Is Emulation A Sin?

I take a look at emulation, which is considered to be a problem in this day and age.

Thou shalt not

Or shalt thou? Emulation has always been a touchy subject. A lot of people will admit to it, although never where a prosecutor is in earshot. "Oh yeah, I emulated blah blah for Gameboy Advance.", or "Yeah, I've got one to play old console games like SNES or N64.", all the way up to the big boys. Not too big, as XBOX 360 and PS3 emulation isn't a thing yet. But from the Wii all the way back to the original NES, emulation is a real thing.

Of course, like I said, no one tends to admit they do it. Emulation is a grey area for a lot of folks. Technically, it's illegal to emulate any game unless you own the console and the game you are emulating. You might be saying "what's the point?" Well, the point is that in today's sue happy society, no one wants to get into a law suit.

Thou shalt know of emulation, if thy dost not

So, if you aren't sure what emulation is, it's pretty simple to explain. Emulation is the process of using one piece of hardware/software to run a program as if it were another. Like when I emulate my mother by wearing high heels and sun hats, it's frowned upon by most game companies and society. But why?

Well, for some weird reason, developers and publishers think they should get money for the things they make. Crazy right? Now I'm down with making money. How else would I buy happiness? But for a while, there was no real way to play some games without the console. More importantly, some games were extremely rare, costing hundreds of dollars. No one wants to pay hundreds of dollars for a game from a dead console except for collectors. And collectors rarely want to play, they want to collect.

Emulating is illegal, so let me shell out up to 18 grand on a Nintendo World Championship Cart.

What options dost thou haveth?

Well, a few years ago, if you wanted to play an old game, you had to find a copy of said game and the console it would run on. Or you would have to flex your google-fu and look for an emulator, a digital copy of the game, tweak, etc etc etc. A lot of people didn't want to shell out time, effort, and/or moolah for a 5+ year old game, so they tended to emulate.

And for a while, that was the "sensible" thing to do. But thanks to the Wii, PS3, and XBOX 360, remade, remastered, and ported titles of older games started making their way back. Whether it was a re-release, or something you could download off a virtual marketplace, it seemed like the companies had gotten the hint. Even Steam got on the program, and you'll find a lot of old console titles there.

See, the thing with emulation is this. Essentially, emulation is like piracy. You are playing a game you didn't pay for. And normally I'd let it rest at that. But with the way the game industry has been handling it, I think it's getting a little smarter. Gabe Newell said something I liked once. "Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem." Essentially, thanks to region locking, dead consoles, or lack of support, piracy is simply just easier.

"If a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate's service is more valuable."

Gabe's counter to that? Make a system that is more convenient than pirating! What could be more convenient than readily available free video games? Well, let's be honest. Pirating involves some work and computer know how. Ripping, zipping, unzipping mounting...this sounds kind of raunchy, right? But Gabe offered something that, while slightly more costly, was loads more convenient. Steam. Social integration, games ready to play and tailored to your PC, it's heaven. And the SALES!

But I digress. Emulation is just one of those things that companies will most likely never stamp out. Taking a leaf from Gabe and Valve's book might help. Offering a digital service with all the convenience and thriftiness of steam for all of the old consoles is the right step forward.

Published Apr. 29th 2013
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