I've been a third-world pirate for almost 20 years, starting when my father bought the first PC we had, a Commodore-128, continuing up until last weekend when the Mule completed the download of the latest expansion for a popular RTS full of Marines and Orks. I don't necessarily like being a dirty pirate, stealing thousands of man-hours of programming and hard work. I would love to own boxes and manuals. But I can't, and in the past, it wasn't even a viable option. This is my story.
Around 1986 my father bought the C128 from a guy that "imported" them from Brazil. Personal computers were something really new in Argentina, where I live, and almost nobody beside large enterprises owned them (not even the government had them; they kept - and in some places keep - using typing machines). The box included a couple of games (one of them was F-15, manual included, which my father and I played for months). When we got tired of those my brother and I went to the only computer shop we could find and bought more: Giana Sisters, Green Beret and Ghost N' Goblins, which of course weren't originals, just black disks with the names written on them. The disks were defective half the time. There was no place in the country to buy an original game for the C128 or anything else, mostly due to the terrible inflation that followed the overthrow of a military dictatorship in 1982, which made importing things like PCs almost impossible.
That was the beginning.
By 1990 we were over the C128, and we got ourselves an IBM PS-1. The first game we got was Prince of Persia, a pirate copy bought at a perfectly legal computer shop ... that didn't have original games. Then came F-19, Battle Command, Flashback, the LucasArts Adventures, System Shock and Ultima Underworld. All pirate copies, because it was the only way to get them.
By this time, the routine was I'd take the bus with a couple of friends on Saturday afternoons, travel around an hour to get to a pirate joint we found in a newspaper ad, armed with five or 10 disks each (we would pool disks to buy Wing Commander II, for example), pick a game and wait while the Pirate Lord copied the game. Then, we would go back to my house, install all the games we had bought (pizza break included here). Finally, I would give my disks to the other guys, and they would repeat the process on their PCs over the weekend. Many times there would be an error in one of the disks; insults would fly, next Saturday we would go to the Pirate Lord again. Ad infinitum.
Then, one day the Pirate Lord disappeared. When we got to his house, one neighbor said he had stuffed everything (family and furniture) into a truck the week before and never came back. The last game he copied us was the first CD game I had: Rebel Assault. Times were changing.
In 1991 a new president was elected, and one of his first actions was to establish that from then on, our national currency, the Peso, would be equal to the U.S. dollar in value. Imports were on the rise, electronics were booming, Argentineans were traveling all around the world and the first genuine PC games were appearing, supported by the first anti-piracy measures ever. The anti-piracy campaign was actually requested by the software companies coming to Argentina for the first time, like Microsoft. Only top-tier enterprises like Ford and the like were using legal software - and even then, not all of it was legal. (Eventually, even Microsoft relaxed on this, because so few people could afford the cost of the software.) Every other user, gamer or not, used pirated software.