I’m at a loss. Shockwaves went through the world of emulation when, after 18 long and fruitful years, Emuparadise announced that they’d be moving away from hosting ROMs and ISOs for games in a bid to avoid getting royally sued for facilitating piracy, the final DMCA from Nintendo being one too many. This came as a crushing blow not just to me, but thousands of people in love with video games; the world’s leading, largest, and indeed, safest archive of games was effectively gone just because someone sitting in an office in Redmond, VA snapped their fingers, the whole of an industry hurt irrevocably just to preserve their slice of the pie. Even when Nintendo had blocked their first-party heavy hitters from appearing on the site, Emuparadise still felt complete with mountains of titles, famous or forgotten, available to play under the veil of grey legality. Under that unspoken protection, and the imagined permission slip that I had no money, I went on an odyssey in my adolescence from the centre of my bedroom, getting to play titles I’d never gotten to experience such as Earthbound, WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game, DuckTales, and the original Metal Gear Solid. With this move, however, I’m sad to report that there’s been a death. Not Emuparadise, as they will continue on under some shapeshifted, lawyer-friendly form. Definitely not Nintendo, who have enough money to make Mario literally real, living and breathing. Not emulation itself, either, at least not in a physical sense; as the creation of emulators will never stop, as these are fully legal, and when Emuparadise’s archives close, someone else will inevitably try to step up.
I’m talking about the spiritual death of emulation, and the knock-on loss to players as a whole.
People who cry that “emulation is theft” or “you could just buy the game on Steam” are glibly and deliberately missing the point, and this brand of willful ignorance is fully nauseating. Emulation was never the problem, it was the solution to the red-tape headaches that publishers created for themselves, and indeed still are. In regards to digital distribution, simply buying the game off PSN or Xbox Live isn’t an option, as developers will constantly drag their heels on games that players really want to see remastered, or when they do, they botch it entirely — the Silent Hill HD Collection comes to mind in its unplayable, Heather Morris-less state. Gamers are then left with braving the second-hand market, which can be wildly expensive and puts $0 in the original developers pocket, or they can be wise, and pick a solution that doesn’t rely on negotiating scratched discs, SCART component cables, and can be upgraded to HD for the low price of nothing.
The theft argument is always amusing. Whether you find it to be shameless capitalist bootlicking or not (your mileage may vary and we’ll leave it at that), it’s not true. Piracy is theft as far as a legal definition, but what does that really mean? “Theft of income”? “Theft of revenue”? That’s totally apt and fair for a game that’s just hit the shelves, and I fully condemn downloading a game you could easily buy, doubly so if it’s an indie title, which often sell for peanuts. Shame on you for stealing the food off someone’s table.
But I ask the court this; how can you steal something that isn’t there? If the game is not available for purchase in any legitimate first-hand sales (that is, sales that will positively impact both merchant AND creator); what theft has really occurred? I encourage you to think as legitimately as possible to support creators where you can, but it’s not possible for the forgotten bulk of games. This is where the real losses begin.
That’s where my sadness is predicated, mostly. In a place I like to think of as the heartlands of emulation. You see, games like Super Mario 64, Metal Gear Solid and Sonic Adventure 2 will always find their audience given their lasting popularity and the voracious appetite of their respective fanbases. I’m shedding a tear for games that, without a proper archive, are the games that are going to fade away from the picture like Marty McFly, getting sucked into the black hole of obscurity.
I’m talking about silly games like WWF WarZone, FIFA 2001, A Series of Unfortunate Events for the Game Boy Advance, Firebugs, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 – games that, by rights, nobody should give a fuck about anymore. These games may have meant nothing to you, but the “little titles” made my life. I know I’m not the only one to feel like that, or to lament the possible loss of my own little titles who just lost a lifeline. We all had them.
That’s the real tragedy of Emuparadise’s loss. God knows you won’t find them on the likes of Romhustler without giving your computer syphilis, or having to hunt them out on eBay and pay the cumulative monies – original hardware, cables, TV – just to play them properly. Don’t worry about Mario. Mario is looking out for Mario. No one’s looking out for the little guys. Tragically, it just got a little harder to preserve and find the games that don’t burn as brightly as other titles, but that which still kept us warm in our youth. Pray the ember won’t flame out.