Gaming Ethics Matters: How Do You Feel About Emulators?

Angel devilWith the Ouya now on store shelves, one question is on everybody's mind: is a console that sells mostly through the emulation of classic systems really that ethical? Obviously the case of playing classic games on other hardware can be a complex matter, but what do you think about it? I'll lay out all sides of the debate in this moral-focus feature!









With the Ouya now on store shelves, one question is on everybody's mind: is a console that sells mostly through the emulation of classic systems really that ethical? Obviously the case of playing classic games on other hardware can be a complex matter, but what do you think about it? I'll lay out all sides of the debate in this moral-focus feature!



The Process is Actually Legal



Believe it or not, under most forms of law, there is actually nothing that prohibits a developer from creating software that tries to emulate other hardware. However, as we've seen in the tech industry before, there can be a sharp difference in creating a product versus how it is commonly used. For example,Torrent clients themselves aren't illegal by nature, but they are often used to pirate all kinds of media from rightful content owners. This is the exact grey area that emulation falls into. Regardless, it's still common law legal to use emulators to play ROMs of games that you have already owned and purchased.



SNES games



In this respect then, some people wonder why emulation is even a problem at all. I'll discuss that argument in some more detail in the coming pages, but there are still plenty of folks that use this technology in a way that abides by the law. Even if you don't want to take the risk of going to a sketchy ROM site, you can take things one step further by making an image of your own cartridge if you're so inclined. It's all these caveats that keep emulation alive. On the surface, no laws are being broken.


Another argument that emulation fans use is in regards to content preservation. I'll tackle that if you keep on reading!









Old Games Can Stay New Forever



Most hardcore supporters of the emulation scene prefer to think that such software is a means to save the gaming industry. It's a possibly overly-grand notion to say the least, but there is some merit to the idea. As is the case with any product that comes of age, there's always the risk that it will get lost through the passage of time. After all, our NES consoles and cartridges can't stay in working condition forever. That is why some feel that it is the community's responsibility to convert these titles into a playable digital format. It's believed that every gamer should have the chance to see and experience the core values that made the industry what it is today. Thanks to emulation preserving those ideas, we now see past eras inspiring a lot of the biggest modern indie hits.




Super Mario Evolution




On the flip side though, there are legally sanctioned sources of emulation, such as Nintendo's Virtual Console or Sony's PS Classics series. Should we really still be walking into questionable legal territory when those collections are already there for us? That's for you to decide.


With the Ouya especially, emulation has allowed gamers to express their creative passions. Hear more about this on the next page!









Developing for Old Hardware Never Ends



Beyond it being legal to play content we own, there are also other ways that emulation can be used that keep the feds at bay. In fact, the newly released Emuya emulator for Ouya offers a pretty solid example of what I'm hinting at. On top of being able to play your downloaded ROMs, this emulator also allows users to both create and sell their own NES games for a profit. If you're someone that's a true fan of the original hardware, then being able to create your own game for it might just be a dream come true.






Not to mention that since the titles themselves are simpler in nature, they may be easier to code. Rather than starting your career by trying to make full 3D models, the 8-bit universe can be a pretty amazing place to take your first steps in the industry. It's true that your vision may be somewhat hampered by the lower specs, but that may not make your content any less fun or popular. We see homebrew emerge all the time that capitalizes on simple ideas. Emulators can be used to make titles that do the same. Obviously as long as you don't steal sprites from another game, you aren't hitting copyright walls either.



With all of the good being talked about in regards to emulation, there's one sad bottom line I forgot to mention. Keep on reading to be brought back down to reality.









The Sad Truth in the Matter



So far we've looked at all kinds of scenarios where emulation can be great for the industry: it allows us to play and create our own content, and it preserves great code from getting lost in time. That's all well and good, but it's about time that we all got a grip on ourselves. Those earlier points may indeed be true to a large extent, but they aren't the reason why most people find emulation to be such a draw. We aren't usually looking to play the original Super Mario Bros. because we owned it twenty years ago. We want to play Mario 64 or Chrono Trigger because we never got the chance to when  we were younger. Just head on over to a ROM site and download someone else's copy! It's that easy!



FBI Warning



The ultimate issue with getting ahold of content you've never purchased in the past is that it's still considered piracy. Some of you might be thinking that games this old can't be subject to copyright law, but you would be totally wrong about that. In fact, most documentation of this kind remains effective for ninety-five years and can be renewed at any time by the developer. That means a huge chunk of your downloaded games are just as illegal to steal as they were back in the eighties. Technically, I suppose that means offenders are subject to the same penalties and fines as well. I've never seen that happen to anyone, but the fact remains it's still illegal. A large portion of people truly use emulators to reach those kinds of ends.



So where do I stand on emulators? My views await a click of your mouse!










My Viewpoint



Emulation is such an incredible topic to use in a column like this, simply because so many casual and hardcore gamers have had experience with it. It's funny though, because I think this wide range of proliferation has given us a different assumption about emulation than any other questionable legal activity. It might not seem like a crime to download a game that's twenty years old, but it's technically just as wrong to steal Super Mario 3 as it is to torrent BioShock: Infinite. Yet, many ROM sites remain active thanks to the positive points I made on the previous pages. For the few that use emulators the way developers intend, there are thousands more getting the content of others for free. Is this okay?



The Verdict Is In



Not to implicate myself, but I would say that it depends on the scenario. As I've said, there are lots of ways for people to use more approved forms of emulation. If you never owned A Link to the Past and want to try it, I think you should head on over to the Virtual Console and purchase it if you can. The original creators still have the right to collect money from their project, so if they are trying to do that, I think you should give it to them. They did after all spend months creating the experience you're now sitting down to enjoy. For those few that have been remade however, there are hundreds of others that remain trapped in their original format with no chance of coming back,. Instead of downloading, I suppose you could get a genuine cart from Ebay, but that won't help the developers any. If you can still pay the coders, I think you should. Still, having a free way to experience and experiment isn't a terrible thing either.



That's my opinion, but what about you? Tell me your thoughts by posting a comment below!