Video Game Emulation: Not Just For Piracy


(I’d like to begin this article with a pretty clear disclaimer: Armed Gamer doesn’t condone piracy…I think. This is about emulation, not emulated pirated games.)
[Editor’s Note: Armed Gamer TOTALLY doesn’t condone piracy, but that line gets fuzzy for console games released a decade ago.]

A long, long time ago, we used to only have magazines for our videogame news instead of all the options we have today. I remember reading an article in Electronic Gaming Monthly called “Keys to the Kingdom” by Marc Saltzman, and it opened my eyes to the concept of video game emulation. Videogame emulation, to put it very simply, is when we run a program (called an emulator, oddly enough) on one computer system that acts like another computer system; most commonly, this means using an emulator on a PC to play console games. I actually found the article in question scanned over at DC Emulation, under the heading “EGM Big Article 5 Pages.”

Not what your first thought should be.

Not what your first thought on emulation  should be.

This blew my mind, and was most likely one of my earliest motivators to move from a console gamer to a PC Gamer. Being able to play all of my old favorite games whenever I wanted on the same system was amazing. Of course, I realized that emulation does have its dicey legal grounds. While emulation is legal, sharing the games is quite illegal, with questionable stances on if an individual is allowed a ROM or ISO backup of a purchased game that can be used for emulation. But…I’m not getting into all of that. The legal mumbo-jumbo and long-winded words and all of that is something you can go research elsewhere. My point is simple.

Emulation is an incredible boon to the gaming community.

Emulation gets a bad reputation for just being used to pirate old games, but it’s really a wonderful thing. Streamers on Twitch who do not have modded consoles can use emulation in order to play their older games. I have used this method to stream PlayStation 2 games like Front Mission 4 and Final Fantasy XII on Twitch through my DVD tray and the PCSX2 emulator. I don’t have a capture card, and I don’t think the Front Mission series is one that is huge in America, so it’s a win/win; I get to spend less money and a game that a lot of people may not have known about is shown off. While writing this article, the Armed Gamer stream was doing Super Mario RPG via emulator because of a lack of capture card; emulation just is an easy way for streamers to share their game.

Fan translations mean that games in another language can shared through emulation as opposed to the costly and sometimes unavailable alternative of purchasing a modded console and finding a way to mod a cartridge. One of my all time favorite games is Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War. It’s a Super Nintendo game, but I didn’t know about Fire Emblem until long after the fall of the SNES. Like most of America, I learned of the series through Marth and Roy’s appearances in Super Smash Bros. Melee and didn’t get to play a Fire Emblem game until the localization of the seventh game. I still have my Super Nintendo, but it’s an old darling and and I don’t know where to get a cartridge copy of Geneology that has the translation. Emulation meant that I had a way of playing Japanese games and a way to easily patch them into English. With some games never going to be localized in the West, like the ginormous mecha crossover series Super Robot Wars, emulation is the only way some people can see and play these games. Fan translation communities are also very supportive of the games that they translate, urging their players to purchase a legitimate copy of the game to show their support, and usually ceasing their patches or translation works if localization is announced. Of course, for all of these efforts, you sometimes get the Final Fantasy Type-0 fiasco, but that’s another story.

Thanks to fansubs, this incoming ass-whoopin' is emulated in English!

Thanks to fan translations, this incoming massacre is emulated in English!

Emulation is also a huge tool of convenience. Being able to play a lot of your favorite games on the same system saves space on your shelf/table/stand and means less pesky wires to worry about. When building my home theater PC, investing in a fast DVD drive and Blu-Ray drive meant that I could put emulators for many consoles I own on the PC, and one device could play a majority of my games. It’s a little strange using the same controller, and of course it’s very difficult for things like Wii games, but the convenience of being able to take out Pikmin and put God of War in the same tray is really hard to beat.

Emulation is even used by the console companies to release playable copies of their older games. The Virtual Console on  Nintendo consoles has been an amazing success in emulation. I love The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time just like everyone else that ever existed, but instead of getting the 3D remake I was more than happy to just shell out for the N64 version. If I want something a little different, I can just leave that game and play some Super Metroid or Shining Force (at this point, you can see I play a lot of turn-based strategy RPGs). Sony did it with their PSOne Classics. Xbox 360 got around not having backwards compatibility by emulating the original Xbox games through digital downloads. All of these re-releases were done on consoles through emulation. Emulation also means, however, that someone with a game on the original PlayStation can keep playing it without hooking up the old console.

Kaizo Mario World. For when you want your masochism in colorful platformer form.

The Kaizo Mario World fanhack. For when you want your masochism in colorful platformer form.

That’s just a few big points. I’m not even touching on how emulators are used for many tool-assisted runs of games, allow for original games or fanhacks to be played, and offer substantial improvements like save states, turbo speeds, and internet play.

I love emulation. I’m still as excited about it today as I was when I first read about it. Emulation has grown from being able to play old NES games on our home computers to playing PS2 games on my cell phone. As consoles grow more advanced, modders have found ways to run emulators on other consoles, allowing for things like Game Boy Advance emulation on a Sony PSP. Every time another console is emulated, the potential for games that would never be localized being fan-translated and brought over grows. Despite the potential uses for piracy and the legal quandary that comes with it, I think emulation is a fantastic invention that only helps gaming grow as we continue to share our old favorites, us remember the old graphics and glitches before games were re-released and remastered, and encourages players to look at the creative side of games with fanhacks, etc.

Leave a comment down below, and then let’s netplay some NBA Jam. Dibs on Bill Clinton.

About David A. Reeves

David is a 25 year old graduate with a BA in English, and he's wondering how all of this adult stuff crept up on him. He has a large love of Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy, a lack of budget sense during Steam sales, and is involved in an abusive relationship with the MMO genre. Outside of gaming, David can be found reading books with swords and magic, suffering from writer's block on that story he said he'd write, enjoying a hookah or a beer with friends, and trying not to say anything inappropriate despite the overwhelming urge. He's an odd fellow.

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