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Have You Played... Emulators?

Legally grey, morally pure?

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Emulation often feels like a similarly shady cousin of piracy, but where one means you don’t give money to currently jobbing developers, the other is often an act of preserving and making accessible games that otherwise would be borderline or outright unplayable. I confess I feel little guilt about having taken money away from opportunistic eBayers, and considerable gratitude that my PC unlocked gaming’s history even beyond its own platform borders.

It’s been a while, but I spent a lot of my time in my teens tinkering with Gameboy emulators, Amiga emulators, Spectrum emulators, MAME and more in order to play games that were for one reason or another unavailable to me. This seems to me to be legally murkey but morally pure, at a time before console manufacturers started producing HD remakes or selling emulated versions of their own back catalogues, as Nintendo now do on Wii U and 3DS.

Through these emulators I learned not only about gaming’s past, but some of its technical present. Most software doesn’t simply set out to make old games playable, but to make the playable under modern conditions. Sometimes that means offering quality of life features like the ability to save anywhere, and other times it means upscaling textures and anti-aliasing edges. I know more about games and how they work because of emulation.

If you’re intent on replicating the experience of a currently available console or game, then I’ve no time for you. But more power to you, says I, if you’re opening a portal to a world of games no longer being manufactured or sold. It’s one of the great abilities of the PC.

Oh, and it enables things like tool-assisted speedrunning.

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Graham Smith


Graham is to blame for all this.

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