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Emulators and ROMs: A Gamers Moral Obligation, Or a Pirates Legal Grey Area?

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There’s debate within the gaming community regarding emulators. Those interested in history and its preservation argue that making emulators and ROMs of games and archiving them for posterity is our responsibility for the next generation of gamers, while many IP owners of games argue this as piracy and unofficial ROMs and emulators (those not owned and distributed by the original IP owner) should be made illegal.

With games like P.T. no longer available after Konami pulled the plug on the Silent Hill game, posterity will only know of its existence as long as playthroughs on video hosting sites and ROMs created by forward-thinking gamers are still available. While this is probably the most recent example of a game that is no longer available possibly being lost to time, companies like Nintendo are notorious for being protective of their IP and sending cease and desist letters to any site hosting their property.

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Only rarely do they make in-demand games available for purchase past the console it was made for. Sure, Super Mario Bros on the original Nintendo has been emulated for almost every system since the original Nintendo, but that’s a rare exception to the full catalogue Nintendo has created over the decades. They are currently trickling content for the Nintendo and Super Nintendo consoles onto the Switch, but what about the GameCube, Wii, and WiiU? At the rate Nintendo is releasing emulators, we’ll be well within the next console generation before Nintendo gets that far into their catalogue.

But why wait for the companies to release these games again when ROMs and emulators are available if you bought the game on a previous system already and want to play it on a new console or PC? There’s a lot of grey area. If you own a game physically, you are likely to emulate or own a ROM of the game. However, there’s no legal precedent in the United States to say it’s illegal. There is no trial on record of any company going to court over emulators or ROMs and their use. That being said, not everyone has the setup to make their own ROMs and emulators for all the games they may already own, which is where third-party download sites come in. Just be aware that while you may be able to defend your right to own and use emulators and ROMs for games you already own, it may be illegal to distribute (in this case download or offer to upload for others to download) these in your country. Double check your local laws before downloading any software.

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Wherever you land on the debate, be safety minded. When you download an emulator from a third-party website, take steps to protect your rig from possible viruses and malware. When downloading any software, make sure you aren’t giving more permission or access than is required for the download. Uncheck any boxes that allow the downloader to add a third-party search bar or additional software, and never run new software or open a new file without running a virus scan first.

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