Scattered Discs And One Dollar Video Games

When I was a kid, my Dad didn't just condone piracy, he actively encouraged it.

"Why would ye pay 20 quid for a game when ye can get it for two pounds at the Barras?" He would ask. I was only nine years old. It was hard to argue with that logic.

'The Barras': in Glasgow, Scotland, it's a legitimate institution. Historically, it was a marketplace where vendors sold fruit and veg -- the Australian equivalent would be a Queen Victoria or a Paddy's Market. Nowadays, it's a hotbed for minor criminal activity: clothes 'aff the back ae a lorry', a multitude of bongs for stoners -- my brother still buys Calvin Klein boxer shorts from 'The Barras' to this day. He sent me some for my birthday. I'm wearing them right now.

But when I was nine years old, the Barras represented one thing and one thing only. Video games.

The Barras smelt like cheap hamburgers and hangovers. I'd clutch my pocket money firmly and try in vain to keep up with my Dad as he power-walked through the crowds. Half walk, half run, a thin spray of mud sticking to the back of my jeans, a grotty layer of grime clinging to my skin -- The Barras smelled like poverty. It always seemed to be raining at the Barras. It felt vaguely like being on the set of a Ken Loach movie.

Climbing upstairs, bustling past the hordes, tucked in the corner, a man with an open briefcase. He hands out a book; covered in plastic and fingerprints. Inside a list of almost every Amiga game imaginable. Point to the ones you want, hand over your pocket money. Wait.

The atmosphere was bizarre. The scene was primed for fast escapes -- games in briefcases that could be closed within seconds, kids on the street watching for Coppers -- there was a tangible sense of danger, alongside the excitement.

I could come home with seven brand new games for 20 pounds. And I did this. Frequently.

I had hundreds of discs lying around, scattered in my bedroom, the names scribbled in biros. Kick Off 2, Zool, Robocop -- and I can't tell you single thing about any of them. Not really. Frequently the discs wouldn't work, or they'd work for a while then, bizarrely, stop. I didn't care. I really didn't care.

As a nine year old utterly in love with games, it wasn't long before I lost respect for the value of them.

I didn't understand why at the time, but I always spent more time with the games I bought legitimately, games I paid a significant amount of money for. Both Monkey Island games, Rainbow Island, these games I knew I wanted, games I was excited about, games I got as Christmas presents -- they felt like objects to be treasured, to be played and replayed. I would never scatter the four discs that made up Monkey Island across my floor like garbage; I'd lay them out in perfect order. I treated them with respect. But why?

Does paying a significant amount of money for something automatically provide it with a certain amount of value? I’m honestly not sure. I can’t say I enjoy spending $140 on Street Fighter II for my SNES, but part of me enjoyed having spent it. Part of me enjoyed the ‘ownership’ that comes with that investment, and the value that investment gave me on a personal level.

Nowadays the discs scattered across my bedroom have been replaced with promotional copies -- games I’ll most likely never play, never value. My steam account is cluttered with games bought in sales, my iPhone stuffed with Apps I paid less than a dollar for -- content I take for granted, content I don’t really value, scattered haplessly across every games machine I own, like discs on my bedroom floor -- unplayed, unloved.

“Why would ye pay 20 quid for a game when ye can get it for two pounds at the Barras?”

I still don’t really have an answer for that, and maybe I never will -- nothing more that a strange need to own something, and do justice to that ownership. Maybe media really is only worth what you’re willing to pay. Maybe we need to suffer the consequences of that.


Comments

    It's an interesting point. Speaking for myself I'd say I think age plays a factor in this, since I treasure some of my NES and SNES games more than anything else, and I got most of them fairly cheap. But then maybe thats also because I couldnt afford them when I was a kid? HMMMMMMMMM!

    Also, doesnt it rain every day in Scotland anyway?

      I went to Scotland once and it didn't rain on one of the days, but the mist was set in and you couldn't see more then 50 meters, that tour bus trip around Edinburgh was worth it.

      SUGHLY!

      Also, very true. Particularly loved this sentence: "I can’t say I enjoy spending $140 on Street Fighter II for my SNES, but part of me enjoyed having spent it."

      A nigh-perfect representation of consumerism, at least as I experience it.

    I know what you mean, man. I've still got adventure games from the mid 90s fully boxed, with instruction manuals and discs in mint condition. (My brother on the other hand tended to treat even his new games as coasters for Pepsi then... beer now. All his games scratched and broken.)

      I should also clarify that I don't think the price of admission elevates a game in any way, it's the willingness to spend the money on a game that sets it apart -- a game you're excited for, read about for months, has a place in your heart. I can't speak for everyone, but I treat games that fits this criteria like a first edition of a book. Sure you can get it cheaper, used or paperback, but there's something special about owning this. Having a place on the shelf. If a game actually lives up to the hype, all the better. :P

    Similar thing in Auslandia. Market stalls would always have shareware and retail PC games in a mix of disks for $5 a pop.

