Ethical Uses of Video Game Console Emulators?

13 Antworten [Letzter Beitrag]
onpon4
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Beigetreten: 05/30/2012

A while back, I asked if there are any ethical uses for Wine and was surprised to hear that there are quite a few, so now I'm wondering if there are some for video game console emulators, because as far as I am aware, all software on most video game consoles is proprietary. Does it turn out that there are some ethical uses for free emulators of game consoles such as FCE Ultra and ZSNES as well?

aliasbody
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Beigetreten: 09/14/2012

I don't see any ethical problem with emulators since their job is just to emulate. But that depends on what kind of emulator we are talking about.

Example, the PSX emulator may be Free Software, but because they need a proprietary bios I'm pretty sure that this make them unethical to use.

Now there is the second problem, and I think that this is what you are talking about. It is the games problem. all commercial games released for the console that you are trying to emulate (if nothing as changed since the time they have been released) are proprietary, and for this reason it is unethical to use them. But it exists a lot of homebrew that are GPL (and other free software license) licensed (but I have to agree that if this is the only way then there is no really need to have the emulator at all).

Then we have another important question, and that question is the intellectual proprietary (damn I hate this term..) imposed by the company that created the game, and the copyright associated to it. Some games are now in the public domain (since a big time is passed), and because of this you can (if I'm not wrong), take the game and play it (and even change the code if you find a way to reverse engineer the game in question).

For example this website http://www.emulator-zone.com/doc.php/roms.html, only proposes roms that are in the Public Domain, but the website also refers to them as "Freeware" and this can be very confusing for the final user. I will have a look at it and I will try to find something more clear about this.

Now I can be wrong in some points, but this is what I know from some researches over the years.

Hope it helps.

onpon4
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Beigetreten: 05/30/2012

One thing that Nintendo is right about: copyright lasts at least 75 years and the extension that led to that length was applied to past works (stupidly), so anything authored after 1937 is still copyrighted today. Of course, that means no copyright has expired on any video games.

aliasbody
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Beigetreten: 09/14/2012

RMS talked about this in the "Richard Stallman: Copyright vs Community" video, and by giving the Mickey Mouse example, where every 20 years, they except to add more 20years of copyright to Mickey Mouse (and this is something not only being done by Walt Disney but by many other corporations, with the final goal of having an "infinite" copyright over something).

Cyberhawk

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Beigetreten: 07/27/2010

Since gaming consoles that are the primary target of emulation nowadays were not meant to be general purpose computing devices, I believe it makes the issue somewhat different. You wouldn't want the four freedoms with the software that runs on your microwave oven, or the watch. The products' usage in the case of oldschool consoles from the first Ataris to the N64 doesn't include installing anything, be it the OS, the drivers or the actual applications.

While the games are all non-free software, I can't help but think it is less of a problem than, say, some program that you would install on a normal computer.

After all, there is no place for malicious code to be implemented. What would it do? Spy on you? There is no data in the consoles memory except what comes on the cartridge and what has been put there factory-side. So malicious code would be bugs. You lack the freedom to patch the bugs, that's true, but you would need a highly complicated setup for reading the memory on the cartridge which you don't have and will not likely invest into anyway.

onpon4
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Beigetreten: 05/30/2012

I have some huge problems with that reasoning.

First off, regarding whether the programs can do anything malicious, where is the cutoff point? Is it battery backed SRAM introduced in the third generation? Or is it memory cards that store save data for many games at once, introduced in the fifth generation? or does the cutoff point not occur until online connectivity was introduced in the Dreamcast?

Second off, with exchange of ROM files being easy and common, you don't need a "highly complicated setup" to make changes. With the Retrode, you don't even need anything all that complicated to read the ROM directly off of a cartridge. The only complicating factor is copyright and the fact that all of these games are proprietary. All you need to do to see this is look at the many "ROM hacks" floating around the Internet, most of them being offered as "patches" to avoid getting sued the heck out of by Nintendo or Sega or whoever holds the copyright to the game they're hacking. Even people who don't want to make changes often are restricted by copyright from (legally) doing what they want to do with ROM files: share.

Third, even if it was still nearly impossible to read the cartridges, I don't see how that makes an additional restriction (being proprietary) ethically acceptable all of a sudden. This type of argument could be used for virtually anything. For example: nobody but the author knows how to compile program X because it's such a horrible mess of a dozen different programming languages intertwined in spaghetti code, so it's OK for it to be proprietary.

Cyberhawk

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Beigetreten: 07/27/2010

I understand your point. But even if you will read the ROM, you'll have to write it back in order to use the changes you made on real hardware. That will basically mean using an expensive flash-cart or making a repro cart (which is probably even more cumbersome).

