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The One Thing I know (I Learned From Piracy)
05/02/2012Posted by on
Ever since the dawn of mankind, man has held onto various concepts and Ideals that seem to be latched upon our minds. God, Life, Death and survival spring to mind. Yet the one we seem to quote the most is, in fact, not present in nature, which is the concept of Justice.
What is justice, anyways?
While commonly mistaken, Justice in itself is not fairness. Depending on who you ask, Justice can be a divine, earthly, lawful or unlawful concept of moral and ethical retribution for our acts. In its purest forms, it means simply “To be Just”.
A similar concept is that of “Law”. “Law” In itself is the rules and guidances that enact Justice in our society. The first code of Law was the famous code of Hamurabbi, the brainchild of the society whom we thank for the development of the written code of language. The code was made so that the laws of Men could be represented equally for everyone, so that no man could abuse another man in the name of the law. An eye for an eye, was the rule by which they lived.
In the present day, almost every single democratic system in the world is tied to the concept of Law and Order. However, our society has grown the beard since we first created the code of law. In today’s world, a great many aspects of our society are mostly subject to interpretations. While Hamurabbi’s code was written in a time where the biggest of your issues was how many donkeys were a pig worth, our present society has many more needs than those that can be solved “an eye for an eye”.
Naturally, courts of law are the countermeasure for this effect, but that doesn’t matter. In the concept of Law being made in order to protect the common man from their own laws, we’ve come full circle into what I like to call “The Biggest Irony in History”.
Recapitulating what I said earlier, Law itself is written so that it can’t be manipulated for one’s personal gain. Yet, ironically, that is the exact oposite of what most people think of the wetern world’s Justice system. Specifically, whenever the interests of a big name coporation are at stake.
A “Corporation” is a group of people with common interests, who profit from a certain bussiness. They are mostly responsible for the rise of Capitalism worldwide in the late 17th century. In the American Legal System, corporations are given atributes and rights similar to those given to individuals. This is mostly to protect their own product or service in the face of competition. As an individual, you have the right to your own private property, as in, something that belongs to you cannot be appropiated by anyone else without your authorization. This is the most basic concept of “property” and “theft”.
However, it wasn’t until the early twenienth century where Intelectual property was acknowledged as an atribution of individuals and groups that needed to be protected, just like any phisical products or pertenences. And as such, it was made a crime to use a person’s intelectual property without consent, just as it’s illegal to run over pedestrians in your neighbour’s car.
Now, the concept of Piracy is an old one. We all know about Bucaneers, Privateers and Pirates, plundering away at ships for their cargo. While sea pirates still exist to this day (one of the few groups declared collective enemies of mankind by The UN), the concept of Piracy in question is most commonly used to refer to the act of profiting from an individual or company’s work or products, in the form of Movies, Music, TV Shows, Videogames, Books, basically, anything that can be uploaded to the lawless wasteland that is the internet.
While there have been numerous attempts to combat this issue in one way or another, none have been more controversial than the two bills that the Senate of The United States of North America is currently evaluating (Technically, the bill is “shelved”, but discussions about it are still going on), the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, SOPA and PIPA.
Surprisingly enough, I have not come to talk to you about them today.
The idea behind both of them is to stop Online Piracy, as the name implies. I am here today to talk to you about Piracy in gaming.
I’ll not lie, I used to do piracy, a lot. And during that time I managed to make observations on the subject, and most importantly, I drew one conclusion, the one thing I know.
It’s not worth it. You will always be better off paying more for a better product than trying to squeeze by with their cheaper counterparts, or in this case, piracy.
Before I go on in detail, allow me to better explain my situation:
The country I live in (Chile) has intellectual property and copyright laws, however, we don’t enforce them. At all. You can walk into any household with someone under the age of 25 in it and you’ll find a bootleg PS2 with a small folder full of pirated DVD’s next to it, or a Wii or PS3 rigged to an external HDD. Anywhere, it’s always the same. Only if you intend to pass those through the frontier you can get in trouble, and even then, it’s all very lax.
Naturally, this means there is no taboo on the subject. The general view on things is that we don’t live in a country were we can afford to buy originals (which is complete bullshit).
To give you a better perspective on the subject, here’s a conversation I had with a couple of people at school earlier this year regarding my desire to buy the then upcoming Ace Combat: Assault Horizon on PS3.
Worth mentioning is, the person in question owns a jailbroken wii with around one hundred games in an external HDD, none of which were acquired in any “legal” fashion. This should get you the Idea.
I could go on and on about how people in my country don’t believe that entertainment has any monetary value, or any sort of value for that matter, but that’s not the Issue to disscuss here today.
