As I’m sitting down to write this, I’m experiencing involuntary eyelid twitches. Some of that is down to nicotine withdrawal, but it’s mostly because I CANNOT wait for my pre-ordered copy of BioShock: Infinite to arrive. Now, the average Indian video gamer probably just read that and said to himself, “Haha, stupid douche. Who BUYS games? Just get the TPTB rip brooo. Piratebay4life!”, but for those of us who have transcended piracy (i.e. have jobs and/or rich parents), I think it’s pretty damned cool that you can get almost every major video game release on day zero. Especially in a country that insists on believing that the cutting edge of technology is a cheap-ass tablet championed by a pair of walking eyebrows.
As Indian gamers, most of us who didn’t have an aunt in the US or miscellaneous “contacts”, went through an inadvertent life of crime.
Let’s make no bones about this. As Indian gamers, most of us who didn’t have an aunt in the US or miscellaneous “contacts”, went through an inadvertent life of crime. There was a time, not so long ago, when pre-ordering a game meant making a trip to the local guy who sat with a baakda outside a railway station and saying, “Arre Mudassar Bhai, download kar ke rakh, mai aa raha hai kal” (Usually followed by “Woh latest Lisa Ann wali DVD aayi hai kya?”). Up until 2007-08, every hope of getting a recent title that didn’t have the word ‘FIFA’ in its name, revolved around Mudassar Bhai, whether you liked it or not. Not because you couldn’t afford it. You just couldn’t find it anywhere, and no amount of piggy-banked savings could change that. There was no Flipkart or Game4u back then. Steam was nascent in the extreme, and the internet was too slow for it to be a remotely viable option anyway. The only half-legitimate videogame source was the grey market (known to most Mumbaikars as Heera Panna). A trip to Crossword or Planet M counted as an adventure purely out of the HOPE that you might find a copy of GTA III lying around somewhere. The only videogames your local computer store guy had heard of were Super Mario Brothers (known to him, of course, as just ‘Mario’) and Cricket ’97 (Ashes Tour Edition).
And so, everyone had a guy. He was the gateway drug to the world of piracy. But he still took a week to get the game. But then, in around 2006, this thing called affordable broadband internet arrived (with almighty speeds of 256kbps). People started throwing around magical words like torrents, ISOs, and high-definition porn. Most of Mumbai’s gaming cafes started running downloaded copies of the latest videogames. Suddenly, Mudassar Bhai was no longer necessary. Everyone talked about learning how to download ISOs, mount virtual drives, and use odd pieces of software called Alcohol 120% (which incidentally is also what they call bootlegged liquor in eastern India). Most serious gamers knew the intricacies of downloading bootlegged games inside out (“Did you install the crack? It’s in the ‘Razor1911’ folder, idiot. Yeah, it makes the game start with that 8-bit music”), because that was what it took for us to get the games we wanted.
A Game4u store in Mumbai
Seven years ago, the closest thing to a collector’s edition was a DVD from Mudassar Bhai that had less than seven scratches on it.
Thankfully, things are different now. Yes, piracy is still rampant; not just in India, but all over the world, and let’s face it— no amount of DRM is ever going to change that (you listening, EA?), but the difference is that we now have a community of good people that want to give videogames their due. Gaming is finally being viewed as a mainstream form of entertainment. You can buy every game you want to from Flipkart or Game4U on a whim. Heck, you can even preorder collector’s editions. Seven years ago, that was unthinkable. The closest thing to a collector’s edition was a DVD from Mudassar Bhai that had less than seven scratches on it. It may all seem commonplace right now, but having been through close to half a decade of strife (and essentially crime) to just get the games I wanted within the month of release, the ease with which I can buy my games today is still kind of amazing to me. And as gamers in this country, we should be thankful for it. I know I sound like your mom, but it’s true. It’s hypocritical of me to say this, but I’ll do it anyway. If you still pirate games— don’t. Think of it as your favourite recreational ‘substance’. Sure, you can buy the cheap shit from the local guy, but there ain’t nothing like the real stuff from Manal… I mean Flipkart.
Azeem Banatwalla is a writer and stand-up comedian. He spends bewildering amounts of time and money adding things with fans and blue lights to his gaming rig, refusing to play any game below the absolute maximum visual spec. He’s a PC gaming snob, although he does occasionally miss playing old-school Sonic on his Sega Mega Drive 2. Views expressed are Azeem’s own and do not reflect those of IVG’s editorial staff.