CC Issue 38 / Sport / Travel / Leisure

Stealing from Uncle Pennybags

If you have never been punched during a game of Monopoly then you may be a better person than I am. Or, more likely, you’re just better at getting away with the cheating. I don’t believe there is anybody alive who has never cheated at Monopoly. Or Life. Or cards. That’s right. I’m on to you.

There are various reasons why people do it. I cheat because I think it makes the game a little more interesting. If I get caught, I’ll admit it. My brother cheats to win. You’ll never get a confession out of him. My friend cheats compulsively, with no clear motivation. She just does it because she can. She’ll even tell you as she’s breaking the rules.

“I cheat,” she says. “But I’m not a cheater.”

It’s an interesting distinction, the verb versus the adjective. Generally, fistfights notwithstanding, cheating is sanctioned. Cheaters are not.

To cheat is to tell the equivalent of a little white lie. It’s not really going to hurt anybody. A cheater, however, probably lives in a van with a moon-window and a “free-candy” sign.

In sports, the saying “If the referee didn’t see it, it didn’t happen” is repeated in various permutations in dressing rooms everywhere. Penalties are taken if a player is caught doing something contrary to the rules. If the infraction goes unnoticed, then it’s fair and play continues. Sometimes there is a protest afterwards, but most times there isn’t.

We don’t call the penalized players “cheaters” because they aren’t.

We reserve that label for those who have broken the Code. Divers, dopers, and the dishonourable are all cheaters. We shun them and expect their exclusion from the game.

The Code, of course, varies by application. In Monopoly, stealing from the bank will probably get you smacked and forced to return the loot. Stealing from another player will probably get the board flipped over and end the game. In hockey, the Code demands that you play the game with “respect” for a long tradition of unwritten rules. Fail to do so and you are branded a rat. When you break the rules after that, you are no longer cheating for an edge, you are a cheater.

While we all bend the rules during games, most of us wouldn’t think of copying answers during a test. Our dishonesty is limited to socially acceptable settings. Play keeps us competitive and cheating allows us to be bad and get away with it.

Or, at least, this is what I’m going to tell you when you catch me with the extra $500.

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