Pirate or Gentleman?
I’ve always thought myself to be a modern day pirate. I’ve downloaded and hacked(in the sense of using hacks not creating them) my fair share of hardware/software during my life but in these last few years I’ve felt somewhat conflicted with what I had been doing.
My “Pirating career” started with my Playstation 1. I was a very nerdy kid and I had quite the videogame addiction so obviously my parents limited my gaming time and only bought me a few games a year. I was about 14 at the time and had no kind of revenue apart from the occasional birthday party or personal celebration in which my grandma would give me a few thousand lira (games used to cost around 50-100 thousand Lira at the time).
This scarcity of videogames led me to become very well read in the videogame sector. I read reviews on magazines and spoke to my friends to see what games they were playing and which ones they liked, only to ponder at which game would be my next choice to communicate to my parents so that they could buy it for me. I was probably more “in the know” than most videogame writers were at the time – maybe an exaggeration but… I was 13 years old!
This kind of tactic always landed me games like Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid and Gran Turismo. Not too shabby a tactic after all!
A year later news came through about this new kind of hack. One could “Chip” your Playstation so that you could play ripped games. I never even knew that was possible! Internet had just become mainstream in those years but only privileged people with fast ISDN 128K connections could even ponder downloading or even uploading ripped copies of videogames like they do nowadays. This meant the whole copying and selling of ripped Playstation games was something much more personal and always involved a middle man. I’d compare it to buying drugs.
I remember I had a friend who directed me towards this tiny Electrical Repairs Shop near the town in which I lived at the time. I would never even call the guy up. I’d always have to ride my scooter (an orange Aprilia SR 50cc. I loved that thing.) to his shop and give him the list of videogames I wanted.
If they were common requests he would remove the metal foot-cover from one of his display stacks only to reveal an enormous amount of copied CD’s only to take out the one I wanted. It really was a drug dealer kind of relationship. If it was an uncommon request you would have to come back after a few days so he had time to contact his people to find an original copy of the game do rip.
You couldn’t speak on the phone, his products were hidden inside a hole in his display rack, and none of this had to happen while he had usual customers. He even used to stop making copies when he felt the “heat was on him” or when other CD rippers in the area had been caught and fined.
He used to make me pay 5,000Lira for each game. I was amazed at the new horizon that opened up in front of me for such a cheap price. I didn’t have to decide on which 3 videogames I would buy a year… I could actually try them out without even reading reviews and make my own mind up about them. This is when I really learned to appreciate what videogames could offer and it changed the way I’d look at videogames and other media entertainment forever.
The way I appreciate videogames and films is that I tend to love the films and videogames that I’ve never heard before more. Don’t get me wrong… if a game is shit… it’s probably still going to be shit. But I think that reading up on videogames… reading other people’s reviews and points of view about a videogame or film influences you in such a way that you will end up thinking the same exact thing the reviewers thought when they wrote the review even if you don’t want to. If you read a lot about the game you’re playing, you’re inevitably going to be influenced by what you read and it won’t be the same experience you could’ve had by playing the game or film without any prior knowledge about it.
To return on topic, I was having a great time pirating my Playstation game until the whole thing reversed on me. The ripped CD’s were, without my knowledge, making the Playstation CD drive laser work overtime. This resulted in having to flip the Playstation upside down or on its side so that the lens was closer to the piratedCDs so that they were easier to read and inevitably, my Playstation broke.
It was a sad day for 16 year old Riqz. I managed to repair it in the end, sold it (kept my favourite games and sold the rest) and I bought a Playstation 2. I promised myself I’d never again modify the hardware of my home consoles because it would probably break them. I returned to a fairly steady 5-6 games a year now but at least my PS2 was in pristine state (still works today) and I knew that I was giving money to the people who actually made the game I loved. This ensured that the game developers somehow knew that I bought the game and hopefully they would work on something new thanks to my contribution.
My break from pirating didn’t last too long. While I never chipped my PS2 I also was the proud owner of a Gameboy Advance. I fell prey of the handheld addiction and I kept on wanting more. I heard there was this new thing… flash cards. I didn’t know it was something that already existed back on the NES and SNES etc (even if in smaller quantities and much bootleggery). I spent something like 150,000 Lira to buy this 256K flash cart into which I could put about 5-6 normal sized GBA roms.
Internet had improved since the 90s and even if I was on a crappy 56K modem connection I could still download the GBA roms, being only a few megabytes each. It cut out the middle man that I once had with the Playstation and I didn’t have to spend a single dime to get what I wanted. That 150,000 Lira investment was quite fruitful after all. I think I also made a total count of how many games I had downloaded, and how much I would’ve spent if I had bought all of them instead. It was quite scary. I probably had downloaded 200 games or so in a year. They used to cost about 50,000 Lira each. That’s 10,000,000 Lira. That would’ve been around €5,100 at the time. Something a 17-18 year old could only dream about. What was different from the Playstation incident? Well the hardware wasn’t modified and the handheld still exists and works today. I was sure it wasn’t going to break and I was sure I was doing the right thing because games were stupidly overpriced.
I won’t bore you with my future pirate endeavors which involve a PSP with Custom Firmware, an Xbox360 with flashed dvd-drive (and a subsequent xbox live ban), a DS with a flash cart etc. Those are stories for another day.
The point of this story is to introduce the way I feel about Pirated games now. I have become quite the videogame collector having had videogames since I was a child. The whole act of buying a game with a case that has art drawn on it, with an instruction booklet and a printed DVD or cart, is something you don’t get with pirated games. I love to show off my collection of videogames starting from the Atari all the way up to PS3s and Xbox360s. That too is something I can’t do with pirated games. I love to know that I’m showing the game developer that I love their game by buying it.
Having a job now that I’ve grown up helps of course. I don’t have to ask anyone to give me money to buy videogames. It’s one of my passions and if I want a game I buy it. It’s different from when I was 13 and had no money at all.
To be honest, I couldn’t live without my hacked PSP that lets me play Sega CD games or Sega Mega Drive games on the go. But I also feel that buying a game is better than pirating it…sometimes. It’s a topic that baffles me because I can’t seem to decide which side I’m on. I guess the recent videogame price drop is helping towards the good cause, but stuff like SONY suing Geohotz for hacking their system only adds to the bad cause.
Maybe a balanced diet is what I should keep on having.
What do you guys think about Pirated games?
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