What’s Wrong With Emulation? A Letter to Nintendo…

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Okay, it’s been a while since everything happened regards EmuParadise but for those of you who missed it, the gist is as follows. They issued this statement which essentially stated that visitors can no longer download ROMs from the site (try it, every link says the game chosen is unavailable) and hint at “potentially disastrous consequences”. Everyone’s managed to put two and two together and concluded that it’s due to Nintendo taking legal action against LoveRetro and LoveROMS, resulting in the withdrawal on those sites of NES ROMs.

Emulation sites have faced opposition since year dot. Even popular guitar tab sites have had to move their services to servers in Russia to enable access to interpretations (tabs) of popular songs for budding guitarists. EmuParadise’s founder MasJ talks of threatening letters and hosts unexpectedly pulling the plug as just two of the problems he’s encountered. But to counter that, he talks of EmuParadise being a haven for “soldiers at war saying that the only way they got through their days was to be lost in the retrogames that they played from when they were children”, or “brothers who have lost their siblings to cancer and were able to find solace in playing the games they once did as children”. It’s heartbreaking stuff. There are many other emulation sites and torrents still up and running (with full libraries of ROMs) but that’s besides the point. It’s sad that MasJ felt the need to bring this element of the site to a close. They still intend to celebrate retrogaming (like this site of course), which is always good to hear.

Nevertheless, what has caused this shift? Why does Nintendo feel the need to exert their strength on the situation? And that’s some strength we’re talking about, a quick internet search reveals that as of early 2017 the company was worth around $40 billion. Taking into account recent strides with modern tech, the figure can only be higher. I suppose we’ve first got to look at what emulation is and how legal it is.

 

 

Emulators are essentially that, homemade programs that run on your home computer that manage to play downloadable files of (mostly) classic video games by emulating that console or computer. Many of you would never have entertained the thought of partaking in such things but I’m sad (slash, not so sad) to say that I have, and have done since the dial-up days of the late 90s. The question over legality is far from straightforward which is how most of these sites still exist and how many people like myself have managed to enjoy games we’ve never owned. A key message many emulation sites sent out in the 90s and 2000s was that if you actually own the physical copy of the game then playing it on an emulator is perfectly legal. Even that myth has been challenged by this great article over at techradar. I encourage you to read the whole thing but the key points from it are as follows: intellectual property law is not set up to recognise emulation; doing it on a not-for-profit basis is unlikely to get you off the hook; using downloads (and not files you’ve ripped yourself) constitutes piracy; and when you put all these together the developer or manufacturer can argue that IP law has been infringed. It’s too early to see which way this will all go but it’s clear that deficiencies in the law will be to blame for this being a drawn out affair. The likelihood of you being prosecuted for playing games on an emulator at home is next to zero but of course for those seeking profitable gain the ground is more rocky.

So now I’ve gotten that out of the way I will say this, emulation is only (and always has been in my opinion) ever a good thing. That’s right Nintendo, I said it. Right back from the olden days it provided a quick and free method of sampling most of the colours of the videogame rainbow. To a young college (almost) dropout with an ageing PC and not much else, it was a lifeline. Much like the soldier. Much like the brother. Not to the same extent of course, but still, a way to enjoy and share experiences of different games. One big example springs to mind. A few years before I got started on emulation my Game Boy was stolen. This might sound silly but I was distraught. Emulation provided an extremely quick fix to replace my need to play those games I lost for free. On any face of it however, it’s piracy. One man/woman’s home-built emulator and another’s illegal downloadable game file combined.

Not only is it a good thing but Nintendo and many other videogame manufacturers and developers have benefited from its existence. In a roundabout way of course, and there’s no way of ever being able to put a figure on it but there are clear (even recent) developments that may not have happened and I’ll try to summarise them in the next section.

 

 

You’re looking at the first one. This blog was created partly because my mother saw fit to throw away all my videogame magazines but also to comment on and to discover games that we were never able to play when we were younger. Although our collections are considerable, the content on these pages is swelled from experiences through emulators. How else does one play Alien Soldier or Daze Before Christmas (watch out for those reviews soon)? We don’t profess to be experts here at Arcade Attack, simply hobbyists wanting to share our opinion with like-minded people. We’re late to the party having started in 2014 but there’s a whole, massive community out there and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.

The second, perhaps most major effect is the growing boom in retrogaming, not only in social media and blogs but even in mainstream television where new programs are being created and old ones yearned for. This then leads to demands for certain compilation discs for current-gen consoles and also standalone products that allow you to play emulated games on modern TVs. Hmmm… Where exactly do companies like Nintendo think the hype for these products comes from? Because it probably isn’t Johnny who’s got the whole NES back catalogue in his man-shed. A lot of the clamour for the NES Mini was down to punters wanting more realistic emulation on something that is built by Nintendo. Thank god they got to experience poor emulation in the first place, eh?

I suppose that’s another point about emulation, it never feels like playing the real thing on the real console and I can testify to that. Poor emulation, in this community, can drive the need to purchase the real thing. And whilst that’s likely to be a cart picked up at a local car boot sale or eBay it’s also just as likely to be a NES Mini, a SNES Mini or the mooted N64 Mini.

So Nintendo, can I just say to you, give it a break. If not for us, then for yourselves.

 

Dylan

 

One Comment on “What’s Wrong With Emulation? A Letter to Nintendo…”

  1. Yeh dude, I also use them in my flash carts too so i can have them where ever i go without taking so many carts. Emulation has given me the chance to sample games to buy and also play ones that are just too expensive to buy.. but for me it all comes down to the preservation because there are just sooo many games that would have been lost for good .. sure we can buy Super Mario bros on every new nintendo online store at some point .. but where do i buy bubsy >>? Never been released on any online store that i have owned .. For me its the preservation that i am so scared will get lost – but luckily not so much for me since i’ve downloaded so many Roms anyway – for my own back up doomsday preservation

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