Torrents and Tech Culture
It’s day four, and “Starcraft 2” seems like it’s never going to download. The timer says there are only ten hours left, but with the summer power cuts and the fluctuating wireless connection speed, tomorrow might not be the day I experience the acclaimed strategy sensation. To be honest, the copy might not even work (it’s the first time I try this), and multiplayer is certainly out of the question.
I guess Syria is a unique place when it comes to entertainment, whether music, movies or games. We not only rely on piracy as our lone source, there is in fact a hierarchy of business specializing in providing you with pirated content.
Let’s start with music. My transition into a pop loving teenager happened in the twilight of the cassette era (I lived through a year of “both choices available”). At that time cassettes were 60sp (1.2$) and the cooler CDs were 75-100sp (1.5-2$). The price made sense to us consumers at the time because we assumed that the stores were copying our CDs from expensive imported originals. I bought a slick Phillips CD player with ESP shock resistance and, God knows how, I used to jog down Villat Street carrying that monstrosity. Several years later, I’m forking out 100sp for a CD with a crappy cover done by a printer in desperate need of new ink, which I will then have to take home, rip on windows media player, figure out the titles of all the songs and rename them so I can copy them to my Ipod Nano and throw said CD into a “might be needed someday” drawer. The owner said I should come back after an hour so he will have had time to torrent it. I told him not to bother. Never bought a CD since, unless it’s a local artist original (also 100sp).
Movies make more sense to buy copies from instead of pirating it yourself I guess, but that is if the store owners are guaranteed to sell you something of quality. This is a normal conversation you have in Syria:
-M3allem! Is this a DVD rip or a Cinema bootleg (or more simply, “wad7a?”)
-Are you sure?
You come back home, proud you were patient enough to wait one month to watch a “clean” version of The Dark Knight while everyone else was raving about how uber it was. Slide the CD in, try to ignore the obvious poor audio and video quality “I’m sure it will get better later”. The camera shakes as the bootlegger hides it in his jacket. Your night is ruined…
Other problems I have personally encountered: Uncopied scenes (I still don’t know the last ten minutes of happy go lucky), blank DVDs, French movies with no subtitles, entire movies in black and white, disappearing sound, etc. When they banned renting and you had to buy, we all figured out we’re screwed. Cinema is virtually non-existant, and with torrenting a movie yourself you had a better chance of getting a good copy, and a bigger collection to choose from. Never mind that it’s free.
I don’t understand, when did they take control? Don’t you find it ridiculous when a store offers “high quality” pirated content? Usually at a much higher price than fellow stores, his place having professional lighting, promising higher chances of working bug-free, and it’s usually the same crap content. Pirates split into clean shiny upper class and messy cluttered lower class. If you look at the scene objectively, you can’t but find it hilarious.
But it wasn’t funny for the poor gamer that is me when I saw the MMORPGs fly right over my head, when I had to play Sims 2 without the ability to rebuild the house and had to cram in my ever growing virtual family… Video games, Movies and Music are entertainment, but there was a time in Syria where frustration would exceed any satisfaction you would hope to get from these sources. Then came the PS3, and everything changed…
Sony had turned it into a juggernaut, and try as they might, Iranians, Russians, Brazilians… rumors were abound, but no one could crack it. At the six month mark, people lost hope. Somebody risked and brought an original Blue-Ray to the market for 4000sp (80$), it was sold. Gradually the market opened up, prices went down, and Syria’s PS3 community was born.
It was a magical moment. You just slide in the disk, and it works. No cracks, bugs, deleted animations, missing voices, crashing, forbidden multiplayer. It simply… works!
Now if you’re under the impression that good for me for being the rich snob who can afford to buy 3000sp games I answer, I wish! I have nowhere near that kind of money. But with the system we have, buying first hand, selling, second hand, lending, renting, exchanging… we have to be one of the most vibrant markets here! I have played 3 games this year so far, amounting to 9000sp (180$). I paid 500sp (10$). It’s delightful, you possess something of value, which you can use to bargain other gamers with. You know that the person taking that “original blue-ray” will treat it with caution and respect, instead of throwing it into a pile of worthless copies, where you will never get it back again, and you just won’t care.
We should have our first full-feature cinema in Aleppo at some time in the next 12 months. We most probably won’t stop torrenting then either, but it will be nice to know that for that special movie, we have the choice to go to the movies, buy soda and popcorn, and just enjoy it.
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