Dec. 27, 2013 at 3:37 PM ET
Plenty of PlayStation 4s and Xbox Ones were unwrapped this year around the Christmas tree, but 30 years ago it was the parents doing the unwrapping — to reveal a shiny new Atari 7800 or Colecovision. And now the Internet Archive lets you play games on those old-school consoles right in your browser.
Announced in a blog post at Archive.org on Thursday, the new Web-based console emulators are still in an early stage. An emulator is a kind of "virtual machine" that lets the data normally stored on cartridges or disks — their "read-only memory," or ROM — to be run as if it were on the console itself.
Included are the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Colecovision, Magnavox Odyssey2 and the Astrocade. There are dozens if not hundreds of games available for each one; some may technically still be the property of one company or another, but there aren't many people buying Atari cartridges these days, so the publishers of these old games often allow them to be distributed for free.
The Web-based emulator is a work in progress: Some games have bugs, others don't run at all, and sound hasn't been implemented yet (those bleep-bloop sounds are half the fun). But you can still relive the first few screens of "Pitfall" or try to survive a few minutes of "Asteroids." No downloads, no configuration, no nothing.
Nevertheless, the holidays are often a time of nostalgia, and this may be a good opportunity to show the next generation that their parents were gamers, too — though they'll soon find things were much different back then.
If you'd like the capability to play these games without a browser, you can download MESS, a multiple-system emulator for old consoles like the Atari series, or search for other emulators of your favorite old consoles.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.