Emulators: Shameless Piracy, or Guilt-Free Gaming?

Got a yen to play a game that's been out of distribution for a decade? What's a gamer to do?

No, I’m not talking about the games you loaded onto your TI-80 calculator in high school to play while you should have been doing calculus (for the record, Ms. West, I’m sorry). I’m talking about programs that diligent developers have created for your entertainment, allowing even the most cash-strapped enthusiast to play rare and thrilling games from days long past.

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If you’ve never used a game emulator before, you’d be pretty amazed at how easy it is. Directly downloaded from the source (no scary peer-to-peer connection required, captain) along with a ROM for whatever game you want to play, it takes about a minute (depending on your connection, of course) to start playing on your computer. I’ve personally seen emulators for loads of platforms: N64, the original Gameboy to the DS, Gamecube, Playstation, Xbox. I’m also pretty certain loads more exist out there, with constant development being done to port modern consoles to personal computers.

The thing about emulators is that most games available for download are very, very old. (The amount of computing power required to simulate, say, a Playstation 3’s environment and the game that’s running is huge–much more than the average Joe needs from his personal computer. Not to mention the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to even program these high-powered emulators.)  When you buy a used game that’s easily ten years old, the only profit being turned goes directly to the seller, not to developers or producers. And since most of the games that are being ported to ROMs are out of production, with no new copies available for sale, it’s possible that, for some, the only means of playing these games are through emulators. 

I’ve personally used emulators for a handful of games, and for a handful of reasons. The first is for original Zelda games. Why? Because I sold my Gameboy Color in a yard sale when I was twelve. I was weak. It was a defining moment in my life. We don’t talk about that dark time. I regret it to this day. (Have you seen what they’re going for on ebay?) I also use emulators to play Pokemon games that I would have to trade my firstborn for at my local Gamestop.

The general consensus is that emulators are sort of a moral-free area, and they’re more or less widely used by PC gamers. So, the interesting moral question is: where do you draw the line? If you’re staunchly against game piracy, do you also refuse to use emulators? Or can you consider it a means to an end, where that end is playing great games that are nearly impossible to buy? Is it only okay if you’ve already purchased the game and console, but through some act of higher power, no longer have the ability to use them? 

What’s your stance on emulators?

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HC Billings
HC Billings is an excellent gamer, acceptable writer, and laughable parkourist.