Well, on to my story then.
‘Twas the winter, circa 2007, when I acquired as a birthday gift my own Nintendo GameCube, bundled in with Zelda: Collector’s Edition and Pokémon Colloseum, one controller, and no memory card. You can see I was in quite the situation, where I couldn’t save any of my progress in any games, and all five games I owned were not the kind of game you could just pick up and play. I still had an old SNES with a bunch of games, which I keep to this day.
I don’t intend to excuse myself with the following statement, but during that time, my family was in great economical distress. Eventually, me, my mother and my brother had to move back with my grandmother (with whom I live to this day), later the same year. Because of this, we couldn’t afford any new games for my console, nor could we afford to have it Jailbroken with a modchip, since that process in itself is quite expensive.
Come december with the summer (south hemisphere, before you ask), where I recieved money to buy a game, for the first time since I got the console.
I went for Madden ’05. Because I was a fucking idiot.
Well, not exactly. I went with that game because it was the only one I could afford, since all I had was [$20 USD], and I wasn’t getting any more money until my birthday, which was in July. As a 14 year old idiot, I couldn’t plan ahead. So I bought a game about a foreign sport I didn’t know anything about.
Over the course of 2008, I acquired two more games which, while are not particularly good (or even decent), hold a special place in my hearth as precious memories. Yes, I’m that nerdy. These games were ATV Quad Power Racing 2 (One of the disasters that drove acclaim to the ground) and Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX 2 (Which I still defend as the greatest BMX game ever made. It was downright fantastic). That is, before I knew of the magic of Trade Ins.
In the following year I proceded to obtain my videogames via trading at a small electronics shop in my town I still go to to get most of my games, which also provides me with a good couple of SNES games every now and then. It should be noted that due to the fact that no one uses original software, there are no stores that provide that service to their customers, and this one almost never got new inventory. There are some stores that sell original Software, but those same stores always try to push you into jailbreaking your console with them, and they would often leave something to be repaired by them in your console.
The only other games I recall trading in at that store was R: Racing Evolution (an underapreciated gem of Arcade Racing, which also came with Pac-Man Versus) and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. I also bought Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance later on at that same store, and I still get my PS3 games from there every now and then, and I got Soul Calibur II as a birthday present that year. By the time I sold my GC off, I only had four games, Madden ’05, Soul Calibur II, Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’05 (I LIKE GOLF, OK!?) and fire Emblem. My copy of Zelda Collector’s Edition was “misplaced” when I lent it to someone.
When I entered our equivalent of High School, I was asssigned to a new class with new classmates.
Because I was 15, and stupid, I eventually gave in to peer pressure and by the end of the year, asked for my christmas present to have my console jailbroken, in order to gain pirated games for it.
From here on begins a journey in which I discovered that Piracy is absolutely not as good as advertised. I am writing this in hopes that it provides a good precedent for any of you who might want to go pirate.
First thing off, I sent my console to the shop the day after christmas. I had to wait for three weeks to get it back, with one game courtesy of the store.
Here is where I learned the first lesson about pirates:
Lesson One: Pirates are still bussinessmen, only not bound by the law.
And as such, they’ll try to scam you whenever possible.
Firstly, by “One Game”, they meant “One DVD”. When I got the game there in december 26th, they asked me what game I wanted with my console to come out of the operation with. I chose Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. I chose the game Three weeks in advance, and when I got there I was told they sold off my copy with another console, So I had to pick between the games they had at the store. They only had an incredibly beaten up disc with the words “SMASH” on it (which I assume was Smash Brothers Melee), so I took the one without a label or anything written on it. It was a white Ridata disc. I took mystery disc with me to start playing with my now pirated console, only to find out it was the first disc of Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and The Lost Ocean (you know, the one where the good guy turns out to be the bad guy). It read clear as day “DISC 1” on the title screen. I was baffled. I was promised one game and I got half a game. So I rode my bike back to the store and asked the counter clerk if they could provide me with the second disc of the game. An understandable request, since I wanted to see through the whole game. Now, before I go any further, I think you probably have the image of some deadbeat gangster selling this thing like crack. This was just a regular, somewhat overweight man behind a desk with a bunch of consoles opened up for examination. The store didn’t sell pirated games (or any games, for that matter), instead, they were a console repair shop. Very bright, and the guy in question was also a rather nice person. At least that was my initial impression, of course, but as I said, he’s a bussinessman, therefore he’s just showing that side of his. In thruth, he was just as scummy as anyone, plus I couldn’t complain because technically, this wasn’t entirely legal, even if the authorities didn’t particularly care about the subject.
