Earlier today an old internet friend from 8 or 9 years ago hit me up on AIM out of the blue. He goes by 'Nappo' and ran a file sharing server on Carracho when I was in high school.
Back before the days of torrents, online piracy was a lot more fun and a lot less impersonal. You had to wheel and deal your way into favor with server admins, upload requests, and generally jump through hoops to earn your access. Some servers charged monthly membership fees. A bunch of servers routinely blipped in and out of existence.
Meanwhile growing up I had no allowance. My parents would buy me Nintendo games and stuff but no Mac games, at least not after I developed a raging addiction to Diablo 2. So I'd come home from school and I'd be bored out of my mind. (Diablo 2 was strictly metered.) I was so bored I would spend hours browsing MacUpdate checking out random Mac freeware and shareware apps and games.
So when I discovered Carracho and this sprawling underworld of servers full of Mac software and games to download… it was a revelation. I just had to find my in.
There were plenty of free servers out there, but they quickly filled up with users and bandwidth would reduce to a crawl. You might spend a week slowly downloading half of Black & White, then get kicked off the server without warning. I spent a few months drifting from server to server until I stumbled on Nappo's high speed server hosted somewhere in Italy.
I remember chatting with him here and there and generally being blown away by the speed of his server and his up to date library of Mac games… and more alluringly, the latest Adobe and Apple betas. Like most servers there was the request folder, but the other people on Nappo's servers were pros and would upload the latest and greatest the day they arrived. I had no chance.
I think I uploaded a beta of iStorm, this Mac shareware app I was working on with my Dad that summer. Miraculously, Nappo granted me access.
The next few months were an exciting and colorfully pixelated blur. This is the stage of a pirate's life where you become a collector, which may as well be a euphemism for becoming jaded. It became more about filling out my binder of burned CD's, and I started playing less and less of the games I pirated as I became more of a media cynic.
Still, there were vivid highlights. There was the Mac OS X Jaguar beta where the rainbow spinner of death briefly turned a gumdrop blue. There was the pristine Divx screener copy of The Two Towers just a week after it hit theaters. I remember being blown away by Black & White's gesture based controls, and completely sucked into the world of Star Wars again with Knights of the Old Republic.
Baldur's Gate II was my white whale. For six months I only had the first two disks, not quite enough to finish the install, and it became almost a fetish I had to satisfy. Installing that game was far more satisfying than playing it.
I don't think I've pirated an app or game in years now. I am a dutiful App Store and Steam and Xbox Live Arcade customer. I own crates of video games, shelves of books and boxes of Bluray movies. I've helped sell millions of dollars of Mac software to customers over the years at MacHeist and a couple million copies of my own apps on the App Store. I guess to the type of people who are terrified of the very word 'pirate', I'm a rare reformed past-offender.
But when I look back at my experience pirating as a kid in high school, there's a part of me that really treasures the experience. I'm not really ashamed of it – if anything I'm thankful. There was something really magical about hitting the tap and receiving a never-ending stream of games, software, and other digital art that I couldn't dream to afford or try out back then… It felt like having the keys to a secret garden, and I think I owe a lot of my developed tastes today to the breadth of software experiences pirating on Carracho lent me.
I also realized I owed Nappo quite a bit, and had to thank him. So I did.
As for what he's up to now, it sounds like Nappo moved on from pirating years ago. Apparently he's excited for a new terabit pipe though… I like to think he has some fun plans for all that bandwidth. :)
Surely I'm not alone having grown up with a positive relationship with piracy?