Video Game Piracy is Cool and You Should Do It

Danny Reinan, copy editor

Last week, Nintendo announced that their digital video game storefronts on 3DS and Wii U would be taken down by the mid-2023. This will result in around 1000 digital-exclusive games being lost to time, not legally obtainable through any other means.

If this doesn’t seem significant, let me lay out the gravity of this in a different way – imagine if a thousand literary classics were systematically wiped out. Imagine if a thousand paintings were destroyed beyond repair, and, having not been photographed, will never be seen again. The complete eradication of these games – as well as the thousands of digital-exclusive games on other defunct digital storefronts – is an artistic loss on this level. 

The other significant loss of these storefronts is the Virtual Console (VC), a line of old video games from systems long past made available for purchase on these modern digital storefronts. Nintendo is unparalleled in its lineup of classics, and the VC was an easy, accessible way for people to play nearly four decade’s worth of beloved games without having to contend with the skyrocketing prices of those same out-of-print games on the secondhand retro market. 

The VC was not carried forward to the Switch, Nintendo’s current flagship system, instead being replaced by the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service, where users can pay $20 a year in order to receive limited access to a curated selection of around 50 NES, SNES, N64 and Sega Genesis games while subscribed. This ensures that no one can truly own the classic games that they are paying for, as these games are transient, set to disappear after the subscription lapses, taking away all player progress with them. With the absolute state of the exorbitantly expensive retro console market and the encroaching realities of cartridge and disc decay, a modern VC could do wonders for making these old games accessible, but instead, Nintendo expects players to shell out money for games that they don’t even own.

Video games have come of age in a world that should be able to save them all. We are no longer bound by the same limitations that have caused works of visual art or literature to be lost forever. Video games transcend beyond the physical media that contains them, which should make preservation a simple matter. The fact that so many games are being completely wiped out is proof that we live in a world where art preservation is not a priority – or perhaps a world where video games are still not valued as important works of art on the level of paintings or literature. In short, the people who can save video games don’t. In a media landscape where video games aren’t valued as art worth preserving, and corporations like Nintendo are going out of their way to make their classic library inaccessible, how do we move forward and ensure that these games aren’t lost forever? The answer lies on the high seas.

Right now, the oft-maligned video game pirates, often treated as scourges on the industry, are doing the dirty work that corporations like Nintendo won’t do for video game preservation. In the absence of an official way to purchase many classic games, pirates ripping and distributing them online is essential for ensuring that they can still be enjoyed and analyzed by all. Nintendo brazenly attacks piracy sites on the regular, copyright striking them in an attempt to protect their classic lineup of games, all the while constantly leaving that library by the wayside. If Nintendo and other video game giants aren’t going to use their resources to prevent thousands of video games – thousands of works of art – from disappearing forever, it must fall to us to keep them alive by ripping and circulating their data. If Nintendo isn’t going to make their library of past games available for purchase on modern platforms, they have no moral ground to prosecute people who are illegally distributing them. If you have any stake in the art preservation game, you’ll strap on your eyepatch and get to hacking your 3DS and Wii U – the survival of the medium depends on it.