I got there and I asked the man if he could give me the second disk. He said he didn’t have it. I asked him if he could get it off the internet, he said he’d charge me the same as a new game. See, this people didn’t see things as “games”, they were just selling Mini DVD’s. So I just walked home. Didn’t make much difference, since I never got past the first disc anyways.
Later that year, at school, Another guy who also happened to jailbreak is GC taught me how to download and burn the games to the Mini DVD’s.
There’s a trick though. You see, the GC is not a particularly easy to manipulate console. The disc reader is designed to read the ClearVu GOD’s (Gamecube Optical Disc, the name of the Format. Yes, Nintendo Patented the GOD), which were different from any other DVD’s of the same size in the market. The only ones that worked for me ever were the Ridata brand. And those weren’t cheap. They went for at least [$3 USD] one by one, but most of the time came scratched or dirty, and the disc wouldn’t record right. This is the second issue with the games.
For some reason I will never quite understand, Everytime I recorded the game with Nero or Alcohol 120%, the game wouldn’t read. I had to run it through a piece of software called “GCTool”, which “Realigned all the data packages so that the console could read them” (whathever the hell that means). Obviously, It had to be done on a .ISO file, and I had to used that program to burn them into the DVD too, otherwise it wouldn’t read. I wasn’t told this, I tried the same ISO on two different DVDs, and only after going through all that trouble it worked. After much research, I found out why.
When I had my console Jailbroken, I didn’t take into account that there were various Chips one could use, specially on the GC. The one I got was an early version of XENOGC, one of the absolute worst ones out there. Of course, I was never given a choice in the matter, but I never tried to replace it in any form, anyways.
In the end, I burned a huge deal of DVDs with little to no results until I asked the guy to burn the games for me, for a small price. Most of the times, they worked. Some other times they didn’t. It wasn’t like I could complain, anyways.
That went on for about a year. In that time, I managed to obtain the huge sum of somewhere around thirty games.
The year was 2010, this marked the last year I used piracy, and in my own social life I call it “The year I stopped trying to fit in”. But that’s another story.
Also, it’s the year I learned my second lesson about Piracy:
Lesson Two: It’s not cost effective in the slightest
By this time, I must’ve shelled out somewhere around $100 USD on games that after a month or so wouldn’t work anymore, So I decided to cut the middleman and start burning them myself. Key words being “Burning” and “Myself”.
I didn’t have a computer at the time, and I did all of this at a cyber-café (of the kind without coffee) just around the corner. I made an agreement with the owner, that I would fill his HDD’s with games and he’d give me a computer to work from 6 PM to closing time, which was midnight. I asked another guy I knew and he lent me his own portable HDD with somewhere around one hundred PC games.
During that time, I would download a game from a forum I usually frequented back then, It had its basic sections and some sort of “basement” in which the stuff they weren’t proud of went on. Specifically, everything Piracy related.
They had a catalogue of around 80% of the GC’s library. The community was also quite a nice group of people. All of them were cooperative, almost friendlike. The kind of online community were there never seem to be any fights in the forums. I remember this one time one of them got arrested in Argentina for trying to pass a bunch of pirated movies through the frontier with Brazil, and the entire forum shelled out the cash to bail him out. Says a lot from a community of online Pirates.
I say this not to be condescending with them, but because chances are you have a pretty demonized image of Pirates. All I want to stress out is that these were a group of people who just wanted to play games and pay nothing. Obviously, they weren’t too proud of stealing (most of them, anyways), and they all had their reasons. Again, not evil scallywags with e-scurvy.
Back on track, I only joined the place to see the links to file sharing sites which contained them. The games were almost always divided into various .RAR files, most of the time up to thirty, or just four (500 mb each). GC Games were about 4.71 GB each.
The routine was always the same. Download the game, run it through GCTool, burn it, go home and play it. Nine times out of Ten the game didn’t work and I had to get a new DVD just to record it again.
Speaking of the DVD’s, as I mentioned earlier, the DVD brand was specific. I needed Ridata brand DVD’s. Any other brand I tried to work with was unreadable by the console, or stopped working soon thereafter. At least the Ridata discs would sometimes work better if the planets were alligned, and if I was extremely lucky a game would still work flawlessly for a couple months. Only a few stores sold these discs, mostly at outrageuos prices (for DVD Standards, at least). I finally managed to find a store that sold them for cheap, but I always needed to check if they weren’t dirty. There was always one thing that killed DVDs the moment I bought them, and that was a small, almost unnoticeable black dot in the recording area. If a DVD had it, and I didn’t see it before leaving the store, I was screwed. Had to buy another one. Again, the law wasn’t with me on this one.
