Is Emulating Video Games Wrong?

Ever see someone play Pokemon on their phone or wanted to play Chrono Trigger on your computer? Then emulation is the way to go! But… is it wrong? Is it wrong to play a game for free on your computer or phone without permission of the company who developed the game?


Cooper Daniel Barham

The subject of emulators is one in which I still do not possess a solid standing. I rarely emulate ROMs often myself, though I have in the past, but I don’t hold much aversion to the idea. In general, and with no acting moral principle to guide this decision, I find it’s alright to turn to emulators when the games or consoles of interest are discontinued or very difficult to find. That being said, if I could find and sustain an emulator for a newer generation console, I don’t know if I’d turn down the opportunity. Perhaps I would.
The major issue most people address with emulation is that it’s fundamentally stealing. They aren’t wrong. Perhaps my conscience is numbed to this by the fact that most of the games I emulate I’ve either already owned at some point in the past, or by supporting the developer/publisher in other ways, such as buying other products of theirs or talking up their products to others.
I’m likely in the minority with this opinion, but I do think it’s okay to emulate, as long as you don’t only emulate. A subjective, individual-oriented line, I know, but emulating has certainly not stopped me from dropping a ton of money on video games in the last several years, and now I’m too much of a supporter of this industry to see that change anytime soon.



Mike Pyatt Jr.

I can’t lie. I didn’t start using emulators until recently; maybe the last three or four years. I like them a lot. What I didn’t like about them was the fact it really felt like I was stealing the games I played. Sure, the gaming companies don’t really gain much, if any, revenue from the games that I would purchase on my older systems. At the same time, I’m still using those specific titles illegally in a way.
All of that being said, I used the phrase “felt like” when I mentioned stealing games because it could be said that it’s not stealing. Due to some complicated sharing laws overseas, there are loopholes that make it possible for us in the States to download them. It’s the same laws that allow us to stream those movies and songs for free on those shady looking websites.
Because of that I won’t say that it’s okay to emulate games that you don’t own. It’s stealing. Stealing is wrong. However, I won’t sit here and condemn anybody for doing something that I still struggle with myself. If you’re not doing it already, don’t start. If you are doing it, illegally, stop it.

Silas Green

The Bible clearly says that stealing is not okay (Ephesians 4:28). The big question is whether or not copying and sharing a work is the same as stealing. And… the Bible really doesn’t say anything about that. The idea of “intellectual property” is not a Biblical concept. Storytelling, for instance, has been around forever, and there’s not a single Bible verse that says you can own a story and no one else can use “your” plot and characters. It just isn’t in there.
But does that make it okay?
I’m going to say that there is nothing necessarily morally wrong with game emulation. I can’t call something a sin just because the State says it’s illegal. The State doesn’t get to say what’s okay and what’s not before God. God gets to say that and he’s chosen not to say anything about intellectual property in his Word.
Here’s something God does say about obeying the law.
“When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matt. 17:24-27)
There are two focal parts of this passage. The first is this: “Then the sons are free.” You, as a child of God, are free. You are part of an otherworldly kingdom, one that is entirely free from the world system.
The second is this: “However, not to give offense to them…” Just because you are free, doesn’t mean you should live like a complete outlaw when it comes to the world.
Basically, I think game emulation is not immoral at all, but it is illegal.
I think the easy answer to this question is this:
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:2)
I think creators of a work deserve to be paid for their work, so I try to support them.
I don’t think copyright law is perfect. I have issues with companies fighting to change the law and making it illegal to use intellectual properties for longer and longer periods of time to hold onto stories that they did not create.
So treat others the way you want to be treated. If you don’t want your ideas or works copied, don’t copy others’ ideas or works. If you genuinely don’t consider copying stealing, even if it is done to you, then I think you’re closer to the Biblical ideal, but the world still has copyright laws. You are free, but try not to offend others with your freedom. (I Corinthians 8:9)
Emulating games may not be a sin, and it might be okay before God, but the laws of the land say it’s illegal, so it’s not okay to them.

Wesley Wood

Wesley Wood is an aspiring film director. He would love to make GOOD films to help spread God's word and help Christians grow.


  1. Sturm on February 20, 2022 at 8:17 pm

    This wouldn’t be such an issue if copyright law wasn’t a bloated, contradictory mess. It’s even more frustrating because while there’s not any real legal repercussions for the average emulating fan, as Christians we have to be clear on whether or not what we’re doing constitutes theft.

