emulate (v): To strive to equal or excel; To vie with.
emulation (n): The act of emulating.
Formally defined, computer emulation is the usage of software to make one computer act like another. Informally, emulation is a godsend to old-school gamers looking to realize their nostalgia.
As the video game world developed, it abandoned many old ideas in favour of new technology and larger markets. To many of the old gamers, these jumps through successive eras of console technology were distressing, as it meant the leaving behind of many of the games we loved on the old systems.
I personally had a hard time abandoning my Sonic the Hedgehog time on Sega Genesis in exchange for time with the new, three-dimensional Crash Bandicoot on Sony PlayStation. Many nights, I would sneak out behind Crash's back and hang out with my old buddy Sonic, despite the fact Crash had obviously superior technology.
Questions arise. Are we allowed to enjoy old games, even though there is new technology around? Why would I want to play a 2-D game when I could play a 3-D one?
Apparently, I am not alone in my love of old games. While surfing the web one day, I found out about something called console emulation. I could download some software to trick my computer into thinking it was a Game Boy, Genesis, or even an arcade machine. I could be playing Final Fantasy VI within minutes, without even owning a Super Nintendo.
Emulation is the use of a program to map commands from a file called a ROM to usable instructions for a computer. ROMs are just copies of old console games, ripped onto a computer much like we rip tracks from a CD.
It was through emulation that I renewed my love for classic games and experienced other classics I could never have hoped to find because of their obsolescence. It was as simple as downloading a new ROM off of the Internet. All was well.
Then, ROM sites began to disappear. I found out downloading ROMs was actually illegal. Sites hosting ROMs were forced out of operation by people who didn't like seeing their products distributed for free.
Emulation has become consistently harder since the first sites were getting shut down. ROM sharing lives only in the underground scene on the Internet, which makes it very impractical to try and find new games.
It is my personal belief that game makers should embrace the sharing of their older games. Many of the classics are fantastic pieces of art showcasing a day when a game's gameplay and story made up for its lack of graphics. If emulation were to become widely accepted, we could all share in the gaming experience old-school gamers hold dear.