[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.