Dear Nick,

Remember last month, how you let me rip your game collection, before your family moved? First of all, thanks.

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You've always been a really awesome friend. Now, I'm not really sure how to start this, but I don't think we're going to get to talk too much after this. Some important stuff is about to happen, and I don't know if I'll get another chance to talk before that. I just wanted to let you know what's happening from me, before you started hearing about it from everybody else. You know how Steve and Chris like to twist things around.

I guess the best way to start this is right from the beginning. After you left your games with me, I started trying to rip them right away. Daemontools and Alcohol had trouble with the copy protection on a few, though. I tried looking on forums for workarounds for an hour or two, but no dice. Couldn't get 'em to work. Finally got fed up, and went to look and see if there were any programs that worked better. Most of what I turned up was stuff you and me tried and didn't work, or that you had to shell out three hundred dollars and let them put a keylogger on your machine to ensure you didn't misuse it. You search the same sites as me, you know the ones.

Anyway, I finally turned up something on this obscure torrent site. I've gotten a couple things from them before, but it's pretty much "Ye Olde Site of Desperation"...heh, remember that site? Yeah. The guy who posted it looked like he'd put the description through Google translate. What it was, was some Japanese program, "Shikami no Tengen". The guy said the name meant "Four Gods in Heaven". Probably not, though. I think his Japanese was probably as good as his English. What he claimed, though, was that it could get around any copy protection, and rip the disks as  smaller files than any other program. If I know you, you're rolling your eyes SO hard right now.

Thing is, I looked at the reviews, and it seemed totally legit. A bunch of people gave it high marks, and were praising this guy for uploading the program. It had a good amount of seeds, even. I mean, sure, there were people complaining that it frakked their computer, or that every file they made came out messed up, but you see that on any torrent, right? They all got the usual, "Read the damn instructions, noob." replies, so I figured it was good to go, and started downloading. In no time at all, I was ready to install it.

The directions with the file were pretty straightforward. Switch the computer to Japanese unicode, run the installer, switch back to English and apply a crack to make it work. It didn't take long. The installer was supposed to show pictures and play music while it ran, I think, but the images were broken and just did a slideshow of solid color screens. The "music" just came out as static, and I turned off my speakers until it was done. I was a little worried it wasn't going to work, but it had all those positive ratings, so I gave it a chance. Sure enough, once I went through all the steps, it ran fine. Simple interface, pretty easy to use. The only thing was a warning that came in the readme file: FILES WILL BE IN UNKNOWN FORMAT. RENAME .iso AND MOUNT EXTERNAL. DO NOT TRY TO RUN.

That's literally a copy and paste of the warning. Made sense to me, though. The program was Japanese, patched to work in English. I figured that probably messed up the file extensions. I tried it with Civ 4 and that obscure as hell shooter you're so proud of, though, and it worked fine. Heck, it really was as good as they said. Really did even make the files smaller. The only thing was the file extension. It came out as "(NAME).4" for both games. When I switched them to iso files and mounted them through Daemontools, though, they worked. Absolutely flawless. No errors or copy fail that I could see. So I did the rest of them. It took a while, and I got tired, but you know that I had them back to you the next day.

I've had a lot of good times with those games. Played the hell out of Hellgate. Reaffirmed that I'll never be a pro at Starcraft 2. Completely forgot that Skyrim had a main quest. All the kinds of stuff we used to do on gaming nights when you were here. (I totally platonic miss you, bro.) So, eventually I worked my way through the files and found a couple I'd forgot to rename. I must have been tired. Just for the hell of it, I decided to see what would happen if I tried to run Portal 2 as a .4 and see what would happen. I figured I'd just get the usual Windows error for when you use an unrecognised extension, but no. It came up with an error message in Japanese that I couldn't read. Well, that got me thinking. If it popped that up, it must be able to read the file. Maybe I could switch the computer into Japanese again, and it would work? I decided to try, and surprisingly it worked. Not only did it work, but the file ran just like it had been mounted to the virtual drive.

It wasn't like normal, though. On the loading screen, it showed the inside of dingy, run-down a test chamber, with Chell sprawled out on the ground. She had the portal gun in one hand, but her head and limbs were at odd angles, and the things on her legs...her longfall boots? They looked cracked, with the strut things on the back bent out of shape. It looked like it was showing what would happen if the boots ever broke, and she just hit the ground too hard. It freaked me out, but it wasn't on screen long. At the title screen, GLaDOS's eye seemed redder, and there were flickers of flames just out of sight in the background. Instead of leaves, these little embers would drift by from time to time. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to think, but I remembered that time way back when we played Fire Red on an emulator, and the ferryboat guy said, "If you like this game, buy it or die." I figured it was probably something like that, just a trick to scare people into not playing a pirated copy. None of the other games I'd run through the Shikami program had a problem, but maybe it only properly bypassed the protection when you ran it as an iso, right? It wasn't stopping the game from being played, and once I got over the initial shock, it actually seemed kind of cool. So, I kept playing.

Everything was darker, and there was a kind of fog along the ground, even in the part of the game where everything was clean and new. The picture you were supposed to stare at was just a red space, and the music was nothing but static, but oh well. The data wasn't supposed to be read this way, so it was understandable there would be errors. When it got to Wheatly, though, he was a lot meaner than usual. He asked me to say apple, then just started laughing and said, "You can't! You're brain damaged!" and laughed some more, that harsh, cruel laugh he uses later in the game. He told me right out that everyone else was dead, and I had to help him or I'd die too. I can't be sure, but the way he talked made it sound like he knew that Chell had killed GLaDOS, too, and he wanted to bring her back. When I got to the second of the old test chambers, and there were mangled bodies on the floor (not gory, mind you, just broken bodies looking as old as the rest of it). It's not like I don't play some gory games sometimes, but the shift in tone was just really unnerving the hell outta me.

