Editor’s Note: We’re not big fans of piracy under any circumstances, but we thought Allistair’s post was a good conversation starter…. -Demian
I have something to confess. Yesterday, when I went to the Valero down the block, I did something I probably should feel ashamed of. I pumped a couple tanks of gas into my Honda, paid the obligatory $32, and decided to step inside the store to get something to drink. After taking a bottle of Fuze (green tea always) from the fridge, I eyed a mostly delicious package of Corn Nuts. Feeling I paid enough to the greedy bastards of the Valero corporation, I sneaked the package into my pocket. I paid for the drink and the gas, and got some Corn Nuts for free–although, we all know the price of gas and the overpriced drink would also cover the Corn Nuts if the store had any interest in being fair. Yet, I still feel no remorse for my actions.
Here’s another confession: That Corn Nut thing isn’t actually true. I don’t steal from stores, I don’t scam eBay users, and I always put back what I borrow from someone. However, there is one unethical thing that I do on a frequent basis: I pirate games. I’m not going to argue that it is objectively right, but I can never feel guilty for taking a product and not giving anything back in return when it comes to media readily available on torrent sites. So much of this has to do with how openly accepted the act of piracy is. I remember when people used the term warez and felt like they actually accomplished something when they finally found a working link to download Final Doom over their 56k modem. When people tell me they have DirectTV, I tell them I have The Pirate Bay as if it’s a no-brainer alternative. When no one except the corporations are condemning your actions, it’s a lot easier to get something for free without a guilty conscience.
Last week, when I walked into Game Crazy, I didn’t feel an impulse to shoplift a game. The thought never even occurred to me. You can say it’s because there is a much greater risk and degree of difficulty when you compare shoplifting to clicking your mouse a couple times. But, really, it was because there was someone else in the room. Someone who obnoxiously asks me to preorder every game I ask about, someone who insists on giving me a five-minute speech about buying an EXTREME GAMERS SAVINGS CARD, but he is ultimately someone I feel a need to pay because, at the end of the day, he is going home to a life not so different than my own, one that is far removed from a utopia where everything is free, only a couple clicks away.
We never feel guilty for taking something unless there is a human face involved–or at least I don’t. Whether it’s an indie game developer making a plea to torrent users or Tim Schafer asking his fans to buy his merch if not his game, people will respond and pay up when reminded that games that have a heart and soul are made by people who bear the same. As for the industry giants, I think of them almost like a vending machine that has unfairly eaten enough of my quarters over the years. Yet, I have a feeling if I ever bumped into the maintenance guy, I’d be compelled to say thanks and give him fair pay for all the times I stuck my hand in and stole a Snickers bar. It’s just so hard to be mean to the guy when he is standing in front of you.
I write this not to advocate piracy or assuage any of my own guilt, but to make sense of what seems like a rather unfair act: piracy. The average consumer only has so much money to spend on games. Time, seen as a form of currency, is similarly in short supply. We buy the games that we can and pirate the rest. The sad truth is that once you start pirating, it becomes easy to forget you ever paid for a game. It’s important, then, to remember the little guy, like Double Fine Productions (makers of Psychonauts) or ACE Team (Zeno Clash), when you do spend whatever money in your pocket on whatever game you only have so much time to play.
[This article originally appeared on Playthroughs.com]