We all have that favorite game from our childhood that we’d like to share with our kids. Many of the great games of the past serve as the inspirations for the products on this site, and giving your children the chance to experience these classics is not only fun, but gives them context for much of today’s pop culture. While you may have a dusty old NES or Genesis sitting in your garage, sometimes it can be more convenient to have all your older games neatly archived in one place, without having to hook up all those old cords to your television, or clog up your home entertainment center with too many gaming systems. Enter the emulator — software for your computer or portable device that emulates the console systems of old, allowing you to play your old video games more conveniently, or with a universal controller.
The basic principle behind using an emulator is relatively simple; you download and install an emulator for the console that you want (Google search the name of the system + the word “emulator”), download the appropriate game ROM (Google search the name of the game + the word “ROM”), and you start playing classic games. Many websites have entire catalogs of ROMs available for download, making it easier to find the game you are looking for. The emulator itself will often organize the ROMs in one place for you as well. That’s all you need to start playing your favorite old games with your kids.
However, many of you may already be aware of emulation, and have used it yourselves. So instead of simply providing the base information about emulators above, I’d like to touch on one of the more interesting tricks that emulators can provide, something you can’t quite get anywhere else.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of The Legend of Zelda series. Like many of you, I grew up playing games like A Link to the Past, and the stories told in these games shaped my childhood. I occasionally have the desire to go back in time to an era when I hadn’t yet played the game, so I could experience it again for the first time. While that’s obviously a pipe dream, emulators can provide a viable alternative, in the form of ROM modification. The idea behind ROM mods is that there are talented programmers across the internet who have created fan-made hacks to many of your favorite games, and these hacks are only made possible through the use of emulation. These modified games bind themselves to your existing ROM, oftentimes completely changing the landscape of the game itself. Everything from difficulty hacks that make games harder, to foreign translations for non-localized games, and even entirely new plots and levels can be found using ROM mods.
I recently tested out a complete ROM overhaul of A Link to the Past, and it felt like an entirely new game. While it didn’t have quite the design touches that made the original game so charming and unique (they are fan-made, after all), it was still an absolute pleasure to play. I found this mod to be the closest experience I’ve had to re-discovering one of my favorite games of all time. Odds are that many of your favorite games also have ROM hacks that could allow you to breathe new life into them, and share in your kids’ joy of discovery.
An easy way to find ROM mods for many games is to search Google for ROM hacks, followed by the game you are interested in. There will often be a list of different hacks for that game, showing you how each hack modifies the base game. You will need both the hack, and the associated game ROM to play, so be aware that the ROM must be for personal use only, and you must own a legally-purchased copy of the actual game in some form. Even so, the barrier for entry is not high at all, and through emulation, you can share the games of your childhood with your kids, and even have some new experiences of your own.
Disclaimer: While owning an emulator or a ROM hack is legal, in order to own a ROM, even for personal use, a legal copy of the emulated game must be owned. Nerdy With Children does not condone ownership of illegal ROMs, or the unauthorized distribution of those ROMs. Please use emulation responsibly.