Another issue I’d run into was that some .ISO’s were simply broken. And more often than not, it was the really good games. Twilight Princess would freeze after twenty minutes, The Twin Snakes had all the audio lagging far behind the image, Animal Crossing wouldn’t load some Textures, Mortal Kombat Deception would stop working for no good reason. Yet, somehow, I could still play Qubivore, Gauntlet Legends or Conflict: Desert Storm for hours. I was cursed. I had a zillion games, yet I could play only a few. And that was just the beggining.
Then came to me the realization: Perharps I was doing something wrong? So I decided to learn a bit more about the software in question I was going to use.
Now, remember how I said there were various kinds of modchips available for the GC? And that the one I had wasn’t particularly good? As it turns out, the Internet had pretty much blocked out all information regarding the chip I had. Software, user guides, mostly buried under thousands of forum threads regarding just how bad it was, or asking for said software, only to end up reminding you just how bad it was.
So I decided, Maybe it’s time to get a new one. The problem was that I didn’t have the money to buy it or have it installed. So I went to plan B, which was to see if there was something wrong with my GC.
As it turns out, the GC had some sort of mechanism that rejects the chip naturally after some time. From what I’ve read, this also happens without a foreign modchip, so that you eventually have to send in your console for repairs. There were two ways to combat this issue with a modchip (That I knew of), firstly, to open the console and fix the problem myself. Secondly, to send it to a repair shop.
Obviously, I didn’t want to break my console anymore, so I decided to just shell out [$20 USD] and be done with it. They were done with it in a week. As it turns out, it was all just dirty, had nothing to do with the chip.
So I went home and played fine until a couple of weeks later It started to not want to read the games, giving me a red error message everytime I tried to boot a game. So, it was back to searching online for answers.
The most prominent solution for most DRE (Disk Reading Error) related antics was to open up the console and move the suitch that controls the reading mechanism’s revolution speed. Of course, it always made the case that this was extremely dangerous to do without any professional supervision. So naturally, I avoided this procedure at all costs, and I wasn’t paying to have it done because I had no money.
Other alternatives included pimpin’ out your console in ways that would make Doctor Frankenstein blush. For intance, plenty of users said that using regular sized DVD’s gave them better results, but in order to do so they had to enlarge the disc tray and replace the opening mechanism, and say goodbye to the reset button. Others got around this by rewiring the button and LED light into different positions and just working with it from there. Others flat out built new shells for the console and moved all the insides of it to their new home. The problem was that If you know any nintendo console, you’ll realize they’re made from Nintendium (Nin), our earthly counterpart to Mithril, and thus cutting it open was really, really, really hard and/or expensive. In the end, there was just one thing left for me to do, which was to just give the console a spring cleaning, since I didn’t have the Know-How to dissassemble it or reassemble it without it breaking down. I cleaned the lens, the ventilators, the discs (one by one), the tray, et cetera. If you know anything about hardware you might be rolling in the floor in laughter at my pathethic attempt at fixing this, know that at the time I knew next to nothing about this and I was smart enough to not mess with it.
Finally, I realized a weird pattern. Homebrew software like emulators seemed to work near flawlessly, contrary to games. I have to admit, I still miss my collection of every NES game ever made (plus a good deal of Famicom and Unlicensed ones) all in one comfortable disc, played with an incredibly smooth controller.
And, of course, there were also means to watch movies, listen to music, run PSX emulators, Dreamcast emulators, even a couple of PS2 games adapted to the console (obviously missing some buttons). The most fun of all was a perfectly emulated Super Mario 64. Sadly, outside of SM64, which came ready to boot, I could never get any of the others to run properly.
Strangely enough, that was the one disc that seemed to last forever. It almost never broke down or stopped working, other than just some times it would just freeze up.
I also managed to run an SNES emulator that worked pretty well, but took almost half an hour to boot up for no discernible reason, and once a game was loaded the menus lagged so much it became virtually unusable. Still, I added a couple games I couldn’t get on my SNES and gave it a go.
In any cases, I also tried learning to run the emulators myself with my own other programs in, again. This time… It did not work. I tried to put all of my videos (all of those terrible YouTube Poops I used to post at ScrewAttack back back then, for example) into one DVD, and surprisingly, while they didn’t work, they would read just fine in a regular DVD player.
