Video Game Emulation

Computers that Play Nintendo Games

Can computers play Nintendo games? Yes, but that's not all! They can also play Sega Genesis games, Gameboy games, Nintendo 64 games, arcade games, and the list goes on. Of course you can't just plug your game cartridge into the computer. Game files, which are often called images or ROM's, are used instead, but that's not all you need. You also need what is called an "emulator" that performs the duties of the game console.

Emulators are programs that are designed to "emulate" a game console. These programs are carefully programmed to do everything the actual game console does. This proves to be quite a difficult task. Most emulators are not 100% perfect, although some are much better than others.

For most game consoles, there are several different emulators to choose from. Some are fairly difficult to get set up and can be quite cumbersome to play. Others are as easy to play as surfing the Internet. Most emulators won't play every ROM either. Some may play a ROM that another won't and vice versa.

A fairly popular and free Super Nintendo emulator is the ZSNES. The ZSNES has an easy "Windows" type menu and is one of the more compatible emulators available. If you prefer the Sega Genesis, Genecyst is a great choice for emulating the Genesis ROM's. It is also free and has an easy to use "Windows" type menu.

Once you have an emulator, next you will need a ROM in order to play a game. Here is the bad part. It may be illegal to have a ROM file of a game or even an emulator! To the best of my knowledge it seems nobody knows for sure.

Bleem, a once popular PlayStation emulator, was legally marketed and sold for a long time. They won most of their court battles against Sony, but Sony, a much wealthier company, was able to keep things tied up in court until Bleem finally ran out of money and was unable to continue the fight. Bleem, financially broke after all the lawsuits, was forced to discontinue selling their product. It seemed to be more of who had the most money than what was legal.

Many argue that it should be legal to own a ROM if you are the owner of the actual game itself. Their reasoning is that people are allowed to have back-up copies of software they own. Nintendo disagrees and thinks it is illegal no matter what! (Keep in mind though that it is definitely a copyright infringement to possess copies of copyrighted software that you do not own.)

As far as I can tell there have been no "official" court rulings to strongly support either case. If you're going to collect ROMs please keep all of this in mind. I wouldn't want you to end up behind bars! :-) When I find out for sure about these legal issues, (not Nintendo's or an emulation site's "opinions"), I will let you know.

There is an exception to all this "red tape." If the ROM is NOT a copy of an original video game, then it should be legal to download. The same would apply to emulators. An emulator that "replicates" the Nintendo game console may be illegal, but for another emulator the question of legality would depend on what it was emulating and how it went about it. Emulators can be designed to emulate anything from older model computers to people.

From what research I have done so far, it seems that the main legal issue is whether sites are allowed to provide ROM's for download. From what I can understand, it should be legal unless it is a ROM of something copyrighted or it is provided without the owner's permission. Some sites seem to be distributing ROM's illegally. Inevitably, whether these sites infringe on copyright laws or not is a matter for the courts to decide.

The easiest way to use an emulator and a ROM is to place them both in the same folder. The rest depends on how the emulator is designed to load and play the ROM. Most emulators will come with a "ReadMe" file that explains how to get started.

Now that you have a better understanding of game emulation, all that's left is to download an emulator and a ROM to play. Again, remember the legal issues I mentioned before. Below are sites pertaining to emulation. If you find ROM's at these sites, please be certain they are legal to download! Make SURE you always scan everything you download before opening or running it!

* Sites that Provide Emulators *

Game Revolution


Emulation Camp

Game Town

Multiple Arcade Machine

Zophar's Domain

* Sites that Provide Legal ROMs *
( To the best of my knowledge )

PD Roms


Snakeyes Gaming Corp.


MAME World

Game Asylum

MAME-Compatible ROMs

Legalize 8bit Roms

These sites are just a few of many emulation sites online. If you can't find what you're looking for, try a search using the keywords: "Emulator" or "ROM." Remember the legal issues before downloading anything!

* * * NOTE * * *

I have tried to find links free of any possible illegal activity. Should you find anything questionable that has been added to any of the above sites please let me know so that I can remove the link immediately. Thanks!

Back to Learn