If you have downloaded Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) software, you are likely ready to start playing some arcade games on your home computer. In order to start playing games through MAME, though, it is important to understand some fundamental concepts surrounding the way MAME works. It is not as simple as opening up the software and finding a trove of games.
MAME and ROMs
MAME software, contrary to some popular belief, contains no actual game code. Instead, MAME provides the framework through which other games are played. It serves as a host for pre-existing video game source code.
Because of this, it is necessary to download separate video game ROMs to play with MAME. These are actual bits of code dumped from the Read-Only Memory chips of arcade games and home game console cartridges. The MAME application essentially emulates the hardware through which these games were played, translating it into a language your current operating system (Mac OS, Windows, etc.) will understand.
You can find video game ROMs in several places. The most reliable and legitimate place to find video game ROMs is through a video game ROM licensing library. These are institutions set up through which you can download a particular game’s ROM for a small licensing fee. The video game developers and distributors have struck a deal with the licensing library, and the game creators get the royalties which they are due. While it is possible to find video game ROMs elsewhere on the Web for free, these are likely illegal, and the source code may be inaccurate, corrupted, or worse.