Discussion: Emulation

Now and again I like to write debates about topics I often see floating around, so I figured that I'll put them up here and see what you readers think. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment box below.

Today's topic is: Emulation

If you're a fan of video games and have spent a somewhat respectable amount of time talking on forums or gaming websites, you may have come across the issue of 'emulation'. Despite the questionable legality of the topic, note that this is not a discussion about how and/or where to emulate and/or access copyrighted material, but a discussion on the ethics surrounding the subject.

Allow me to explain: emulation, in video game terms, is the process of using a program that mimics a console and playing games using a program. Now because of the fact that these programs are ran on computers, they are very often used alongside piracy as they use ROM images from the game cart (or in the case of discs, ISO files). This means for many people emulation is piracy, but as far as I'm aware this isn't true (if I'm wrong then teach me why). Many emulators of disc-based consoles (such as the PS1) are capable of running the physical games though a computer's disc drive. In certain countries, it is legal to make back-up copies of games you own.

Regardless of this matter of legality, emulation provides many benefits: one can improve the game experience in ways such as upgrading the visuals to HD; games that were never previously translated can now be, due to the dedication of fans; ROM hacking is now incredibly easy, and can result in the fixing of bugs, the simple improvement of games, and even entirely new games created, just like modding in PC games.

I personally have no problem with emulation in some circumstances, such as with fan translations of games like Mother 3, which would otherwise be almost impossible to play in my country. Similarly I think emulation is fine with older games which would now be only purchasable on Ebay, since in those cases no one benefits from you buying a real copy, and often tracking down a legitimate copy is extremely hard, making emulation by far the easier course of action.

Emulation can be bad though, as people use this process with current gen consoles even though they could buy the game new. The R4 card (allowing people to download DS or 3DS games for free) being a good example of this because it actually hurts the retailer and gives the term 'Emulation' a bad name. Buying a R4 card and getting the games for free sounds good right? Wrong. R4 cards are rather unstable and frequently suffers from corruption. Picture getting deep into a game like Pokemon and then losing all the hard work you put in. Personally I would rather buy a quality product and have fun, rather than download it and suffer from loss of data.

Emulation can either help or destroy the games industry, especially considering old games, which are no longer in production. It's up to the users how they handle it. I hope most people will put it to good use, allowing people like me to finally enjoy Mother 3 or playing Wind Waker in stunning 1080p.

8 Comments
9 Comments
Posted by thethingaboutmachines

Now and again I like to write debates about topics I often see floating around, so I figured that I'll put them up here and see what you readers think. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment box below.

Today's topic is: Emulation

If you're a fan of video games and have spent a somewhat respectable amount of time talking on forums or gaming websites, you may have come across the issue of 'emulation'. Despite the questionable legality of the topic, note that this is not a discussion about how and/or where to emulate and/or access copyrighted material, but a discussion on the ethics surrounding the subject.

Allow me to explain: emulation, in video game terms, is the process of using a program that mimics a console and playing games using a program. Now because of the fact that these programs are ran on computers, they are very often used alongside piracy as they use ROM images from the game cart (or in the case of discs, ISO files). This means for many people emulation is piracy, but as far as I'm aware this isn't true (if I'm wrong then teach me why). Many emulators of disc-based consoles (such as the PS1) are capable of running the physical games though a computer's disc drive. In certain countries, it is legal to make back-up copies of games you own.

Regardless of this matter of legality, emulation provides many benefits: one can improve the game experience in ways such as upgrading the visuals to HD; games that were never previously translated can now be, due to the dedication of fans; ROM hacking is now incredibly easy, and can result in the fixing of bugs, the simple improvement of games, and even entirely new games created, just like modding in PC games.

I personally have no problem with emulation in some circumstances, such as with fan translations of games like Mother 3, which would otherwise be almost impossible to play in my country. Similarly I think emulation is fine with older games which would now be only purchasable on Ebay, since in those cases no one benefits from you buying a real copy, and often tracking down a legitimate copy is extremely hard, making emulation by far the easier course of action.

Emulation can be bad though, as people use this process with current gen consoles even though they could buy the game new. The R4 card (allowing people to download DS or 3DS games for free) being a good example of this because it actually hurts the retailer and gives the term 'Emulation' a bad name. Buying a R4 card and getting the games for free sounds good right? Wrong. R4 cards are rather unstable and frequently suffers from corruption. Picture getting deep into a game like Pokemon and then losing all the hard work you put in. Personally I would rather buy a quality product and have fun, rather than download it and suffer from loss of data.

