busted by police earlier this year. What happened?

Why did video games use to have cheat codes?

A relic of the pre-internet era

It is hard to remember an age where the internet was as pervasive as it is now. Even in the mid to late 1990s, the internet was not filled with the absolutely bonkers amount of information that it is today. Using Yahoo, AOL, and Google in 1998 was not going to yield even a fraction of the results that searching does today.

During this time, there was no way to search for relevant cheat codes. Players had to find them on their own. They had to come across them on internet forums, have them shared by a friend or buy them in a gaming magazine or guide. (Remember gaming guides?)

This difficulty in locating cheat codes made them less prevalent and more mysterious. Coming across one was a joy and testing out alleged cheat codes from internet forums was also fun if not fruitful.

Today, having a string of commands to execute a cheat code would be useless because people would simply look them up online and the mystique would be gone. Instead, it would become a chore rather than a scavenger hunt or a point of pride.

They were fun but…



Grant Piper

Professional writer. Amateur historian. Husband, father, Christian.