The Zen of Video Games – Reverse Piracy


I’m a lot of things, most notably incredibly socially awkward and gifted with amazing sexual prowess. But I’m a little ashamed to admit that I also used to be….buck up, lad, be brave enough to say it….I used to be a salty sea dog.

It was in college, I think, when I started pirating games for my own use (I never sold games I pirated, that’s a level of wrong that even my morally-bankrupt ass won’t stoop to). My family didn’t have a lot of money, so what little I had tended to be saved for unimportant things like food and school supplies and alcohol. Wait, what am I saying?! I mean just food and alcohol.

And one dark day, when clouds rolled overhead and lightning ripped apart the sky, and the air was filled with contaminants that leeched the common sense and goodness from innocent college students (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), I sat hunched over my keyboard in my dorm room, idly surfing the wonders of the internet, and I learned of a cheat device for the Sony Playstation that would also allow people of dubious ethical constraints to play copied games. And I thought, wow, that would be cool, if I had access to one of those newfangled CD burners – LIKE THE ONE MY BUDDY DOWN THE HALL JUST GOT.

Now, I’d like to inform you that I did think of how this might all be wrong, and how those game developers were depending on game sales to pay their salaries, and they all had tiny, tiny babies that would cry if their parents couldn’t afford baby food because I stole from them. I’d LIKE to inform you of this, but I can’t, because it’s laughably untrue. About the only thing that went through my mind was “FREE GAMES?! ERMAHGERD AND HERLY SHIRT!!”

The few times I got called out on it, I responded with the same arguments you’ll see anywhere piracy is being defended. “The company wasn’t going to get my money anyways, I can’t afford the game as it is.” Or “The games industry is bloated and corrupt, and this is how I protest against them.” Or “I have unlimited high speed bandwidth here, it would be a shame to waste it, and there’s only so much hardcore porn I can download in a day.”

But I knew what I was doing was wrong, and that niggling little blob of guilt hovered over me as I played every game I downloaded. I know the difference between right and wrong, but I have not always made the right choices in life. This was one of the wrong ones.

Long story short, I eventually got out of college and into the real world. Once I had a job and could afford these games, that excuse was gone, and combined with my guilt, I pretty much stopped pirating completely – with a few exceptions for when a game I bought was broken thanks to DRM, and had to turn to pirates to get a working copy of the game. Seriously, EA, Ubisoft, when the pirates are providing a better service than you are, you guys should be as embarrassed as I was when I went on a dating show and was asked if size mattered.

Nowadays, I have an even better-paying job, and I can afford pretty much any video game I really want, and I’m frequently happy to pay full price for games that I can depend on being good, like Borderlands 2 and Skyrim. In fact, to a small degree, I feel like I’m atoning for my pirating sins.

But now karma has come full circle, and I have a new problem that’s the complete opposite of piracy. Instead of playing games I didn’t pay for, now I’m paying for games I’m not playing.

I have 130 games on Steam, and after organizing them into Finished, Not Finished, and Unplayed, I found I’ve finished only about a tenth of the games I own. 65 haven’t even been played yet, and the remaining 40% of them are unfinished. I like to make math even more confusing than it already is.

I feel like I’ll never be able to get to and finish all of them, even the really good ones, like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. On the one hand, this is a really crappy thing to complain about, like saying I bought the wrong iPad, or I can’t fit all of my Lambourghinis in my driveway, or there’s a ginger in my harem. #FirstWorldProblems

At the same time, it definitely feels like a problem, like when I’m at work, and the things I need to do just keep piling up until I just want to run outside, strip naked, and scream obscenities as I run down the street. Only this time, I wouldn’t be doing it on a bet.

I’ve bought games I literally know next to nothing about. I have no idea what happens in any of the Fallout 3 DLC. All I know about Alan Wake is that he’s got a flashlight and a gun, and he’s in or near a wooded area. Hydrophobia has something to do with water, and I think the main character is a girl. That’s all I can conclude from the title and a faint memory of a screenshot.

As far as I can tell, there are two primary causes for this problem. First, digital game sales are ludicrously awesome. Full games can frequently be found at 50%, 75%, and 90% off at Steam, Amazon, GreenManGaming and the like. And not just older games or games that weren’t that good – I got Spec Ops: The Line, Bioshock, and Bioshock 2, all for $20 at Amazon. That’s three high-quality AAA games for $6.66 each – and Spec Ops was selling for the $60 standard at the time!

This means that poor gamers can afford games they might not otherwise get to play, and gamers like me who have more disposable income can start huge collections they’ll never be able to finish. It’s a really small downside, looking at the big picture. More games to more people can only be a boon to the industry.

And the second cause is time. There simply isn’t enough time. Gaming is no longer the only thing I do in my free time. I go to improvisational comedy classes, I write articles for Leviathyn, and I talk to girls until they walk away hurriedly.

I know I’m not the only person with this problem – it seems like I can’t go a day without seeing a post about it on a forum somewhere, and the conversation that follows is usually fascinating. Some gamers take the organizational approach like me, dividing their games into categories and then tackling their unfinished games one at a time, and others seem content to say, well, that means I’ll always have a good game I can play, so I don’t see the downside here, and still others go “THERE ARE CHILDREN IN THE WORLD WHO DON’T KNOW IF THEY’LL GET TO EAT TODAY, AND YOU’RE BITCHING THAT YOU HAVE TOO MANY VIDEO GAMES?!”

And all three of those responses are right, in my opinion. The best way to solve a problem is to define it and tackle it one piece at a time, like the organizational approach. It’s also not really that big of a problem – it IS really nice to know that I’ve got other good games waiting for me once I finish Borderlands 2. And thirdly, if one has so much money that they’ve got a backlog of video games, maybe it’s time to stop buying video games for a while, and time to start sharing some of that money with the less fortunate.

As my mother would say, there are children in Africa who only have one game on Steam.