What is MAME?  MAME stand for – Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator.  Probably not that helpful unless you understand what an emulator does.  Basically, an emulator is software that can allow a computer to act like (emulate) a different system.  For example, it can allow your Windows PC to emulate a Pac-Man arcade machine.

The basic idea behind MAME is to emulate just about any arcade machine on modern hardware and software – usually a Windows PC or Raspberry Pi (Linux).  This is not an easy task, as each original arcade machine had different CPUs and monitors with various screen resolutions and refresh rates.  Those CPUs were incredibly slow compared with today’s hardware, so MAME must also run the game at the appropriate speed.  If it didn’t do this any emulated game would most likely be completely unplayable.

MAME itself has only a very basic user interface.  Therefore most implementations also require the use of a front end with a more user friendly interface.  Emulation Station, for example, is a popular MAME front end.

The goal of the MAME community is to preserve gaming history.  In order to do this MAME is capable of emulating over a thousand different arcade machines.  Most of these machines were dedicated to playing just a single game.

MAME itself does not contain any actual games or game data.  Thus it is legal in most countries to download and use MAME.  The games themselves were typically stored on ROM (Read Only Memory) chips in the arcade machines.  Therefore, in order to play a game on a MAME system the user needs to download and install the ROM data.  However, most arcade games are covered by copyright.  So, downloading ROMs without permission is usually a violation of copyright law.  Some game makers have made their games available for download for free or a small fee.  These are usually games that no longer hold any commercial value.