And while it is obvious that non-free software is creating numerous problems which are all solved by using free licenses, I still believe that the issues with games, especially on old consoles that don't have internet connectivity, are less severe than with normal programs that run on our PCs. It's only a theoretical disadvantage and any kind of malfunction is just a bug in a game. How bad is it that your games have bugs? It's not a threat for democracy after all. The ethics are still the same, but the real threat is much, much lower.

And I'm not even commenting on what you said about copyright, there is no arguing that.

aliasbody
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Beigetreten: 09/14/2012

Even if I understand your point, the only thing that I can remember about is the protections, yes older system didn't had any protection at all (Master System etc..), but (at least) since the Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn etc.. we had consoles with protections (that I call themselves DRM), but those consoles aren't mentioned here.

This is an interesting problem because we have a lot of issues. For example, there is a lot of games only released in Japan that now cost over 10 000$ because they are only for Collections so what can we do in those case, since, sometimes, those games are even older than ourselves and don't have any support other than website X or website Y that allow "illegal roms".

Now this doesn't restore our freedom at all, just give us (at least me) something to think about when I'm bored....

I think that the short answer for this is very simple :
None of the games available for consoles, either old or new are free-software or free-software compatible, period.

BUT ! (and it is simple an idea), if those old games (I'm thinking more of games like the ones for Master System and older consoles like the Atari 2600) don't have any license at all (and the enterprise is "dead) then I think someone could take charge of it, and distributing as free-software. But I can be wrong.

Magic Banana

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Beigetreten: 07/24/2010

This "someone" needs to have access to the source code... and I am not even certain the authors of the game still have it!

Cyberhawk

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Beigetreten: 07/27/2010

The SNES already has protection mechanisms built in besides the fact that cartridges aren't easily reproduced, like CDs. The Mega Drive / Genesis didn't have such a thing, at least the early model 1s didn't.

And the protection mechanism the Mega Drive / Genesis implements is much less hard to crack and well documented. Sega doesn't even care about it being cracked nowadays, because they allow production of fully new projects for the Mega Drive, without licensing them. Their stance on it is "we don't support it anymore. Do what you please but make sure you make it clear we didn't license any of your work."

moilami
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Beigetreten: 09/17/2012

There is no question in maybe about 99 % of the cases that console game ROMs are not Free Software.

But I can say that there are ethical uses for emulator software. For example, one could develep software for those consoles and test/use it with the emulator. There is also some roms which have only picture slide shows (at least for NES). The picture on the ROM does not have to be Free Software or similarly licenced media else you would render invisible most of the content in books and Internet and photography exhibitions etc. for your eyes.

Another use is simply research out of curiosity or for even academical purposes. I personally find it very interesing and amusing what kind of things in the pre-era of super personal computer power was possible to do. Further there is a lot to learn for game development in those 8 bit games. I could continue with stories in especially RPG games, which you could either read from Internet or experience interactively with the actual game. Because of that I perceive certain games to be very problematic regarding Free Software. They are software, yet they are also amazing art much looked down by "real art" enthusiastics not to speak how they can be interactive stories more than just simply software. How about music? That's a whole new topic by itself.

The world should not be black & white. To have an emulator which is Free Software is for sure better than to have an emulator which is not Free Software or to not have emulator at all.

One very important special note: You don't have to be in academy in order to research something because everyone can't be in academy, and it would be totally ridiculous if only those who are in some sort of academy can research something. The curiosity and thirst for knowledge is one thing what separates humans of animals. The one who makes research to satisfy his personal curiosity is behaving very humanly and is doing the right thing for sure. If he is interested of 8-bit games or whatever games does not make him a bit worse person than someone who studies classical music or "real art".

moilami
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Beigetreten: 09/17/2012

Oh and by the way, emulators are not a problem at all. What is the problem and what is a very real problem is that there is so little Free Software for emulators.

I have understood that there has been plans to port some Free Software games for consoles, but I don't know if that has ever happened.

moilami
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Beigetreten: 09/17/2012

Have to lol more at this topic:

This ("bad photoshop") is very big and amazing art:

http://blog.artbyveny.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/marilyn-monroe-painting1.jpg?w=297

It is Big Art because it has been made by Approved Big Name Artist Andy Warhol and it portrays Big Name Actress Marilyn Monroe (funnily enough it is also a derivative work).

However, this can't be art: http://sorrytown.us/images/145.jpg
First of all it is a monster from console video game, yuck D:

I could go endlessly with this topic but I rather close that can of worms.

Magic Banana

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Beigetreten: 07/24/2010

We have discussed this topic multiple times in this forum. Actually, the last discussion about it is #4 in the thread list (at the time I am writing): see this message and the four messages beneath it (in particular that of SirGrant with a link to the FSF opinion).