Emulation is where you run a downloaded version of a game on a device it was not designed for. This is how PS3 plays PlayStation and PS2 games like Syphon Filter or GTA: San Andreas. It is also how you can play an MS Dos shooter on your Android device or a Game Boy Advance RPG on your PSP.
There are emulators for pretty much every device created. ZX Spectrum, BBC Apple, Game Boy Color, Saturn, Xbox and even the last generation - PS3 and Xbox 360. However, the more recent the hardware, the more power it requires from the device running the emulator. This means that a PS3 emulator is going to need the strongest PC hardware to get minimal performance, but the Samsung Galaxy S4 will easily run Super Mario 64.
So we should support emulation, right? Well no, not exactly. You can download Pokemon Black 2 and play it on an emulator, which is the same as downloading any recent game - taking money from developers from a product still in stores. However, can the same be said for games no longer being published? PC games are never out of print, with digital download services like Steam and re-releases courtesy of sites such as Gog.com. However, console games won't be around forever, especially cartridge titles.
When's the last time you saw a Mega Drive cart on sale? Titles are always being re-released on newer consoles, like Sonic the Hedgehog on Android or Kirby Super Star on Wii U, but they usually give you better graphics and sometimes even new features. Doesn’t that make them a new version, making the old version fair game? In the case of Pokémon Red, it was re-released as Pokémon FireRed - an almost completely different game. There is little chance Pokémon will be brought out on Virtual Console, as every couple of versions it comes out on a brand new device.
Of course, there is a way around playing games you didn’t pay for. A fan made game is one usually made from scratch and without permission of the copyright owner, and given away for free. A fan hack is made using the original game as a base and either changing parts of it, or designing an entirely new map and storyline. For instance, there are Pokémon FireRed hacks that add Pokémon from Pokémon Black & White, and others that rewrite the entire storyline. There are Super Mario World hacks that set it in Super Mario 64’s levels. The main problem with these is that you need to use an emulator.
Which again brings up the question - are emulators good for the gaming industry? I would say yes. People have always learnt to code from games they own. Back in the ‘80s, magazines printed the actual code for people to type into their Spectrum and recreate a game. The only difference between then and now, is that copyright holders are not in the mindset to release their code to anyone, let alone anyone capable of just picking up an issue of a magazine from a shelf.
So emulation is good for those wishing to learn how to make a game. And those who are willing to learn from good games, will learn how to make good games. So emulation should be approved of - it gives us access to old games as well as the information to recreate them. You can’t be the next Shakespeare if you’re not allowed to learn from The Merchant of Venice, after all. However, if you choose to use an emulator, just make sure it is for research and it’s not for illegal gaming - you can’t become the next Peter Molyneux by committing crimes.