So, I stopped playing Portal. If it was a way to deter pirates, it had worked on me. I wasn't even sure I'd be willing to try it as an iso later to see if it worked normal that way. Still, I had a few other .4 files...actually they'd changed to whatever the Japanese version of four was, but that's not the point. I had other games I could try, and I didn't feel like switching my computer back just yet. I figured I'd just play something more relaxing to take my mind off it. Need for Speed seemed like a good pick. The opening sequence showed a fifteen car pileup during a thunderstorm, while news reporters talked about the death toll in the background. Nope.avi

So I tried Serious Sam HD. No idea how I forgot to set that one up. The gameplay...some things are better left unsaid, but I KNOW that game never had human sacrifice in it before. At that point, I was pretty damn freaked out, and I was starting to have a suspicion about what was going on. I put the computer back into English, and tried a couple games for a few minutes each. Nothing wrong with any of them. Even Portal 2, when I switched it to a .iso extension, was perfectly normal. On a whim, I changed a couple games back to .4's, and switched it over again.

I only got around to trying Civilization. My save file worked with it but...just...what the hell. There was new research I've never seen before, things that there's no way were coded into the game. Some of them seemed harmless, like "Manifest Destiny", while others were along the lines of "Tyranny" and "Xenophobia". They got you upgrades like slave markets and concentration camps. There was a new religion, too. Ever heard of Yezidi before? I hadn't. There were also events like plagues, accidents and natural disasters, where it would show a clip of your city's population suffering. Just like with the other games, playing it as a .4 made the game darker in tone. I don't know how the hell that's possible, but it did. I thought that, maybe, it was some kind of novelty software, and when you ran the game through it, it streamed a mod for whatever you were playing. Yeah, stupid idea, I know, but some people will go to a lot of trouble for a prank, right? Like, remember that time when we wanted to get back at your sister for giving away those concert tickets she won, even though she knew that you and I loved Radiohead, and we got all our friends and some of their buddies in on it? So, yeah, I tried disconnecting my router and restarting the game. On my first turn it announced that England was working on a Wonder...the Final Solution.

There was one more thing I had to try at that point. On a whim, I'd ripped my DVD of Inkheart one day. Put into the right format, it had run just as flawlessly as anything else. Now I tried it as a .4 file. The film played out how it should. All the actors said their lines and did what they normally would. At least until the market scene. It looked the same, but what was going on in the background shouldn't have been there. I watched, transfixed, as a beggar that was never there before was kicked savagely from a well-dressed man, and collapsed in a heap. A woman in a red coat twisted her son's arm until it looked like she's pop it out of its socket, dragging him off-screen as he resisted. A thug ran up and stabbed an elderly woman in the stomach, taking her purse and running as the rest of the crowd just stepped around her bleeding body. I shut off the player, feeling sick to my stomach.

So, at that point I knew that I didn't want this shit on my computer. Not ever. I deleted the files I'd ripped on the spot. Then I told the computer to uninstall Shikami no Tengen. To uninstall, it brought up the same buisness it did when I'd installed it. The graphics and audio weren't broken this time. The speakers played sounds of people speaking in Japanese. I couldn't tell what they were saying, but they sounded terrified. They screamed a lot. I could have turned it off, but I didn't. I have no idea why. They screamed, and the monitor showed me photo after photo crime scenes, accidents, disasters...anything where people had died horribly. There were shots that looked like a single frame of people being vaporized by an atomic bomb, just before the camera was destroyed, with the flash of the bomb somehow filtered out. There was a cave where a man sat frozen to death, surrounded by the remains of companions he'd killed and eaten trying to stay alive. In another shot, a woman who looked like she'd been drained of blood had the skin on her forehead peeled back, and some symbol I didn't recognize, probably something Japanese, carved into her skull. They were all horrible, the worst things I've ever seen, and I just sat there, numb, and watched and watched while the screams of the dying echoed in my ears.

As I was watching, though, I realized something. People always look away. They don't want to face the horror and tragedy in this world. They don't want to see. Horrible things happen all the time, everywhere, and we just pretend like it doesn't matter, like it doesn't affect us. It's not right. So, you see, that's why I'll be going away for a long time. Somebody has to do something about what's wrong in this world. Someone has to make them see. So, I'll be the one to open people's eyes to the horror. I'll make this right.

Always your friend,


That's the last thing my best friend ever sent to me. Three weeks later, the police found him living in the bomb shelter of an abandoned house in our old neighbourhood. He was wanted for a string of violent crimes in the area, including what they called "ritualistic murder", arson, and tampering with traffic direction in an attempt to cause a major accident. They said that they found various poisons and bomb-making supplies in his hideout. It was a huge shock to any of us who knew him. His family was pretty poor, but he'd been our class president, on the debate club, even a track star. He got along with everybody. Thinking that he could have snapped like he did is just unbelievable.

I guess that's why I followed up on his crazy story. I wanted to believe that there was something like that, that had caused him to turn into what he did. Searching the internet didn't turn up much, though. There was no trace of a program called "Shikami no Tengen" anywhere. Though, I did learn that a shikami was a type of Japanese demon. I'd be prepared to leave it there, but I was a little confused about how the person that had supposedly translated it had come up with "Four Gods in Heaven". So I did a little more digging and found that "kami" is Japanese for God, and shi is four. Four also has a special connotation in Japan, though. It's considered an unlucky number...because it's pronounced the same way as their word for death.