NPR’s Ailsa Chang speaks with Kyle Orland, a senior gaming editor at Ars Technica, on forged copies of old PC video games discovered in the world of rare PC game collecting.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. So powerful, some people spend thousands of dollars or more collecting old memorabilia, including old PC video games. But recently, the tight-knit world of PC game collecting was upended by allegations that one of its most prominent figures has been selling and trading forgeries. Kyle Orland is senior gaming editor at Ars Technica and detailed this whole saga there. He joins us now to talk about it. Welcome.
KYLE ORLAND: Thanks for having me.
CHANG: Well, thanks for being with us. So this scandal, it involves a man named Enrico Ricciardi. And just briefly, like, explain who he is and what exactly he’s been accused of.
ORLAND: Yeah. Ricciardi is a fashion photographer out of Italy. He’s also one of the longest-standing members of this niche community of high-end PC game collectors, been collecting since the ’90s. And he was kind of considered an authority on these games – the different versions of them, how to spot fakes. There are conversations where he has alleged other people of forgeries. But recently, and totally independently, two different groups of collectors started noticing some signs of forgery on games that they had gotten from Ricciardi.
CHANG: Like, what kind of signs? Like, how do you know when a game is fake?
ORLAND: So some of them are pretty clear. Like some of the discs, if you put them in and actually look at the data on that disc, it will have a cracked copy of that game where the copy protection has been broken. And there’s actually on one of them, a loading screen that says presented by the Data Killer, which obviously an authentic copy from 1981 would not have.
ORLAND: There was another game that was on a cassette tape that’s supposed to have game data, but instead, it had just a bunch of random white noise and some sounds of people talking in the background. But one of the most telling signs of forgery actually is a watermark on one of the pieces of paper that one of the collectors received from Ricciardi that says Fabriano, which is an Italian paper company. It was not exactly very big in the commercial world of PC game-makers in the East, so a little suspicious, to say the least.
CHANG: So for the people who actively collect these games, are they actually playing them or they’re just keeping them in pristine condition and not touching them, the way like some sneaker collectors don’t actually wear the shoes they collect?
ORLAND: Yeah. If you’re spending thousands of dollars on a 40-year-old PC game, it’s not so you can play that game. All of these games are available via emulation or other ways, online or rereleases. You don’t need to pay thousands of dollars for that. They want these games kind of as a totem, I guess, something that reminds them of the nostalgia of when they played them as kids, also as something that might appreciate in value for some of them. But as far as actually taking out that disk and putting it in an old Apple 2 computer, some of them don’t even have that computer anymore.
CHANG: (laughter) Right
ORLAND: So they just trust that what they get is authentic. It’s a very tight-knit group of collectors. I don’t think that trust will be going on much longer after this.
CHANG: So interesting. So I know that Ricciardi has responded to these allegations. What is his defense?
ORLAND: Yeah. So I talked to him extensively over Facebook Messenger. And he said basically that he was the unknowing victim in this as well, that he had taken forged materials and wasn’t looking closely enough and had passed those on to other collectors. The other collectors I talked to really don’t buy this story. They say that he was, until recently, the authority on these things and should have been able to note any forgeries.
CHANG: Yeah. Well, have you been able to figure out, like, how much money Ricciardi has allegedly made on these forgeries?
ORLAND: It’s interesting because while he sold some of these games, a lot of them were in trade for other games. So what the collectors think happened is someone would get an authentic copy of the game and then make a forgery and say, oh, I have some extra copies I got on the down low. Would you like to trade? And then you trade the forgery and get authentic games from the other person. And if you do that enough times, eventually you have a very large collection of authentic games. So it’s not clear that he was just in it for the money. He was a collector himself. So if these allegations are true, it could have been a way just to increase his own collection more than to directly enrich himself.
CHANG: Interesting. That is Kyle Orland, senior gaming editor at Ars Technica. Thanks so much for joining us today.
ORLAND: Thank you. This was fun.
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