    The Fairfield Markets had someone doing that with Amiga games for a couple of months, and then they stopped showing up.

    There used to be sales by the chains every three to six months, which was usually a good chance to nab a bargain. After playing a demo for The Addams Family to death for months, we finally got a copy of the full game for something silly like $10. Proceeded to play that one to death too.

    A few years prior, I got It Came From The Desert for my birthday. Would have cost the folks $80 from memory. Played it to death too, yet never finished it back in the day. Finally saw the end when playing it on UAE and abusing state saves.

    These days, I have games in my collection I've never even loaded up. Die By The Sword is probably the record holder there.

    For some reason i am ALWAYS willing to pay more for physical media rather than digital. i love cherishing and not being able to forget the game exists in my collection.

    Lovely article, yet again, chief!

      Yeah, I agree. I don't just buy games randomly. They're not disposable to me. It's something I want to hold in my hands and have in my collection. I agree with Mark, my iPad is littered with cheap stuff I've had for months that I haven't touched.

    It's the whole availability thing, when you're a kid buying games you might be lucky to get 2 new ones a year so you appreciate the hell out of them because that's all you had. My Master System / Megadrive / Snes collection are nothing compared to my 360/PS3/Wii pile which contain many games I will probably never bother to complete. I have the spare income, I have cheaper overseas options, so I buy most of what I want. But then the pile of shame becomes the too hard pile.

    This year I've decided to make an effort to cut way back on what games I buy, and the few that I do get will be played to completion. I figure that any big titles I miss out on now will be available for $5 in a Steam sale in a few years anyway so I won't really be missing out on much.

      This - Is exactly my problem now. Going from 1-2 games a year to having 10+ a year, it just yields a meh factor and my "too hard pile" is currently consisting of 100+ steam games I've not touched or barely played.

      Cutting back is a problem though as the collector in me doesn't care. There will always be more appreciation when you have less of it!

    I bought a couple PS1 games from the Barras back in the day. That's where I picked up the first MGS game.

    At one point in the game you are instructed to call Meryl. But how? I didn't have her codec frequency. What the hell was going on?

    Then I'm told to check the back of the box. I look at the cheap colour photocopy and can make out that there is in fact a screenshot of Snake talking to Meryl although any further detail is completely obscured.

    I ended up having to call round my friends to see if any could help.

    It was odd explaining that I'd bought a pirated game that they had paid full price for. I felt like a cheat, a conman, but worst of all, I felt poor.

    As a kid we won't the most expensive trainers to show off. Everyone had to get the latest football strip. Only the poor kid wore last season's )It was even worse if the sponsor changed). One of the worst things someone could imply was that you were somehow less well off that the rest of them. That you were lacking.

    And pirated games were an extension of that. You weren't saying "Ha! I'm smart! I got this game for cheaper than you did!". What you were saying was "I'm too poor to afford proper games" and these little bastards, the discs of shame weren't worth as much as the thoroughbred games. the pure, untainted masterpieces. It was like the difference in owning an original Rembrandt or a cheap knock off.

    Maybe.

    That's just my 2 cents.

      You have had a very shallow my friend

    I've got a big Coles enviro bag at home filled to the top with games I've received for free. They sit in a corner. I don't really care if the bag goes missing, if someone takes anything from it, or if a part of the house collapses and crushes everything in the bag. The games I've bought myself sit on a wooden shelf. If I lend them to people I always make sure to get them back, I don't like having them moved and I liked to know that they're kept in the one spot. I'd be disappointed if they went missing.

    The perceived value of a thing IS the value of a thing, especially when it comes to commodities like videogames.

      Tracey, if one of those games is Tales of the Abyss (3DS) feel free to send it my way. Can't find a copy in any of the JBs close to home or work.

      Tracey, if one of those games is *any game title here* feel free to send it my way.
      But seriously, now that I buy my own games I value them more than when my 'rents bought them of me.

    You see, I'm the exact opposite with my promo games. I've got about 15 of the PS3 ones (the ones with the white discs) and i treat them like they are like my unborn disc shaped children.

    I think it has to do with quantity, too.
    When I was growing up I lived in a small town, the only way to get games was to borrow them or have someone give you a copy, and even then they were scarce.
    I treasured games like Commander Keen, Altered Beast, Golden Axe, all on PC and all pirated. But they were few and far between.
    I eventually played my way through the entire commander keen series on pirated floppys.
    I even gave GhostBusters 2 a crack, although there was no manual and no instructions. Never got far.
    Even the shareware versions of games we got, including duke nukem 2 and halloween harry, were treasured because there wasn't much choice.
    If you're swamped with games, buying 20 with your weekly pocketmoney you'll be too busy sampling them to really experience any.

    Oh wow the Barras, I went there back in '09. According to my family it's a shell of it's former self but I did manage to grab Brothers in Arms for cheap! I think the police nail down on the bootlegged and stolen stuff though, to be fair I didn't know where to look for the 'hidden' merchandise.

