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Is Video Game Emulation Legal?

Eric loves to write about video game-related topics. He has years of experience playing games and wants to share his thoughts.

Learn About the Legality of Video Game Emulation

Emulators are a way to play older Nintendo games like Game Boy games.

Many people play emulators on their PC and download ROMs. 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. In this article, I am going to focus primarily on video game consoles.

Emulator Examples

  • Calculators
  • Older computer systems
  • Video game consoles
The VisualBoyAdvance-M Emulator.

The VisualBoyAdvance-M Emulator.

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.

Court Case Examples

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.

Emulation is legal as long you dump your own ROMs. If you download ROMs you did not dump yourself, you are breaking the law. 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.

Dumping ROMs Is Hard

Let's be real, most people have no idea how to do this, nor can do this.

You need specialized hardware and software to do this, and your ordinary Game Boy is not going to dump ROMs for you.

Why Are People Conflicted on Emulation?

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.

Keeping Old Video Games Alive

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

Some Video Games No Longer Exist

Sometimes because of legal reasons or company issues, some video games are no longer sold anywhere. It would be almost impossible to play these games without emulation.

Video Game Nostalgia

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

The Benefits of Using an Emulator

  • Emulators Can Run Better Than the Original Hardware
  • Emulators Have More Controller Options
  • Emulators Run on Many Devices
  • Save Games in Better Ways
  • Play Rom Hacks
  • Easier to Manage Video Game Collection

Why Do People Pirate Video Games?

Pirating video games is illegal, but many people still do it anyway. Why would people do this?

Many Games 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.

Some Companies Still Sell Old Games

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

Nintendo has also somewhat recently released the NES Classic and the SNES Classic.

Other Examples of Companies Selling Old Games

  • Atari Flashback
  • SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics on Steam
  • Sonic the Hedgehog on Google Play
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.

The Cons of Modern Retro Games

  • Retro Games Cost Too Much Money
  • Need Specific Video Game Consoles
  • Availability

What I Personally Think About Emulators

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

Emulators Are Just Better Options

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.

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

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Eric Farmer