Video Game Emulators
Updated: Nov 20, 2022
I am sure that if you follow my page on Facebook, you will know that I was not one of the lucky ones to get their hands on an NES Classic Mini. For those who do not know, it is a Mini version of the original Nintendo Entertainment System that comes preloaded with 30 games. The fact of the matter is that these small boxes are mini computers with emulators on them. It is not just the NES Classic Mini. In the last few years there has been a resurgence in retro gaming. This means playing games on an old system that is either not in production anymore or it is old enough that games are not produced for them anymore.
What is Emulation?
As per my good old friend Google, the definition of an "Emulation" is as follows.
Emulation refers to the ability of a computer program in an electronic device to emulate (or imitate) another program or device.
So this can apply to any number of things. Video games with included Emulators have been around for years. The question that is always asked is, are they illegal or not? There always seems to be a fear of downloading a rom, the same as when downloading a movie or show on torrent. The answer is kind of a grey area. In theory, many games are emulated while they are copyrighted by another company. This is clearly illegal. Others, like Atari games, seem to lose their patents and they are considered games that can be used by anyone. This is how Archive.org operates. They have thousands of vintage or retro games that you can play on your browser. To be fair, some of these games are free or shareware (Doom for example), where the first episode was or is free. This was how games were promoted back in the day.
What machines Use Emulation?
As explained above, many new mini game consoles have emulation in them. In some cases people have tried to add a Linux (Operating System) distribution to these machines to see if they can get even more games on them. Below are just a few examples of emulation machines.
All the above mini consoles use emulation. It is legal because they are licensed games. Also, Archive.org has a wide variety of games that are free to play on your browser. I do not think that each and every game is a licensed game.
These are all Sega Genesis Games (Archive.org)
Has anyone been arrested for using a Video Game Rom for Emulation?
The answer to the above is not really. There were a few cases that established if roms were ok or not.
Nintendo of America v Bung Enterprises established that, as an owner of a physical game cartridge, you are entirely within your rights to have an archival copy of that cartridge's contents, as this constitutes Fair Use. However, since the physical cartridge itself serves as a form of copy protection, the DMCA prohibits you from circumventing that copy protection. Since distributing ROMs without authorization from Nintendo was already firmly established as illegal, this meant that you're entitled to an archival copy, but you can't create it yourself or obtain it from someone else.
Archive.org's massive ROM set may be a legal workaround, since they have a legal exemption for hosting them, and there's no established case precedence addressing whether you, as someone who legally has a right to an archival copy, can legally obtain the ROMs from someone who has a legal exemption for archiving and hosting them publicly.
So essentially it is like recording a mixed tape back in the day. Recording it is not illegal, but selling the recorded copy without consent is wrong.
I have not seen many cases where people got fines or arrested for using an emulator. Hell many streamers on Twitch or YouTube Gaming use emulators. Proof? Any person playing a game before 1998 and he is able to save the game, is playing on an emulator. Games such as Super Mario Brothers, Duck Tales, or Sonic the Hedgehog do not have save states. This is the ability to save a game.
Can you download emulators?
Yes you can, There are a ton of emulators used by the public today. The most popular one that I can find is MAME. MAME is an emulator for many different types of games. You can get vintage arcade games or hard to find version of console games. The good part about this emulator is that it is platform agnostic. You have one for Linux, Windows and Mac.
Another popular one is NEStopia. Like the name suggests it focuses on Nintendo Games.
There is also OpenEmu. This emulator is awesome as you can play all old vintage console games from the Commodore 64 to more recent consoles like the Dreamcast or original XBOX.
I do not think that there is a big crackdown on this. The proof is that Nintendo has tried to go into the emulation business themselves. I guess they are saying if we cannot beat them, join them. These emulator systems are selling well. Especially with Christmas around the corner, these will sell like hotcakes. Even I bought a Retro Bit Generations console and it works great. I think there are more and more people will use this, especially if they cannot afford the 500$ new consoles with VR and Motion sensors and so on.
What do you think? Are emulators ok to use? I would love to hear what you think.
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