The Morality of Emulation

What is your moral standpoint on the use of emulators?

Something that should probably be made clear up front is that Emulation is legal. It is legal to develop an emulator, it is legal to download an emulator, and it is legal to play backups of games you have legally purchased on your emulator. Downloading copyrighted material from the internet, such as ROMs or ISOs, is not legal. This is all fairly common knowledge, but I’m restating it just in case.

If you are operating within the above legal parameters, your use of an emulator is perfectly moral. This should probably go without saying.

Beyond that we get into stuff that is either gray legal or outright illegal.

So lets consider some cases:

Downloading a ROM/ISO from the internet for a game you already own.
Fine in my book. You’re bypassing their right to distribution, but playing it on an emulator may allow you a better experience than in the intended format. It has the same end result as manually ripping the game yourself.

Downloading a ROM/ISO for a game that is out of print
You’re not really hurting the creators or owners of the game by doing this, unless it comes back into print, then it’s basically stealing.

Downloading a ROM/ISO for a game that cannot be purchased because the company that owns it is defunct (abandonware)
This is gray legal, no company exists to stop you from doing it. GOG actually tracks down whoever the fuck sort of owns the rights to all the games they release, and buys the rights from them. They have a fair sized legal team dedicated to just this.

Downloading a ROM/ISO to try out a game before buying it
Borderline stealing.

Downloading a ROM/ISO instead of buying a game that is currently available
This is basically just stealing.

Downloading a ROM/ISO instead of buying a game because the profits will not go to the original creators
This is kind of dickish, because the current owners paid to get the rights to it and likely put some work into publishing it to whatever platform you’re getting it on.

Buying used games
This is legal, right of first sale. It has much the same effect as all of the above. Most people would consider it perfectly moral, but who’s to judge?

Overall, emulation use for most common purposes technically isn’t moral, it’s a gray area at best. However emulators and software piracy are also a way in which the history of games gets preserved. It’s not legal, but without pirates, many parts of our gaming history would either become lost to time, or inaccessible. I don’t personally begrudge people who use emulators for whatever they want, but I’m not gonna say it’s completely morally right either.

Here’s some talks and an article on the topic:

5 thoughts on “The Morality of Emulation

  1. Charles Geringer May 24, 2017 / 1:39 pm

    What is your view of someone buying a console game (but playing on an emulator and avoiding buying the console)

    I have a friend who did this for breath of the wild. (though he bought a Switch special edition an d plays on a Wii U emulator)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chris Wagar May 24, 2017 / 5:20 pm

      Uuuuuuuuuuhhhhhh. I think that’s technically legal, but I don’t really know. That’s a weird case.


      • ShyGuyVye June 3, 2017 / 7:31 am

        It would be dealt with on a case by case basis depending on the damage cited by a game’s owner. Considering that nintendo profits off both the console and game sale, in that specific case, its probably illegal.


    • Chris Wagar June 7, 2017 / 2:51 am

      Sounds good to me. I don’t really believe in government censorship like that.

      Liked by 1 person

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