Metroid Dread has launched this week, being the perfect game to enjoy on the also-newly released Nintendo Switch OLED if you’re a Nintendo die-hard while also sparking discussion about emulation in games.
Weirdly enough though, discourse about the game hasn’t been about its gameplay- it’s been about how you play it. News sites like Kotaku and PC Gamer have been weirdly vocal about how well the game runs on emulators- pirating the game so you play it without a cent going to the game’s publishers or creators.
Fan Frustration At The Centre Of It All
There’s a lot to unpack about emulation in video games- you can’t exactly just say that it should be banned outright, because many ports of retro games for modern consoles *are* just emulators.
Similarly, it comes back to another discussion about availability of games. For every game like Super Mario Bros, which will always be ported forward to the next Nintendo console, there’s titles like the Gundam Wing fighting game for the SNES- never to see the light of day again without some major fan rallying.
The common argument boils down to this: “If publishers or developers have no intention of ever letting a game see the light of day, why shouldn’t the people who want to play it be able to? As long as no one is making money, why not?”, the thought goes.
“What the hell is up with these whiners?”, Twitter user Jenevieve writes. “They are going to be on their knees thanking the emulator scene in ten years when there are no working Switch’s and Nintendo hasn’t bothered to re-release this on any of their modern systems”.
Of course, the emulator scene wouldn’t be so aggressively centered around Nintendo if fans weren’t already upset with the company for what they see as years of no support for older games. Many older Nintendo games are left behind on previous consoles, only getting “freed” from their prison with re releases such as Bayonetta’s re release on the Nintendo Switch or Fatal Frame: Maiden of Blackwater.
It’s not just obscure third-party games that get left behind, either. Pokemon games are notoriously left behind, though that’s largely to do with the fact early Nintendo handhelds were backwards compatible. While Pokemon Red and Blue were re-released on the 3DS eshop, they were very much the exception and not the rule.
Worse still, they’re not available on the Switch, having once again been left behind.
Some also take the approach of “no one’s getting hurt” with emulation. Nintendo’s a big, profitable company, and it’s not like everyone put down their Switches to illegally download Metroid anyways.
“Nintendo is a billion dollar company and no one is going hungry because someone played Metroid on an emulator”, writes Twitter user Kaltrops_.
Metroid Dread Emulation, Specifically
Of course, this doesn’t apply to a game like Metroid Dread- so new that chances are people are still waiting for their pre-orders to come in the mail. Nintendo very clearly intends to make money off of this, and in this case emulation is literally piracy.
Interestingly enough, some netizens have described a more layered take on the Metroid emulation saga- it’s not that Kotaku or PC Gamer endorses the emulation, but rather they’re doing a targeted hit on the emulator to have Nintendo take it down without blatantly expressing it so.
yeah this is now a coordinated attack to shut down the emulator and get the rom off the internet https://t.co/esYGBr2YOQ
— Geo Geo Nine (@Geossi13) October 10, 2021
While that has a non-zero chance of being true, there’s a problem with that: not everyone reads ulterior motives online. To the unassuming reader, Kotaku’s coverage in particular seems more like an endorsement of the emulator, coming straight with a link and all the benefits of playing the game illegally.
Some readers have definitely read it as such, making their own snarky comments about the endorsing nature of the article.
“kotaku really out there trying to promote using emulator then getting the game itself“, Mysterybro2 writes.
At The End Of The Day
It’s hard to argue any kind of morality once you get into the nitty gritty of emulation in games. Piracy is obviously wrong, and a game that’s freshly released like Metroid Dread absolutely shouldn’t be up on an emulator, especially when many publishers use sales as an indicator for interest in a series.
But there’s also the conservation angle to look at to- older games deserve to still be played. By 100% banning emulation, you make the argument that a game is only allowed to exist if it makes someone money- robbing the medium of any kind of “games are art, actually” arguments.