I am a gamer. It flows in my blood. I have played on platforms from early PC gaming to the Xbox360 and PS3. This all comes to me as an ironic little conundrum as I define myself with an identity: I am a Malaysian. To me, the two represent an oxymoron. Realistically, ones nationality should have no bearing to the definition of a gamer, yet I feel every bit as useless and alone as one in this corner of the world.
I am a gamer. Piracy flows in my blood. Legally, the two should represent its own oxymoron. Realistically, it is almost impossible to find the two inseparable here in Malaysia. Exposure to gaming for Malaysians has irrevocably stemmed from the piracy of games, the exception being those with the means to afford otherwise (though that in itself is a point of contention, because even those with the means pirate regardless). The culture here has evolved to a point where copying is so embedded, so prominent, that we have become inveterate software pirates.
To understand how available pirated content here is, here is a picture of a video store.
Unlike DVD stores around the world (the West primarily) where things are available in what I presume to be proper cases and quality packaging, here DVD's are hemmed into plastic squares, barely able to contain the DVD itself let alone their paper printed covers. This store actually plays loud techno as an attraction factor to their stores, and usually itís the store with the loudest music that seems to be frequented by the most customers (whether that's by chance, I am not too sure).
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We have stores that sell gaming equipment here, all fronts for pirating games and selling hacked consoles. So easy it is to procure pirated goods that all you need to do is to buy an Xbox 360 and they will 'flash'
it for you, so you can buy any copied Xbox game you want. So common is the practice, that even when I bought my first original game the attendant's gave me a perplexed look, and asked if I'm sure. It is so cheap to buy a pirated copy here, that given the choice upfront only a fool would buy the original.
It comes to the point where I feel useless as a gamer because I feel so powerless to support the developers that I so dearly love. I feel alone as a gamer because I find no one who shares the passion of gaming immersion. Rampant availability has spoiled society to casual gaming of hardcore products at its finest.
But how could things be so bad? To put things into perspective, I'm a fresh college graduate working a 9-5. It is a non-descript restaurant job earning RM2,500 a month; a pretty decent
rate in Malaysia, considering it's a relatively small restaurant . Before that, assorted part-time work earning RM2,000 a month. We'll get to that.
RM2,500 with an exchange rate of 1USD to RM3 is roughly, 834USD. My living costs, for food, shelter and transport alone run up to 620USD, a rather conservative estimate. Now my insurance for the car and miscellaneous expenses runs up to about a 100USD per month, and look, my budget is already mostly used up. At this point I can barely afford saving let alone Internet. Now if I want to play games
, how on Earth am I supposed to be able to afford such a luxury? So, being the weak human being I am, I buy pirated. Buy mind you, not download.
One of the easier ways to play quality games is through the cyber-cafes. These are stores that rent out decent computers, with superb Internet connectivity to those who don't, giving an opportunity for friends to congregate and play together. They rent out computers at an average price of RM2.00 per hour, (at least in the Klang Valley) an interesting sum.
Frequent visitors include students from the nearby Taylor's college, who play an average of 4 DoTA(Defense of The Ancients) games per visit. Each game takes about an hour to set-up and play, plus an extra hour of waiting for computer problems to fix or being on Facebook. That's about RM10 just for the opportunity to play with friends, the cost of a McDonald's Double Cheeseburger set in Malaysia today with change. Keep in mind any achievements you unlock or games you save will be deleted the next time you play, even if you get the same computer you used the last time you came.
Then there are games like DiRT 3, Fifa 2011, Modern Warfare, Far Cry 2, Dawn of War II, just to name a few. These are all games that have online functionality specifically disabled. Why are they disabled? Or Call of Duty: World at War, when I can't LAN play Nazi Zombies with friends because our games are using the same CD keys. Now it would be wrong to imply piracy at an establishment such as FTZ Asia.net, so I'm merely stating out functioning problems I have when I visit their cyber cafe. I remember finishing Far Cry 2 on these computers, a feat that lasted me about 18 hours: RM36. A good day's work just to finish a relatively sub-par game.
With the rise of P2P "Online Game Platforms" like Garena
, one would think that students would stay home to play. The curious thing is that the culture here is to enjoy such experiences together, shouting at one another across the din of 'Unstoppable' as your teammate either shouts in victory or wails in defeat. Games like DoTA, Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, etc. reign supreme in these cyber cafes, as walking in shows you almost every screen dedicated to people playing them.
Would you look at that. The active computers have either Dota or some variation of Dota (Heroes of Newerth, Dota 2) on its screen.
I've been exposed to games since I was young. Games like Baldur's Gate, Fallout 2 and Roller Coaster Tycoon have all represented very large chunks of my childhood. But really when I was a kid, going into a game store and buying a game didn't seem like stealing to me. It seemed like a pathway to a fantasy, all at a reasonable price. I mean I even thought the games I was buying was legal until I saw the price for some of the original games. RM220 for Dawn of War. RM180 for Oblivion. It was all a perfect fantasy where games were at my grasp and whim.
I still remember when Dawn of War II first came out, it was about RM240 for the collector's edition (it came with a shirt which I still cherish). I had been saving up for a few months, scrimping on plain coconut oil rice and Roti everyday (about RM6 in total a day). Then when I bought it, I remember being proud. Proud that I now own something original which I loved. I went back home to install it, and my brother offered to help me since he had a Steam account.
I didn't quite understand what all of that meant, so I let him. About an hour later, he tells me its installed but I couldn't play. So that made me a little suspicious. So I tried to open my own Steam account and install it myself, but I couldn't, since it had already been registered to another account. Puzzled, I asked my brother what that meant and he told me that he registered to his account and thus I had to use his account to play. Okay, so when I got the details off from him, I went in and it turns out it wasn't installed properly. Right. So, I try to uninstall it and yet the CD Key doesn't match the one of the game. Huh?
It has been quite a while and my memory fails me for a bit. All I remember is being repeatedly frustrated at figuring out the entirety of Steam, that I just decided to trash the whole idea of it and pirate Dawn of War II and play it from there. Why can't it be that simple to install it and play? Sometimes I just wonder at all these games that need online connectivity as I can't AFFORD better internet. So how can I play your game, if the connection is so laggy? I mean I got burned on that with Diablo 3 when I couldn't get out of the first town because my internet was so bad.
The gaming culture in Malaysia, at least specifically the context in which I was brought up in, has been ingrained with irrefutable acceptance of piracy. To a child with RM10 allowance, a pirated RM10 game is still a lot of pocket money to spend on a game. I mean when I was growing up such games were often gifts on special occasions, the rest downloaded and burnt by my brother to play. I truly love developers such as Interplay, Relic and Obsidian Entertainment. I want to support them to my heart's content. But given the opportunities and just plain misunderstanding I have of their set-ups and requirements I feel so powerless to do so. Given all these unbelievably simple and cost-effective opportunities in comparison with their restrictive DRM, who could resist such easy access?