    I’m of the opinion that as long as you can and do own a legally obtained version of the game (whether it be the physical release or a digital copy) then you have free reign to do what you please with it. If it’s not commercially available, then I don’t see how downloading a copy is bad either. It’s no different than downloading a book that’s no longer being published.

    I also think that previous versions of the game ought to be free game if a dev later edits their game and the previous version cannot be legitimately obtained anymore. You could argue that it’s stealing from the dev, but imagine being told that one of your older books is no longer allowed to be used and you had to burn it up and receive an updated copy. Nobody would call that justified.

    My main problem is whether it’s okay to download a copy of a game when you already have a legal copy, either in a physical cartridge or a different format (like different releases of Ocarina of Time, for instance). You’re technically still using an illegal copy, but is it still theft? I can’t identify what’s being stolen so I don’t know.

  2. Brandon Walker on February 10, 2021 at 9:17 am

    I personally am conflicted on this front. I used to have almost no problem doing it before starting to build my faith. I don’t like feeling like I’m stealing at all, but at the same time I don’t appreciate a large multi-billion dollar company who I’ve supported for almost my entire life calling me a thief because I want to download and play some of my favorite games that they currently don’t sell themselves on any of their active platforms. A large portion of Gamecube games are locked to that platform and I don’t see how me giving 100s of dollars to an ebay seller for one game helps Nintendo or any other company in the long run. Especially during hard times where you want to save as much as your money as possible(looking at you Covid), it’s really hard to justify over-paying for a game when none of that money is going to go to the developer/publisher. I really don’t see that as stealing because if Nintendo did offer these titles on the Switch/3DS/Wii U, I would pay for them.

    Also, it used to be legal in the US to download games when they were no longer in print nor being sold by the original IP holder. So it’s hard to look at the current law and say that that’s what people should follow just because the old law “ran out”. Especially when we the people have the power to affect and change the law in our favor by petitioning/protesting/writing to law makers. That coupled with the fact that a lot of these big greedy companies try to get the law changed in their favor all of the time, it gets harder not to turn toward emulation. We definitely aren’t entitled to anything, but just looking at the push by these companies towards cloud gaming shows that they can get so greedy that they don’t want you even owning the products that you actually buy, but forever paying what is essentially a tax on them just to have the right to play them(a right which they can take away at any moment for any reason whatsoever or no reason given at all). There’s often a giant disconnect between the actual developers and the people that make money off of their talent and works.

    I know others on here have talked about preservation, but there’s another big positive to emulation. Inspiration. A lot of independent developers have admitted that they wouldn’t have started making games had they not downloaded their favorite games and tinkered with the coding and art to create mods. This type of experience has lead to big and small devs alike going on to making their own games. Apparently the Battlefield franchise started as a mod, Counter Strike started as a Half Life mod, Day Z started as an Arma 2 mod, etc. I’m just glad there are still some devs around that support their communities and experimention/creativity of their tools and creations. I don’t think the gaming industry as a whole would be as big as it is without emulation.

    If I made a game and eventually it became unavailable for purchase by the rights holder, I would want people to download it for free and play it. I would feel humbled that people still took an interest in my works enough that they would even want to experience it at all. That sentiment is lost on corporate types because they often times don’t understand the markets they’re in. They just know how to make a profit and often times aren’t above employing shady monetization schemes and practices to do so, in turn disrespecting not only the average consumer, but the most dedicated of fans.

    Anyway, sorry for the long rant/vent. I’m still conflicted at the end of the day. This is an industry I care deeply about which is why I get so passionate when I talk about it, but I know that at the end of the day, I’m entitled to nothing and I can live without it. I just wish it wasn’t so gray of an area. Perhaps one day I’ll do my research and start a petition to make downloading roms legal as long as they aren’t available for purchase through official channels. God bless if you took the time to actually read all of my words.

