There are countless great retro games you likely missed out on when you were younger. For example, I grew up during the Nintendo 64 era of gaming, so I never had a chance to play older games like Super Mario World or A Link to the Past.
Fortunately, I discovered something later on in life that would give me easy access to these classics I had never even heard of at the time: emulation. In the mid-2000s, I would search websites like EmuParadise and download anything I thought sounded cool. Among these were games like Mortal Kombat, Chrono Trigger, Donkey Kong Country, and much more. I remember watching tons of top ten lists to find the best Super Nintendo games out there.
Many years have passed since then, and I admittedly don’t emulate very many games anymore. However, I’m still nostalgic for that time in my life. With the recent news of EmuParadise pulling all of their ROMs, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad.
Emulation was tricky in those days, particularly because I didn’t have a computer of my own. I was allowed only an hour on the family computer each day, so I wasn’t able to play all of these classic games with the unlimited access that I would have liked. So I had to get creative. Somehow I stumbled across a Wii softmodding community. Those who have gone through this before know that special versions of emulators are made to work on softmodded consoles. So for my hour of computer time, I would download a ton of ROMS and then play them on my Wii.
It seemed like way too much work to play games from over a decade before that time, but I’m glad I did it. I got to experience the greatest classic SNES games, like Super Metroid, Kirby Super Star, and Super Mario World. Now that I’m an adult and I can actually buy these games, I own physical copies of each of them.
Emulation helped me find games I would never have had the chance to play. However, I still don’t think it’s healthy for the industry, and companies like Nintendo are completely in the right when they’re trying to take down websites that host ROMs of their games. While emulators themselves are perfectly fine, the act of downloading ROMs is illegal. It is a violation of copyright under US law. However, some people claim it falls under fair use since they already own a physical copy of the game. They may have just wanted to play it on a different device rather than hook up their old system again.
This reaches a grey area in emulation. There isn’t a clear answer as to whether this falls under fair use or not, but Nintendo could still argue that they’re losing money from it. The company has been porting many of their classic games to modern devices, so emulating them is still hurting their business. So whether you own a physical copy or not, this defense can be a pretty weak one.
On the other hand, you may just want to back up your games in case something happens to them. As far as the law is concerned, this should be no different than ripping a CD, something that’s totally legal. However, distributing that ROM to other people is unlawful. At that point, your backup file could be viewed as a copy that has been illegally distributed.
So despite my positive memories with emulation, I think it’s time we said goodbye to our old ways. Companies are porting classic games to modern systems at low prices. There’s no reason we should be hurting their business by continuing to download their games for free.
There is still plenty of room to debate this topic, however. For example, what about games that aren’t going to be released again? Is it okay to emulate a game from a developer that is now defunct? Is it important to preserve a digital library of games that may never see the light of day?
What do you guys think? I’m sure plenty of you have emulated games in the past. Should emulation be legal? Should game companies crack down on illegal ROMs? Let us know what you think in the comments below!