DISCLAIMER: This article is no way constitutes neither legal advice, nor agreement or disagree with emulation, devices, and subjects therein.

Retro-computing is the hobby of using older hardware and software for productivity and entertainment. Retro-computing often overlaps with retro-gaming, which specifically is the hobby of playing older games on native hardware and software.

In some retro-computing circles, purists debate that physical media is king and that retro-computing should be done on its native hardware. On the other end of the spectrum, users show devotion to emulators.

For those who want to get into retro-computing cheaply emulation is the answer. Emulation uses modern software to mimic or imitate older hardware, computer operating systems and applications in order to play system specific vintage software.

A good example of emulation in action is the use of Windows’s “Backwards Compatibility” or Windows XP mode. While not emulation in the sense that vintage video gamers use, this emulation is likely what most people are familiar with when they install older applications such as Microsoft Office 2000, on Windows 10.

When the older Windows program fails, Windows 10 will make a recommendation for the application to be run in a compatibility mode. There are a few modes Windows 10 will suggest for the application. This is what is happening at the core of emulation.  An older program is given a layer of translation for the modern software to understand it and the newer computer to then use the older software.

Emulators, however, have come under a legal gray area because they are sometimes used to create access to non-purchased video games. Companies like Nintendo have stated plainly their opinion on emulators: “The introduction of emulators created to play illegally copied Nintendo software represents the greatest threat to date to the intellectual property rights of video game developers. . . . Such emulators have the potential to significantly damage a worldwide entertainment software industry which generates over $15 billion annually, and tens of thousands of jobs.”

Nintendo was referring to piracy, and as the author of the Higan multi-system emulator Byyu stated in a PCGamer article, “Emulation does enable piracy, unfortunately. There’s no denying that. But it also enables fair use. It’s essentially the same argument as you’d make for a gun, a knife, or a car.” (The publisher of Higan was referring to the argument of who is responsible for violence, the perpetrator or the weapon.)

So, while piracy is illegal, emulation is not.

So if emulation is legal, what is illegal? This is the gray area of emulation. Emulation requires copyrighted material, usually in the form of “ROMs” or read only memories. These ROMs contain programs and can be anything from Pong by Atari, or something like Super Mario Bros. from Nintendo.

How to actually get ROMs and other needed files within copyright will not be discussed. What is going to be discussed is how to set up an emulator and some personal recommendations for you to consider.

One thing to keep in mind is, what are you wanting to emulate?  Is it a computer like the Commodore 64, the Apple II, or something more recent like the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube? These questions will be needed in order to understand what you need to do to run emulation on your modern day computer. Keep in mind that sometimes a low end, older computer simply can’t emulate.

For the purposes of example, however, let’s start with the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES. This console is a favorite among many players, and people enjoy the games in pop-culture and the system’s historical impact.

Often times you can do a search online and find many emulators for this system; however, caution should be taken when looking for an emulator. Due to popularity, some emulators are viruses. Wikipedia offers a list of well-known emulators that are either still active or have since been left in an unfinished state.

The FCEUX emulator can be found at http://www.fceux.com/web/download.html. Installing this emulator is not against the law and is legal. It is up to the reader to follow discretion on whether or not they go looking for the ROMs.

Clicking the download link will take you to the emulator’s host server sourceforge.com, and an ad-blocker is recommended. From there the file will download automatically and be placed in the “downloads” folder with the name “fceux-2.2.3-win32.zip”. From there you can unload the zip file into a folder in your documents. Opening the program is as easy as going into the folder and double-clicking the application.

In some cases you might have the ROMs sitting on your shelf if the emulator supports reading from a disc drive, such as PlayStation One or PSX, which uses CD and DVD technology to store its games. However you may need copyrighted files to run the emulators. When you’ve installed the emulator it’s your job to find the software you wish to play.

Generally, look for emulator sites that are recommended by many users and while searching it’s recommended you scan each file downloaded for safety. I would not recommend piracy in any fashion, as it carries large penalties or could damage your computer at the least. So, if your computer thinks something is wrong, it might be right.