Ethics might seem boring or beaten to death, but please bear with me. No, I'm not trying to give you a stern lecture on morals and ethics. No, I'm not trying to tell you horror stories or make a series of logical fallacies to try to persuade you to become perfect angels or wanna-be mods. Rather, I'd like to give you a mix of real life and in game experiences with different situations, and try to explain how they've shaped my point of view.
My first account in RuneScape was banned for macroing. Probably what was most ironic was that I macroed in the Stronghold of Security - you know, the place where they quizzed you on the game rules - by killing minotaurs. When my account was banned, I filed an appeal with a lie for an excuse. Of course, that appeal was denied. Thankfully at that point in time, Jagex had a no-nonsense policy, so my next account had a clean slate. To this date I refuse to touch third party software.
At about that same time in my life, I was taking a very difficult class in high school. The class was designed for people going into networking as a career, so the course administrators wouldn't pass people who didn't earn it. There were three graded parts of the class - notes, labs, and exams. The notes and labs were worth 40% of the grade, and were due at the end of a six week grading period. Being the lazy student that I was, I hadn't done either. About six hours before both were due, I was struggling to finish writing the notes, and started chatting on AIM with another student in class.
To make a long story short, we traded, we cheated. I gave him my finished notes, he gave me a copy of his lab. We both turned each others work in, claiming it as our own. Later that week the teacher called us in the hall, and informed us we were caught, and failed us. We were also subject to disciplinary action from the Dean of Students. The most difficult part of the whole experience was that I had to explain to my parents why I failed. I assure you it's a very unpleasant experience. Now, I'm thankful I was caught early on in my academic career and straightened out, before it could have had bigger consequences (more on that later).
A friend I work with saw that I was browsing the Tip.it forums, and told me that he once played RuneScape. When I asked why he didn't play anymore, he told me he got his account banned for being "too greedy." I pressed him a little to explain; he went on to tell me a story about how he used a program to level up different skills, and how absolutely perfect the program was at being undetectable. He said it only worked in the day, it logged out and in for random amounts of times, and it played exactly as he would. He said he got to his goal, but continued to use the program for how well it worked. Two weeks later, he said he was banned.
The part of his story that amuses me the most is that he said he was banned - not for macroing - but for being "greedy." It's as if he doesn't view macroing as wrong, but only to a point. Once you've achieved your goals by cheating (whatever they may be), continuing is greedy. The sad part of the story was that he had put many years into the account before he started macroing, most of those years were subscriptions. He also hasn't played RuneScape since, and I suspect it could have been a good hobby for him (he told me he had fond memories of it).
A few years ago in an engineering course, we learned about ethics. Not just the "Plagiarism is bad" mumbo-jumbo taught uniformly in English classes - the real stuff. We had someone there from the real world telling us like it is. One of the more eye opening experiences from the lecture was when we were given scenarios and then asked to answer questions by iclickers. The first scenario was easy; someone leaves their wallet at a table, what would you do? Almost uniformly the lecture hall answered that you should speak up and return their wallet. The next scenario was a bit more troubling; the cashier at the register accidentally gives you four dollars in change instead of three, what would you do? The class was split among the responses, from give it back to keep it and walk away, to "I use a credit/debit card so it doesn't affect me."
When asked for a volunteer to ask why they picked "walk away," the student responded that the ethical thing to do didn't matter because it was "no big deal," and giving back the change was "not worth the trouble." The lecturer responded by saying, "The ethical thing to do often times isn't the easiest thing to do, and sometimes we can't be bothered by it when it's 'no big deal.' It's at these points in times when 'no big deal' are in fact an especially big deal, since if we're not practiced in doing the ethical thing in small matters, how will we know how to react when it is 'a big deal?'"
In RuneScape, most people view obeying the rules as a small matter. It doesn't take long reading a rant on bots to find that most people don't care about bots because "it doesn't affect me" or they like bots because they "keep prices low." While I disagree with their point of view, I realize that trying to engage an apathetic person in a debate to be pointless. I find it humorous when these same people are engaged with the next big scandal (the penguin glitch, the dungeoneering runecrafting glitch, the mu glitch) because somehow it broke their game and they demand the heads of cheaters. In my opinion, the only difference between a bug abuser and a macroer is the length of time they break the rules. One might be scandalous for a weekend (they'll burn bright in full view of everyone), while the other is a common occurrence (they'll smolder for weeks on end).
Not long after the lecture in engineering, news broke out that a large number of students in a different class were caught cheating. Ten students ended up being disciplined, which meant they flunked the course and were probably kicked out of school. I mention this here because while I wasn't involved directly (thankfully it was the class a year ahead of me), the consequences were very real. Students who knew about the cheating, but didn't do anything were flunked for not reporting it. Others who participated were expelled from the university (losing two to three years of tuition, hard work and years of their life all over one incident). While I like to think I'd be able to meet that challenge, I feel that some lessons are better witnessed than experienced.
I hope I haven't sounded like an English teacher telling you that, "plagiarism is bad and cheating is bad so don't do it." I encourage you to share any personal experiences with cheating, whether it was you or some friend, in the discussion thread (I plan on sharing a few more real life ones there myself), and I hope you can draw on these experiences without having to suffer the consequences yourself.