Console emulator

A console emulator is a program for a computer, or other computing device, that can emulate a video game console or handheld, so a computer can be used to play, translate, or modify games that were created for that console or to develop games for that console. Console emulation can also be done between consoles (hence cross-console emulation), making a modern video game console emulate a less advanced one.

Console games for emulators are often distributed as ROM images on the Internet. Without the permission of the copyright holder or the Entertainment Software Association, this practice is illegal, although few copyright holders appear to care about older games (See Abandonware), and a few copyright holders have even released their games and demos gratis or even as free software. This illegality is also controversial for long time gamers and so called "old school" gamers. Many gamers believe that older video games are more fun than newer video games, because game companies had to focus on gameplay elements other than graphics, due to the graphical limitations at the time of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, and some believe that 3D graphics has not yet matured.

For more up-to-date systems (eg: Nintendo's Game Boy, N64; Sega's Dreamcast, Sony's Playstation) the copyright holders tend to be more proactive about protecting their copyrights, and a number of websites offering ROMs have been shut down. The rights of the company which created the console are infringed upon by the emulators, as much of the proprietary information used within the consoles has been reverse engineered to emulate the ROMs. Most NES and SNES ROMs are rumored to be no longer cared by the rights of the copyright holder. Nintendo may have sold its NES and SNES licenses to another company. Therefore, the emulation-related revivals of Nintendo's NES and SNES have settled down to some extent.

Many ROM sites claim that it is legal to download the ROMs for backup purposes if one owns a physical copy of the software, or for a limited trial period if one does not, but it is doubtful that this information is based on sound legal advice. However, it appears that Title 17 USC Section 117 [1] permits making a backup copy within the United States.

One advantage to ROM images is the potential for hacking: Console game fans sometimes produce translations of games, rewrite the game's dialogue, or apply fixes to bugs that were present in the original game. Software which emulates a console system can be improved with additional capabilities that the original system did not have, such as variable-width font, anti-aliasing, or game save state functionality. Also, console game fans sometimes change the game's font from fixed-width to variable-width font, e.g. Seiken Densetsu 2 (Secret of Mana) Variable Font Edition. SNES fans use variable-width font in producing translations of Japan-only SNES games.

According to, console developers and game publishers probably brought console emulation onto themselves, by abusing their overseas fans with disappointing regional decisions and territorial lockout. (Note from Josh Frappier: I do not own RPGamer or work on its staff. As such, the views in this editorial are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ownership or staff of RPGamer.)

Some popular console emulators include GNUBoy, FCE Ultra, nester, Snes9x, ZSNES, and TuxNES.

See also: List of emulators

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