Emulation can either help or destroy the games industry, especially considering old games, which are no longer in production. It's up to the users how they handle it. I hope most people will put it to good use, allowing people like me to finally enjoy Mother 3 or playing Wind Waker in stunning 1080p.

Edited by Sooty

@thethingaboutmachines said:

Emulation can be bad though, as people use this process with current gen consoles even though they could buy the game new. The R4 card (allowing people to download DS or 3DS games for free) being a good example of this because it actually hurts the retailer and gives the term 'Emulation' a bad name. Buying a R4 card and getting the games for free sounds good right? Wrong. R4 cards are rather unstable and frequently suffers from corruption. Picture getting deep into a game like Pokemon and then losing all the hard work you put in. Personally I would rather buy a quality product and have fun, rather than download it and suffer from loss of data.

What does emulation have to do with R4 cards? That's piracy and you can't use them for 3DS games. (yet)

and you can't emulate current generation consoles, unless you include the Wii.

edit: and I used to have an R4 card, never had one issue with corruption. It's good the Vita allows you to get games digitally because who wants to carry those tiny carts around?

Agree with the old game argument, same with used games too. Why bother buying used? You might as well download them if you can't buy them new.

Edited by believer258
This means for many people emulation is piracy

Not exactly. Running a ROM that you didn't get from your own copy of a game is piracy - emulation is simply the means by which you play the game.

Also, I don't think you quite know what an emulator is. Using an R4 card isn't emulation. An emulator is a program that, well, emulates another computer. In other words, a Nintendo 64 emulator allows you to run Nintendo 64 games on a PC. Or an Xbox. Or a PSP. Here's the Wikipedia definition:

an emulator is hardware or software or both that duplicates (or emulates) the functions of a first computer system (the guest) in a different second computer system (the host), so that the emulated behavior closely resembles the behavior of the real system

On topic, though, I don't think emulation is a bad thing. As far as I'm concerned, it's a great way to keep old console games alive that can't be kept up any other way, either due to rights or whatever other issues might arise. Really, emulation of any game that isn't a) available elsewhere (i.e. the Playstation classics store) and b) more than a generation old is fine with me, if only for the purpose of preservation. Any way you put it, though...

Emulation can either help or destroy the games industry, especially considering old games, which are no longer in production

...emulation of old games is not going to destroy the industry.

Edited by Turambar

@Sooty said:

@thethingaboutmachines said:

Emulation can be bad though, as people use this process with current gen consoles even though they could buy the game new. The R4 card (allowing people to download DS or 3DS games for free) being a good example of this because it actually hurts the retailer and gives the term 'Emulation' a bad name. Buying a R4 card and getting the games for free sounds good right? Wrong. R4 cards are rather unstable and frequently suffers from corruption. Picture getting deep into a game like Pokemon and then losing all the hard work you put in. Personally I would rather buy a quality product and have fun, rather than download it and suffer from loss of data.

What does emulation have to do with R4 cards? That's piracy and you can't use them for 3DS games. (yet)

and you can't emulate current generation consoles, unless you include the Wii.

Well, up until recently, a flash cart of some kind was pretty much the only way to play fan translated versions of DS games. Actually, the translated version of FE12 that I just finished was played on a flash cart, since I find the emulation software for the DS to be awkward in terms of screen locations.

Not emulation, but still somewhat related in terms of usage to the examples presented.

Posted by thethingaboutmachines

@believer258: I enjoy discussing this type of subject because it does help me understand and broaden my knowledge on the topic. I didn't know much about the R4 card, so thank you helping me understand it a little better and thanks for the comment :)

Posted by NiKva

The R4 isn't as bad as you say. There are some devices that can back up your saves to your computer, which you could use with an R4 in case your actual game were to get lost or broken.

Emulation isn't black or white.

Posted by Kovie

If anyone is seriously interested in the topic, there's a very good and relevant discussion about it on a now half-decade old episode of the Retronauts podcast that covers the legal and ethical implications of it, which you can download here.

Posted by thethingaboutmachines

@Kovie: Thanks very much! I've got it ready on my Ipod to listen to :)

Posted by Hunter5024

When I was a kid I was super poor and I couldn't afford to buy any games, so I was limited to the snes, genesis, and gameboy roms that my older brother downloaded. I didn't know or care that it was illegal, I was just a kid who loved games and played them the only way that I could. Now I get all my games by legal means (except I do use an R4 cart so I don't have to haul my ds games everywhere), and I definitely don't think I would be so into games, or spend the stupid amount of money on them that I do if it weren't for piracy and emulation.