On growing up a gamer (in Malaysia)

[Hi! I’m currently on a three-week holiday in Malaysia, where I lived as a teenager. It’s given me some time to reflect on what living in Malaysia did for me, especially as a gamer.]

Moving to Malaysia transformed me from a kid who liked to play computer games occasionally to a full-on gamer – and I owe it to piracy.

I started out on platforming favourites like Commander Keen, Crystal Caves and Duke Nukem (you know, back when the Duke Nukem series was ACTUAL satire). Games were expensive, though, and nowhere near as commonplace as they are now. I didn’t get new games very often, and when I did, I’d play them for months.

My family’s move to Kuala Lumpur in the late ’90s also marked my sudden immersion in a world where pirated products were sold as casually on the street and in malls as food – where pirated games were so common that no retail outlet even bothered selling genuine games anymore. Myst, a game that I had been eyeing sadly for a year with no hope of buying with my eleven-year-old’s weekly pocket money income, was sudden extremely affordable to me. It was the first game I purchased once the family had settled down and our computer was in operation again.

After all that longing, I found it to be one of the most dull and overhyped games I had ever played.

But who cared? It had cost me only RM10, the equivalent of less than five Australian dollars back then. I bought other games instead. My brother, too, bought games. We were soon swimming in dozens, even hundreds of pirated games in their little plastic sleeves, all the games I had once dreamed of owning but had no chance of affording in Australia. It became necessary for my brother and I to eventually each be given our own computer, as we had so many cheap games between us that sharing time on the family computer was simply not feasible.

The gaming habit persisted throughout my high school years. It was entirely normal for me to get home from school and sit down to an hours-long session of Rollercoaster Tycoon, the Longest Journey, No One Lives Forever, or whatever other game had captured my attention for the moment. With so many affordable games available to me, figuring out which ones were worth playing was crucial, because I simply didn’t have time for them all. I became critical of what I played. I began reading my brother’s imported issues of PC Gamer, and toyed with the fantasy of eventually becoming a game reviewer myself.

It never occurred once to me that piracy was bad, given how well it had served me; I assumed that people who expressed anger about it on internet forums were merely jealous that they did not own as many games as I did. Of course, since becoming a full-time games student and occasional games writer, I’ve now learnt what piracy does to the industry, and I don’t support it – but I won’t deny that I probably wouldn’t be where I am without it.


I don’t pirate games anymore. I have a little more money than I did when I was a teenager, and the availability of games on online outlets like Steam gives me little incentive to find games anywhere else.

I will admit, though, that being back in Malaysia has me tempted again – for different reasons this time, I promise. I’m in the awkward position of wanting to pirate games that I already legitimately own, simply because the download speeds here are so slow in comparison to Australia’s. And yes, though some would probably find it a little sad that I’m still gaming while holidaying in the tropics, that’s simply the person I am, the person that growing up a gamer in Malaysia shaped me to be.


11 thoughts on “On growing up a gamer (in Malaysia)

  1. Now that I think about it, piracy made me a gamer too. My dad and I used to go to “The Commodore Club” that was held at our local council hall where all the members would share Commodore 64 games to copy. Each weekend, my friend who also owned a C64, and I would go over our new finds.

    And then when I had my own PC when I was about 12 I discovered the world of PC game piracy. Friends in high school who had modems would download games from secret piracy bulletin boards and share them around school. (Ooo, pre internet!)

    However, nowadays I have enough money to buy what games I want instead of being arsed looking for a torrent. And Steam is usually cheap plus I want to support the games industry. But it was certainly part of my gaming history too.

    • Oh, we had a similar thing like that in Melbourne. A “computer show” every weekend where we’d buy pirated games on 3.5 inch disks for around $2 each. (I once paid $5 for sidescrolling Prince of Persia… and it turned out to be just a demo version! Rip-off.)

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  3. You mentioning how you would play the same game for months made me wistful for days when it seemed I had less choice and more time to immerse myself in a game.
    Also, not so wistfully, how could remind me of that piece of crap Myst? I had totally forgotten that I had ever bought it all those years ago, the experience of playing it depressed me so much. It was just so…teeeedious. Yet seemingly so successful! A total myst-ery to me!

    I apologise for that last part.

    • Myst was incredibly overhyped, especially compared to other adventure games of the era. I think much of the hype stemmed from the “photorealistic graphics” (which were basically just screenshots of modelled environments, if I recall correctly).

      I liked how the critics called its lack of story and characters a “sense of isolation”.

  4. Yep, hats down to piracy. Fifteen years ago, videogames were — with hardly any exception — not available for legal purchase and you simply couldn’t buy even if you wanted to in the country where I live. I now buy all my games, but without piracy I might have turned out a non-gamer and the industry might have never seen a cent of my money.

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