Are Video Game Emulators Legal?

Updated on December 26, 2018
EricFarmer8x profile image

Eric has played many video games over the years. He loves to write about his favorite video games so others can learn about them.

Nintendo Is Going After the ROMs

Emulators are a way to play older Nintendo games like GameBoy games. Many people play Emulators on their PC and download ROMs. If emulation is legal why is it such a heated topic?

This article will explain why some people consider emulation to be a legal gray issue.

What Is an Emulator?

An emulator is a piece of software or hardware that runs software on another system like it would have originally run. There are many examples of emulators.

  • Calculators
  • Older computer systems
  • Video game consoles

In this article, I am going to focus primarily on video game consoles.

A Game Boy Advance emulator running on a Chromebook.
A Game Boy Advance emulator running on a Chromebook. | Source

Emulation Is Legal

Multiple court cases have proven that at least in the United States just possessing or using an emulator is legal. I have linked to official legal documents for the curious.

To sum up the legal battles of emulation in a few sentences. Emulation is legal as long the ROMs are dumped from the original hardware and the ROMs and dumped by the user. Making backups of your own games and system is legal.

Have You Used a Video Emulator Before?

See results

But Wait! There Is More to The Story

Like I just mentioned, emulation is legal as long you dump your own ROMs. But what does this mean?

This means you take the original cartridge or CD in the case of newer games and download the game files into a digital format.

Let's be real, most people have no idea how to do this, nor are capable of doing this. You need specialized hardware and software to do this, and your ordinary GameBoy is not going to dump ROMs for you.

If you download ROMs you did not dump yourself, you are breaking the law.

But if emulation is legal and downloading ROMs is not, then why are people still arguing about this?

People have multiple reasons for defending emulation and downloading ROMs.


Some older video games are very hard to find these days, so some people argue that dumping and archiving ROMs is necessary to preserve them.

In quite a few cases, the original development and publishing companies no longer exist, and only legal holding groups have the rights to the games and the intellectual properties (IP).


Many people played Nintendo games growing up as a kid. I fondly remember having a GameBoy when I was younger. These people may download ROMs if they still like there favorite older games and have a strong desire to play them again.

Emulators Provide Many Options

Some emulators can run the video game software in better resolution than originally provided. For example, Dolphin, the very popular Gamecube emulator can do this.

Emulators also allow you to use many different input options. If you use a computer, you can use whatever inputs it accepts.

People may also enjoy playing ROMs on their computer or phone or other devices like a Raspberry Pi.

Every decent emulator lets you manage multiple save files, and any good one will let you take a save state of your exact position in the game. Some emulators can even let you rewind the game!

For popular games, people have made their own modified versions of the game. These are called ROM hacks. ROM hacks let you play an old game like it is new again.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can download and store every single game on a one hard drive. This is much more manageable, in my opinion, than having a huge physical collection.

Pirates Ahoy!

Of course, some people just want everything for free. Downloading ROMs and emulating them gives you a huge library of games to download without spending a single cent, other than the hardware and input options you choose.

However, to do this, you must pirate games. This is illegal.

Main Arguments Against Emulation

Companies like Nintendo frequently sell their classic games for modern video game systems. The Virtual Console for the Nintendo 3DS and the WiiU are examples of this.

Nintendo has also somewhat recently released the NES Classic and the SNES Classic. Both of these modern releases of the consoles have collections of popular games for people to play.

So, shouldn't you still be buying the games if the company is still selling them? That is what Nintendo would want of course.

There are other examples of older games being sold in modern formats as well.

  • Atari Flashback

  • SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics on Steam

  • Sonic the Hedgehog on Google Play

Companies argue that because of people illegally downloading ROMs, they are losing money. This is why they've created these systems.

This is the NES Classic. It is was so popular it initially sold out.
This is the NES Classic. It is was so popular it initially sold out. | Source

But This Doesn't Please Everybody

Some people feel that Nintendo is charging too much money for their older video games.

To play Virtual Console games, you will need a Wii, Wii U, or 3DS. Not all games are available on all platforms.

People who are against buying games this way may see the cost of paying for these systems as too much money.

Still, both the NES Classic and the SNES Classic sold out and were hard to purchase.

What I Personally Think About Emulators

I feel that companies like Nintendo charge too much money for older video game systems and hardware.

Whether they like it or not, developers have made great emulators that in some cases work better than officially licensed emulators.

I would love to pay money for an official ROM pack and then run it on my desktop computer or phone or wherever I want with an emulator.

The hilarious thing is with some older games on Steam you are buying an emulator with a ROM file included. I could easily buy the game and then extract the ROM and run it however I want just fine.

Official emulators are now only catching up to the options unofficial emulators have had for years.

Maybe I am selfish for wanting to play older Nintendo games without buying a Nintendo system, but this is how I feel.

Nothing Really Changes

People who download ROMs will continue to do so, and Nintendo will continue to close down ROM websites.

The thing is anybody with enough know-how will download the ROMs they want anyway. There is always the option of using Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing to find ROMs, too.

The issue of emulators is not going away anytime soon.

© 2018 Eric Farmer


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)