When I said that my games worked when they wanted to, I generalized a little bit. There were a couple games that I somehow got right and I could play almost endlessly. Such games as Spiderman 2 (The Game of The Movie Of The Comic Book), The Mega Man X Collection (which I never got around to finishing), et cetera. I did play these, but with them crashing every now and again, I was better off just trying to get other stuff running.
Later on that year, my console pretty much gave up on me. It would rarely if ever read anything non original, it would crash all the time and I couldn’t do anything about it. At this point we were better, economically speaking, and so I eventually bought a couple games. Fire Emblem, Soul Calibur II and I got Rogue Squadron III from a friend. Needless to say, being the kind of guy who sees a game to the end (even if it means just seeing a different Title screen, like in SCII) I was very interested in those and as such I kept on playing, with my trusty NES emulator and my SNES with some games I had.
But, the console would still clog up and not read anything, so I had to send it to get dusted almsot preiodically, which costed me a lot of money, money I could have used to buy games. The irony is so obvious you couldn’t hide it behind the moon.
By December, Almost two years since I started the whole Piracy thing, I ended up just using the GC to play original games and nothing else because nothing else would read. So, since I did good enough in school I was given the choice of a christmas present, because I was so in dire need of better grades they would promise everything. So I asked for a PS3 on christmas. And I did get it, but I’ll get to that later.
Before that, near the 23rd, the deal we’ve made was for me to get rid of the almost non-functional GC, and I could do whatever I wanted with the money. Also, after getting my PS3, I couldn’t use my SNES anymore. Family reasons, It’s not relevant.
So, I printed a bunch of ads using a pirated Photoshop CS4 On another ciber-café (again, without coffee) next door, and tried to sell the console to no avail. Luckily, the store I trade in games was feeling generous, since they were offering me [$40 USD] for the console and the games, controllers and memory card. It may seem like a really dumb move, but then again, no one wanted to buy the damn thing, and after christmas it would be completely impossible to sell it anywhere at all. So, I got the money and eventually just used it to buy two PS3 games, Fallout 3 and Dragon Age. I spent the last two days before christmas just playing Super Mario World. Also, the store wouldn’t take either Madden or Tiger Woods PGA 05, so, to this day, I’m still stuck with those like a bad habit.
Which is where I learned my last, most important conclusion of all.
Lesson Zero: It just ain’t worth it.
I call it Lesson Zero for two reasons: Firstly, to make an obvious My Little Pony refference, and secondly to emphasize that it was something so basic, I should’ve known beforehand.
After all the time and money I spent on trying to cheat the system and get some free or otherwise cheaper games, I ended up throwing away so much money that would’ve gone to better use if I had just bought original software. I would’ve saved so much money If I had just forgotten about the false promise of cheaper software, cheaper games, ceaper movies, music, etcetera. And even my schoolmates, people who wholeheartedly believe there’s absolutely nothing wrong with stealing videogames, music, and all that, have come to agree with me on the reasons for me not to jailbreak my PS3, I’m still better off paying more for a better service than just scraping by for free.
It took me two years to learn this. I will admit, My boyfriend, Jesse, did play a large role in this, partly because I didn’t want him to think poorly of me because of using pirated software, but in the end, the desition to not use pirated software was something I learned by pure trial and error. I tried, I erred, I learned.
This also made me take upon digital distribution methods like Steam or the PSN Store to get my games. Surprisingly, I’ve payed a fraction of what I used to, and I’ve got almost triple the games I had when I pirated my console, and all of them are perfectly working, in all of their faculties. As for movies, I’ve got Netflix now, which is limited, but has most of what I want, when I want. I’ll admit, most of the games I own on steam were gifts (of which I’ve been quite ungrateful for, sadly), but all of the games I buy in it are one hundred percent worth the money, even just for the pleasure of hacing them work properly. After struggling with things not working so much, you learn to appretiate that.
Probably, If I were to do the same now, that I know all this, I wouldn’t have so much trouble since I already know how to work things. And if you know more about this sort of thing then probably you’ll have a better ride along with all of this. But in the end, my position on this argument stands still. You shouldn’t try to cheat a system that isn’t working against you. And to all of those who are right now enjoying the benefits of Piracy that I couldn’t enjoy myself, think about this: So long as you do your pirating, companies and law enforcers will try and eventually will get you. And when that happens, you won’t be able to jailbreak your way out of trouble.
In an epilogue of sorts, I want to add what happened when I got my PS3.
While my grandmother was buying it (quite efficiently, I must admit, she got me the version with the PS Move for real low cheap), every major retailer kept pushing Softmods and Modchips for her to buy with the console. When I was asked if I wanted to have any of these, My answer was swift, short and to the point.