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January 25th, 2012 By Martin Brennan | News | Posted In: Technology, Public Policy, News, Media, Internet, Ethics, Censorship

Online Pirating: An Old-School Gamer's Only Option?

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Last week I blogged about SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill being proposed in Congress that, if passed, would allow both copyright holders as well as the US Department of Justice to severely restrict access to and advertising on any website accused of facilitating copyright infringement. Needless to say the bill’s sparked a huge controversy on the web. Many sites such as Reddit.com blacked out their services on Jan. 18 in protest, and those against the bill are saying the bill inhibits free speech and will effectively “ruin the Internet” if passed.

But I already talked about that all in my last blog. This week I wanted to cover another subject related to SOPA; namely, online piracy.

It’s obviously become a big problem, or else Congress wouldn’t have bothered proposing a bill as extreme as SOPA in the first place. And I can certainly understand why media companies are rallying in support of it. Every time a TV show, song, movie or video game is either streamed or downloaded illegally, they’re losing money.

But why do people pirate in the first place? The most obvious answer is to save money. Hell, why pay for something you can get for free, even if it means bending the rules? However, as an avid gamer and internet users…I know for a fact there are other reasons gamers such as myself might be tempted to pirate as well.

I personally love old-school video games. I grew up in the era of Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.

And I still think some of the best games ever made exist for those consoles. The problem is, these days you’d probably be hard pressed to find a Snes for sale in your average game or toy store. It’s old technology. There’s no money in it anymore.

Any games made before the era of Sony’s Playstation 2, Microsoft’s Xbox or Nintendo’s Gamecube are becoming increasingly hard to find. And even those are getting out of date with the newer consoles nearing on five or six years since their release. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a whole slew of ‘next-gen’ consoles within the next year.

So what’s all this got to do with online piracy? Simple: It’s pretty much impossible to find old video games anywhere but online these days. There’s myriad sites out there dedicated to ‘emulation’…or, to put it in layman’s terms, the distribution of programs that will allow you to play video games on your computer.

Given, there’s absolutely no excuse for the pirating of more recently released games. But in the case of some of the older games from the 1990s, and even the early 2000s, emulation’s pretty much the only option. Companies aren’t distributing these games anymore. The only alternative to pirating is trolling antique shops and the inventories of game collectors - and even then it’s a shot in the dark. Even if you find the game you’re looking for, you’d better be willing to pay an outrageous price for it. Hard copies of Earthbound, a popular role-playing game for the Super Nintendo, can go for over $100. And it’s not the only one, I assure you.

Fortunately, Nintendo, at the very least, seems to be sympathetic to the plight of a gamer seeking to relive the nostalgia of older-era games. Owners of the Wii can download older games to play using the ‘Virtual Console’ feature, given they’re willing to pay (typically $5-$20 depending on the game). It’s a nice feature, but the inventory’s still quite limited. Popular games like Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda are easy to find, but several more obscure titles remain unavailable.

Unfortunate as it is, emulation is the easiest and cheapest method for a gamer looking to find and play older games. Unless you’ve held on to your old consoles and copies, you’re pretty much out of luck. Stores have begun to stop stocking games for consoles even as recent as the Playstation 2 and Xbox. As I mentioned before, companies no longer care to distribute new copies - there’s simply not enough of a market for it.

And admittedly, it is a small market. But not small enough to stop gamers from pirating hacked copies to play on their computer. It may not be the main concern of the organizations dedicated to stopping piracy, but with SOPA and other similar bills being proposed and voted on, it probably won’t be long before sites dedicated to video game emulation are targeted as well.

 
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