Discussion for 5 October

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October 4, 2012 by climagiste

Dear Y’all,

For discussion tomorrow, we will be talking about emulation, which is writing software so that a different console can run software for another one, like playing Super Mario Bros on your computer. Here’s a blog post describing the very concept applied to Atari. Here’s a post describing how this might affect the gaming industry/community. And for your enjoyment, here is a dude from New Foundland, Canada, playing a mod called Super Mario Death Land:

This topic came up when Steven and I discovered that we played the same games growing up despite the fact that I (Christopher) am probably 10 years older than him. How can this be? Were Steven’s parents stuck in an 80s/early90s technological time-loop? The answer was the magic of emulation!

Here are some questions that may be pertinent:

Here are some points/questions I think we could bring up:

1. Christopher: When I grew up playing Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and N64, gaming had a particular social and material context: games were expensive, I didn’t have very many of them, and to try a new game out, I had to rent one from a video rental place or borrow one from a friend. Also, there were no emulation save states, meaning a lot of the early games were meant to be played in a single sitting. The way we learned about cheats was through magazines or from more knowledgeable gamers. This changed once emulation began in the late 90s. How does emulation affect the experience of these games? What about issues of authenticity?

2. Steven: I grew up in the late 90s, when emulation was first getting its legs in the PC community. As such, I played all Genesis, Super Nintendo, and NES games on my computer with save states, meaning I could create my own continue points from Game Overs. This meant that I didn’t fully experience the game difficulty of legendarily unforgiving titles like Contra and Ninja Gaiden. Is my experience less authentic than someone who struggled to succeed on an actual console? Why or why not?

2. What about the preservation of games and access to games that are no longer in commercial circulation? How can the industry respond to the obvious demand for all old video games, all at once, now? There has been Sony backed emulation on the Playstation Network, but that’s not sufficient to cover the amount of old games people want to play. Also, the value of consoles would drop if there began to be widespread emulation on the major consoles (playing PS3-only titles on X-Box).

3. There are obviously copyright laws being flounced on the Internet in every creative domain, but there’s also another issue of access of information/experience. Can these two concerns–protection of intellectual property and open access to knowledge–be reconciled? What could be a way forward?

4. One interesting development with emulation is the possibility to have user generated content or mods (modified games). This is similar to the concept of fanfiction or other situations where audience use content in unintended, but potentially artistically significant ways as well as building a community around open source software/original game material. How does this affect both the copyright holders and the legacy of certain characters and games? We’ve been talking about algorithms being fixed and that even cheats are products of the game designers (or their oversights), but with emulation the possibility to truly cheat the math exists to anyone with enough coding background. What’s going on when a user generates a mod? What kinds of play exist without the authorial code at play? Would you prefer to play a modded game or is this somehow less authentic for you?

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