The Power Of The Cheat Code

It was 1988. Our thumbs were numb from mashing buttons into controllers. Contra was a two-player Nintendo game where you and a friend would shoot your way through an endless barrage of enemy soldiers and aliens. The game itself wasn’t just hard, it was ridiculously hard. It was die and start over on the first or second level hard. It was “how far did you get before you died” and not “how long did it take you to beat it” hard. But, it was also ridiculously fun. Especially if you knew the secret cheat code.

Kazuhisa Hashimoto had been a programmer for Konami and came up with the now-famous Konami Code: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, select (for your friend, enabling two-player mode), start. Entering this on the title screen gave you 30 extra lives and ensured you an actual chance at advancing deeper into the game, maybe even to the end. It was a serious advantage and it was glorious.

The world lost Hashimoto at the age of 79 this week. He came up with the code because people testing the game were finding it too hard. The cheat code enabled them to advance more easily through the levels. When the game was finished they worried pulling this code could disrupt the full game’s code, so they left it in. A piece of 1980s gamer folklore was born. Hashimoto’s loss has me thinking about cheat codes, why they’re so great, and what we can learn from them within our own professions.

We are professionals because we play a game our clients think is too hard for them to do on their own. They hire and engage us as their guide to make it easier. What would adding a cheat code look like? What would it feel like – to them? How do we give the sense of an extra boost? Having the skills to unlock a difficult situation is different from showcasing the right knowledge in the right way at the right time so people say, “this is awesome.” Playing Contra was fine, but the first time someone said, “watch this” and put the cheat code in, the whole experience changed.

Cheat codes are a magic extra step that acknowledges the game or situation as really hard and then add an immediate boost of confidence before we dive in. No one is walking away once the code is in, they’re playing with the feeling of having an advantage. We’re all looking to create that feeling of advantage within our clients’ minds, hearts, and guts.

We should think about what happens just before we launch into a presentation or discussion. We should look for ways to recognize the difficulty first and then deliver a boost of confidence before we dive in to navigate. These moments are there if we look and plan for them. Punching in our own code can make all the difference between the feeling of playing an impossible game and kicking butt in one.

Rest In Peace Kazuhisa Hashimoto. May our memory of you extend well beyond 30 lifetimes.

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