  3. Matt Martinez on January 18, 2018 at 5:38 am

    I want to chime in and say that I’ve been close to many people online who have been involved in raising funds to dump (copy) one-of-a-kind games that would be lost over time if something hadn’t been done to back them up. There’s been internal evidence from employees and other research showing that companies like Nintendo, Sega, and others have relied on third party ROM websites to acquire copies of their cartridge games which no longer exist in their digital form at their archives. Storage back in the day was hardly what it was now. Despite the companies like Nintendo condemning piracy sites, people have found, by examining the data of Virtual Console software, among others, that they contain information written into the files by copiers as seen in the same ROMs on the internet and these tools are very specific, likely not to have come from Nintendo’s actual archives. Sega has had games like Panzer Dragoon Saga lost in limbo because the creators have said that the assets and source code was wiped long ago, which is why there has been no re-release, despite demand for it, as second-hand copies of the physical disc sell for up to $500 on eBay. Games like that (which was on Sega Saturn) are also notoriously difficult to reverse engineer, which is the only option for games that have no source code to rewrite. They have to work with a retail copy and it is quite a difficult task to do. The team behind Kingdom Hearts says they had to do this on the Kingdom Hearts remasters for PS3 because the source code was lost not long after the game came out, and they had to salvage existing parts and rewrite others from scratch. Unreleased games, for which only a few copies remain in existence on sample or development cartridges and discs, have become highly sought after and there are still many that remain to be discovered and saved, despite being documented and photographed in some game magazines. My most wanted, for instance, is Dragon Hopper for Virtual Boy, which was completed but cancelled because the system flopped. But is was basically going to be an action-adventure game like Zelda. I agree with the guy who says it’s not necessarily bad that emulation exists or else we’d have to argue that MP3 players shouldn’t exist because people use them to play music they should’ve and could’ve very well payed for. But we shouldn’t expect everything for free. Believe me, producing any kind of creative work is tough and we shouldn’t take what they’ve done for granted,

    • Zero Tolerance on January 18, 2018 at 6:02 pm

      Yep. Lack of source code prevents remasters. Homeworld: Cataclysm is one of gaming’s biggest fatalities.

  4. Alexander Truong on April 11, 2015 at 12:08 am

    Look at it this way: If you have means to purchase the game / hardware and support the developers, you are stealing. Just because games could be copied without harming the original has no bearing on this. As well, since this is a site with a Christian audience, many times it’s a heart issue (if not every time). Christ taught us that pretty clearly in Matthew.

    If a game is available on the current market as in downloadable on PSN, eShop, XBL, Steam, Desura, GOG, Publisher based shops, or more, it is stealing to download a backup. There is money that isn’t going to those that made the works and you are consuming entertainment. Entertainment is value, it is not free or expected or entitled to anyone. For the cases that you cannot get the game at all through the current market, it’s at your own discretion. If the game comes out like Suikoden 2 did on PSN, buy it or stop playing it.

    Let’s talk about personal use of backups and such. In my heart, I believe that it is alright as long as both copies are never in use at the same time. Sure it doesn’t harm any one in that situation… Does it? Players are expected to buy multiple copies if friends want to play it too. When you lend a game to a friend, you cannot play it yourself because the disc is with them. Same way with this. It will be hard to do “the right thing”. But isn’t that the story of the Christian life? Our flesh desires things God does not. We must put away ourselves and offer ourselves up as living sacrifices to Him.

    • Wesley Wood on April 11, 2015 at 1:30 am

      Bingo! How many people would like it if they worked years on something, attempted to sell that product, and then people just “stole” it?

  5. Daniel Le Coz on April 9, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    I can’t wait for Citra (3ds emulator) to be functional, I’m looking forward to playing my 3ds games 1080p (plan on emulating only games me or my brother owns). Also what do you think of emulating games that are ridiculously expensive to buy used, but don’t have any re-release?

  6. Maddie on April 9, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    I’m sure some of you have heard of MOTHER 3. It was never released outside of Japan. There is a MOTHER fansite called, and one of the people made a fan translation for it. The person who made it did say that if Nintendo ever did localize MOTHER 3 to go buy that instead of using the translation. I have high doubts that it will never be localized. So, is it wrong to emulate a game that wasn’t released in your country?

    • Wesley Wood on April 9, 2015 at 3:57 pm

      If it isn’t available to you via the publisher then might as well emulate.

    • Andrew on April 10, 2015 at 7:44 pm

      There might be a chance it releases locally still, or at least I hope so. Nintendo releasing Earthbound on WiiU virtual console was a huge step forward, they even poked some fun at last year’s E3 at the fans begging for Mother 3, and Lucas is being released as a fighter on Smash 4 this summer.

      I don’t see anything wrong with downloading the fan-translated ROM of Mother 3. They did an amazing job and it’s a great game. Just be sure to buy the game for real if it ever gets published here. 🙂

Leave a Reply