Experience Points: My Gaming Childhood Was Pirated
South Africa is a pretty weird place. I was born at the end of 1980s and grew up with videogames from a very young age. My first introduction to the wonderful world of gaming was through a console known as the Golden China. To my knowledge, I didn’t know that I was playing 8-bit games on an illegally cloned Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES for short). The Golden China was one of the very first console clones of the highly popular NES, which came into prominence during the early 1990s.
Nintendo did not officially release the NES into the South African market and since then there have been many NES console clones made available. They are known by many names in South Africa such as TV Games, Golden China and PolyStation. At present, many clones have made their way into the South African market, with console clones of both the NES and Sega Mega Drive (or Genesis) still being sold. Cloned consoles can be easily found at stores across the country. Ironically, this is quite funny as Nintendo now has such a strong presence in South Africa, following the rise in popularity of the Wii and Nintendo DS platforms.
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Following the NES clone that I played for much of the early 1990s, I moved on to the Sega Mega Drive which was my first 16-bit console. This was one of the first consoles that I vividly remember in the greatest detail. I played games like the Lion King, Aladdin, Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Mortal Kombat 2 and many more. Some of these games were pirated games. Sega’s presence in South Africa was very limited at the time, and as a result piracy was running rampant.
As a kid, I didn’t realise that many of the Sega games I owned were pirated. Only later on, when I was much older, did I realise that memories of my childhood gaming nostalgia had been instilled through pirated games. It was a horrifying thought. But there was not much to be done. During the 1990s in South Africa, both Sega and Nintendo were not concerned with piracy in the country. We were, and still are, a third world country and actual console hardware piracy isn’t strictly targeted in the country. Only very recently is piracy of videogames being dealt with in South Africa. But the responses to piracy by the authorities are very limited, if non-existent at all.
I now legally buy all of my games. However, I cannot forget that my core gaming experience was founded on pirated games, and consoles, manufactured in China. Nearly all South African gamers have had their childhood gaming years forged in the fake plastic of Golden Chinas, PolyStations and TV Game consoles. This is how many South Africans had their 8-bit and 16-bit fixes back in the day. There were similar situations, like the one in South Africa, in many countries.
I’m not proud of my pirated past. Nevertheless, I am glad that I had those experiences. They were a gateway to numerous fulfilling gaming experiences that I have now enjoyed, in a legally sound manner of course. At least now my gaming habits don’t contravene a number of Nintendo patents and copyrights. During my childhood, gaming was very simple, much like the console wars between Sega and Nintendo were. Cloned NES and Sega Mega Drive consoles are still being sold across South Africa. The pirated past is very much alive in South Africa.