    Funnily enough when I went it was raining (was pretty much sunny every other day I was there) and it still smells of poverty.

    I'm still depressed they tore down Merry-Lee School :( that's where I grew up dammit!

    Your concern would be valid if you think of games only as a product as a physical item. I'd value my $200 headphones a lot more than a cheap $5 pair of earbuds that I've picked up from the corner store.

    But if you think of games are experiences, then the concern is less valid, and less tied into the dollar value it is attached to. I value my experience of playing One Chance, a free game from Kongregate, much higher than a full priced game. And the same can be said for my time with Auditorium, which I've spent only $1 on.

    Your concern ultimately stems from how you view the role and purpose of games.

    Digital distribution definitely takes the shine off 'owning' a legitimate copy. Carefully laying out file names on your Vita in perfect order just doesn't feel the same.

    Same, Mark. I was drowning in a sea of ill-gotten, unloved Amiga games at the same age, but when my 'bought copy' of Monkey Island 1 and 2 arrived I treated them like sacred shrines. So much so, when a 'mate' tried to destroy the included piracy prevention decoder wheel (to photocopy it) I leapt to my Monkey Island's defence by stabbing him in the leg with a pen.

    I look at the games I buy today and feel a bit sad that I can't hold them in the same awe. I've lost that shankin' feelin'...

      Remind me to bring your copy of Shadow of the Colossus back sans damage!

    Did anyone else read Mark's dads voice in the voice of the mortar guys from Warcraft 3?

      It was totally the dad's voice from How To Train Your Dragon to me for some reason. :P

        Mark's dad is King Leonidas?!

    I had basically the same experience with Caribbean Gardens in Victoria.

    Understand completely.
    I had a chip in my psone, I have one in my Wii and run custom firmware on my PSP.

    That alone ruined so many games for me since I didn't have to pay for any of them.

    When I got my Xbox there was the opportunity to mod it and later on in the PS3's life I had the chance to put CFW on that, I chose not to.
    If I had, I'd be downloading all sorts of games, playing them for an hour or two and then downloading another game and not enjoying any of them.

    If I pay real money for a game, I put effort into completing it.

    ...that's why I buy my games from the UK with it's hilariously collapsing pound. Because if I pay $45 for a game that's $100 here I really don't care if it's crap, I just throw it out.

    I have always felt like this.

    I am a reformed pirate (mostly) but do not pirate video games at all any more. I have a stack of over 100 xbox1 games and and perhaps 50+ 360 games and I place no value on them at all. I have hardly touched any of them and never finished them (there was perhaps a few).

    I now have multiple consoles, and a decent stack of games. I still buy cheap (ozgame/sales) and trade where I can, but you can be damn sure I value these games so much more for having paid for them.

    So the solution for piracy is making games cost money??? WE DID IT!!!!!! We solved Piracy!

    Also, Trials Evolution!

      Even if you're no longer a pirate, you're still fat.

      And shady.

        Allmost the solution, just make them cheap and people will buy. I was in JBHIFI and I almost bought Tintin today, $74, would have been impulse buy but went nah, itll be $25 soon, preowned or online. Ill wait, but most likely never get it now because he will be over Tintin.

        They lost a sale.

        If they made it $40 id have got it, and dare i say other recent game @ $40. I reckon I am not the only one.

    PLEAD THE FIFTH!

    One of my most treasured games is One Must Fall 2097, of which I definitely do not have a legit copy of. I do however have a legit copy of its 'sequel' One Must Fall: Battlegrounds, which is effectively regret in a box

    CU Amiga
    *eyes-welling-with-tears salute*

    ..loved coverdisks. I believe I actually have some of the disks in that photo

    I can tell you these kinds of markets still operate in Melbourne and Geelong, though I always had a Gamecube so there was never any action on that front.

    Interestingly (not quite piracy but against corporate wishes) back in my Canberra days I bought a special cartridge for my N64 that allowed me to play American games in the console - the US cart would plug in the top of the cart and you plug a PAL game in the back and it tricks the unit into thinking it's playing a PAL game!

    You're right about valuing games you pay money for - I couldn't care less about any of my mobile phone games and since TF2 when Free I've actually played the xbox version more (though that's also a function of my PC not being able to handle detailed textures!)

    Wow..... This article brought back a flood of memories!!! I too trudged through the Barras as a kid!! I remember there being at least 5 major stops throughout, to see which "vendor" had what in terms of the latest Amiga games lol. It became a Saturday ritual almost :D That being said, I actively searched out the legit boxed versions of these games when I could find them (I loved, and miss those awesome chunky boxes!). Fantastic read (or, "pure dead brilliant!")

    Side note and I realise this is extremely pedantic but it's a pet peeve of mine:

    Floppies are disks, with a k, shortened form of diskette. Hard disks are the same. CDs/DVDs/LDs etc are discs, with a c, as in flat circular object.

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