What are emulators?
Emulators are tools that enable a host computer system to imitate a different computer system. For the purposes of gaming, this allows you to play games released for certain platforms, such as consoles or mobile, on a different (host) platform, such as your PC. This type of emulation is not limited and can allow cross-platform gaming on any device you have. For example, you can play android games on your Windows computer, or Windows games on your Android mobile. In the modern-day, emulators are commonly used to play classic games released decades ago on platforms that are no longer sold, on devices that are still accessible to us today.
Which emulator do I need?
Before looking into how to use an emulator, you need to find out which emulator you need. There are two things to factor in here, which will determine the emulator you need to download:
- the platform which you will be using to run the emulator and to play the emulated game on (i.e. the host platform)
- the platform the game was originally released on (i.e. the platform you are trying to emulate or the guest platform)
We have created a list of popular emulators which you can browse at the bottom of this page.
How do you use emulators?
There are hundreds of emulators which can be downloaded and each emulator has its own set of instructions for use. Generally speaking, an emulator requires you to load up pre-downloaded files through its system. In gaming, these files are usually ROMs or ISOs of the games released on their original platform.
This allows the emulator to run these files in the same way as the original platform would run them, and display the games on your system roughly in the same way as they would be displayed on their original systems.
Each emulator also has its own set of controls which it has pre-programmed to be used on the host system. For example, when emulating old PlayStation games on PC, the L2/R2 buttons on the PlayStation controller would be mapped out to a certain key on your keyboard for example F1 and F2.
Are emulators legal?
Emulators in of themselves are not illegal. They are often user-created software that can be of significant educational value. However, what you choose to run using the emulators can be illegal.
For example, there are games that could still be sold on certain platforms – downloading a copy of these games and running them through an emulator is a form of copyright infringement.
The exception to this is cases where the game(s) are no longer being sold by the game developers or publishers. This is considered abandonware and legally is a gray area. You can read more about this debate on our FAQs page.
Where can I download emulators?
To help you find a suitable emulator, we have created lists of popular emulators available on different platforms. To find the emulator you need, choose the platform which you will be using to run the emulator (i.e your host platform):