Doubts are being raised over the infallibility of Valve’s Anti-Cheat system (VAC,) after an unknown number of Modern Warfare 2 players were banned over the last few days.
VAC is an integrated component of Steam and, as the FAQ in Steam’s dedicated VAC forum states: “Your account got banned because VAC detected a cheat being used with your account. Period. It didn’t make a mistake.”
This is a pretty no-nonsense system, but the recent recipients of Modern Warfare 2 bans have been protesting their innocence – in numbers which appear to suggest they have some justification. An intriguing theory offered by one poster suggests that it is old Quake 3 dedicated server code (being reused in Modern Warfare 2) that is to blame.
“It IS possible to have files change from a host running a hacked lobby,” the poster writes “VAC is triggered because a users files were unwillingly overwritten or changed, and they get banned via no fault of their own. It’s just the way it is, and I don’t expect Valve to fix the bans.”
And therein lies the central issue. Even if we assume that the above theory (or something similar) is correct and that these current issues are not the fault of players, Valve’s stance on VAC is that it is infallible. Referring back to the VAC FAQ, it states “We will not un-ban your account regardless of the reason.”
Indeed, if the theory is accurate, VAC has technically done its job by locating users with altered files from hacked lobbies. The problem is, if the player knew nothing about this, how can they have been expected to avoid it?
What exactly caused VAC to trigger is, we must stress, not known at this point. It is possible that all of the players affected really (were knowingly) cheating in some fashion. However, until Valve fully investigates the issue, those players are trapped in a Kafka-style bureaucratic limbo – declared guilty by VAC with no right of appeal.