What are ROMS?
Guardian Legend (NES)
The Guardian Legend (NES) -1989-

Ok so you have that fancy little emulator, you need the piece de resistance. Games baby Games!! Or in technical terms, ROMS. Basically a ROM image is the information that's on a video game cartridge (graphics, sound etc). Using a "copier" it's possible to copy the code that's on the cart and "dump" it to a file. Hence the ROM.

Now there's good news and bad news.

ROMS are the EXACT copy of what is on the actual cart. Its not recoded (though it can be, these are called "Hacks"). Its the real deal. So if you forgot to get a copy of Wonderboy in Monster Land all those years ago and you've been dying to play it, now you can in its entirety. Another really cool thing is that ROMS are incredibly small in size. In a time where your average game can take up a minimum of 100MB for installation, most roms are (depending on the system and the game) on average between 25 - 400 kb. This means quick and painless download times and if you have a spiffy little hard drive you can fill it up with an entire library of retro games. Kick Ass!
Super Hang On (Genesis)
Super Hang On (Genesis) -1989-

But here's the deal, buddy. Emulation is in kind of a grey area. Emulators, themselves, are perfectly legal, however ROMS are not. Only Public Domain ROMS are legal. Public Domain ROMS are usually created by users on the internet. However in all likely hood if you're suffering though this horrible Newbie guide, you probably don't want to play some dudes Sega Master System version of pong, you want to play Phantasy Star or Alex Kidd. You can get ROMS from various websites (more on this in the section where can i get roms). On these websites you might see something that says you can use the ROMS as "backup" if you own the original cart or for evaluation purposes for a period of 24 hours. This is false. ROMS are illegal period. Now don't panic. Just because ROMS are illegal doesn't mean that the FBI are going to be knocking down your door if you have one or two on your hard drive. It just means that ROMS are going to be hard to find. Most sites that carry ROMS are "underground". This means that they are by no means permanent and can disappear without notice. Not quite warez (if you don't known what warez are, trust me you're better off :)) but close. In recent news, the ISDA (...) has been shutting down ROM sites because ROMS are considered copyright infringement. Check back with our main page for more information on this.