I started with consoles. I kept my old ones, and I acquired newer ones along the way. I didn't have the room to display them all. Emulation allowed me to play my favorites, while they were in storage.
Emulation helped me to experience individual cart games I didn't yet have, as well as homebrews!
I remember when I saw my first emulator though. It was an arcade game I'd never heard of previously (StarForce?).
Shortly thereafter, Pac-Man and Crazy Kong (took longer to get DK emulated properly) showed up.
I remember they'd get the games working. Later they'd figure out the sound and color mapping. It was an exciting thing to watch grow. Amazing what emulation has become today!
I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven, back when I could play the REAL Pac-Man on my PC!
Emulation followed me to my Gp2x, DS, PSP, and Android devices.
I suppose, at one point, the tables flipped, but I am nowhere close to anti-emulation. I am now able to display all of my systems. The Harmony, AtariMax (5200 & CV/Adam), Everdrive (NES, Genesis, SNES, N64), TheCart!, and a couple sacrificed 7800 carts (one with Pokey; the other for higher memory games), have flipped the table. it's still sometimes simpler to double click an emulator. Fortunately, I've been able to put my emulation ROM collections toward my physical systems. I actually own a lot of the cartridges. I just HATE having to get up to switch games.
As for emulation, I set up my PC emulation to look and feel as close to the real thing as possible. I don't feel too lacking when playing consoles via emulation. I still like emulation for a quick 5 minutes of going back to 1983! MAME is the same, with a few exceptions. I managed to grab a few of my favorite arcade machines. For arcades I still like MAME for a quick 5 minute time warp. However, playing on a 4-way, notched, Nintendo joystick can't be emulated. Pac-Man's 4-way stick has a distinct "feel". Playing Asteroids on a real Vector monitor, with the arcade button layout, cannot be emulated. It's a different level. Even though it's kind of the same with the consoles, it's not the same intensity. I can take or leave console pads and sticks. However, the arcade machines actually feel different. Again, sometimes emulation is just simpler than going downstairs and firing up the games.