Emulation is definitely convenient; not sure I would say the shift towards it is absolutely thrilling though. More of a sad inevitability, I would say.
Around ‘98 at its genesis emulation was very exciting, being able to play Neo Geo and then CPS-1 and 2 games (and N64 with a voodoo card was awesome).
These days having thousands of ROMs from every system ever made is just kind of... tiring. In the same way that having unlimited music streaming and access to pretty much all commercial music just makes everything feel blah. I see it most in the younger generation now, they treat games and other media as disposable, very transitory experiences, always moving on to the next thing.
I don’t have time left to enjoy all the media available at my fingertips, it’s a dream to think that anyone could. All I need are a few good experiences that I can sit with and digest slowly; that have some impact; that become “events” in my life rather than just forgettable background noise.
There is something to be said for having a small curated library of physical books or games or albums or movies on a shelf. Things that you love and cherish, that you revisit, that you put the effort into exploring simply because they are the few things that you own, that you picked. That vinyl album that you bought when you had you had your first girlfriend, the game cart your dad gave you and stayed up to play with you, that favourite book you have read so many times the pages are worn from your fingers. The artwork, the lyrics sheet, the shape, form, smell and feel of it... older game hardware and electronics have some interesting and beautiful design.
Digital media has no history, no tactile quality, no emotion imbued into it. Just cold bits on a storage device, infinitely copyable and deletable. Amazing from a preservation and access point of view (would have been mind-blowing to my younger self). But in reality, the amount of choice and lack of tangibility are a bit of a curse.
Ultimately, attachment to physical objects may simply be a side-effect of the particular brand of commercialism instilled into us Gen-X folks, but I can’t deny having genuine emotions towards to the relics of my youth. They will forever be tied to people and places and feelings that marked my life, and I like being able to hold those things in my hand. My children will know nothing of this, as they will be plugged into a 24/7 stream of endless digital content emanating from uniform featureless devices.
In the end the title of this post is actually apt: “RetroPie Killed It For Me”. For me what emulation killed was the special feeling of getting a new game and the excitement of playing it for weeks or months; when you have access to everything, nothing is special any longer.
(Horrible first-world problem, isn’t it?)