The Best Emulators for Mac

One of the main obstacles to Mac gaming is the lack of compatibility for most games

Modern Mac models powered by Apple Silicon chips have the hardware to run demanding gaming titles, but the support to take advantage of macOS hardware still isn’t there. This is what currently prevents Mac users from freely gaming on their machines.

There are two main avenues to sidestep this issue. The first one is to use cloud gaming and the second one is to employ an emulator tool, which is what we’ll tell you more about in this section.

What is Emulation on Mac, and How Does It Work

In the most general sense, emulators are programs that recreate the functionality of a given system to make it possible to run software designed for it on incompatible hardware. In layman’s terms, an emulator for Mac will let you download and play games that aren’t supported for macOS.

There are many types of Intel and Mac M1 emulators that recreate the functionality of Windows PC systems and various console platforms. You will find information about the most helpful of them here.

Computer System Emulators (Emulators for Windows)

Since most Mac users interested in gaming seek to play Windows PC games, we put special emphasis on the various methods for emulating the Windows operating systems. This is also the area of game emulators for Mac that is the most developed and best supported, so there’s no shortage of options here. 

These are the computer system emulators that you can learn about on our site:

  • CrossOver: This is currently the most popular and best-optimized computer system emulator for Mac. CrossOver Mac users can utilize several compatibility layers that allow them to run a wide variety of Windows games on their Apple machines. It’s easy to use, has great support, and grants you access to the biggest number of Windows titles, compared to the other emulation options.
  • Apple’s Game Porting Toolkit and Whisky: GPT is a free developer tool created by Apple that functions as a compatibility layer for Windows games, supposedly so developers can test how their games work before optimizing them. The tool is integrated into CrossOver and can be used from there as well. GPT revolutionized Apple gaming by allowing DirectX 12 games to be run on Mac systems, something impossible before. It lacks a user-friendly interface, but it can be combined with the Whisky app, which provides an easy-to-use UI for the toolkit.
  • Parallels: This app creates a virtual machine for Windows OS within macOS which provides most of the functionality of Microsoft’s operating system. This lets Mac users run various Windows games within the VM. However, such use of Parallels requires tons of memory and CPU power. It’s also worth noting that DirectX 12 games cannot currently be played in this way.

Last but not least, we should mention Wine. This is the original Windows emulation project for Mac that eventually evolved into CrossOver and the Game Porting Toolkit. The base Wine translation layer can still be downloaded and used for free. Like GPT, it’s not a user-friendly software, so most people prefer to use it with the Wineskin UI.

Retro Gaming Emulators for Timeless Classics

No matter your system, playing old-school games is often filled with obstacles linked to the big technology gap between then and now. Trying to run such games on Mac only makes things more difficult. 

Still, there are emulation options for yesteryear systems like SNES, NES, Sega Genesis, Atari, and more. 

One of the most prominent examples of retro gaming emulators for Mac is OpenEmu. The app is free, very easy to use, and offers emulation for a wide variety of retro systems, so there are thousands of OpenEmu games you can play. You’ll just need to make sure that the OpenEmu ROMs you are using are legally acquired according to the laws in your country. 

Other NES and SNES emulator Mac solutions like the snes9x Mac app exist, but they are generally not as good as OpenEmu.

Advanced Console Emulation for Games From the PS2 and PS3 Era

If you are a 90s kid, chances are you remember fondly the second console generation and all the great titles that came with it. 

Unfortunately, nowadays, it’s not always easy to play many of those early and mid-2000s classics from PS2, Wii, or GameCube. Unless the game has an updated macOS port, you won’t be able to download it and run it directly. However, multiple open-source projects exist that are dedicated to preserving the timeless appeal of these old-school games.

The PCSX2 Mac and PC emulator is probably the most popular PS2 emulator available for both PC and Mac. It can run pretty much any PS2 ROMs that you throw at it, Aether X2 is another well-known PS2 emulation option. For PS3 titles, there’s a similar emulation software called RPCS3. Also, for a PS1 emulator Mac solution, we recommend the RetroArch.

If you are looking to play any Xbox and Xbox 360 titles, the emulator we can recommend here is Xemu. Xemu is an Xbox emulator for Mac and PC that will enable you to play your favorite titles from the Xbox era. However, there’s currently no Xbox 360 emulator for Mac. The Xenia app emulates Xbox 360 games but only for PC and it currently doesn’t have a Mac version. If it comes to Mac in the future, we’ll make sure to update our information. 

Next, if you want to revisit a favorite Wii or GameCube title, the Dolphin emulator Mac version has you covered. Be sure to explore this section if you want to learn more about these two, or other advanced console emulation options.

Finally, if you owned a Dreamcast in the late 90s or early 2000s and want to revisit some of your favorite games from back then, we recommend the Redream emulator. This Dreamcast emulator has both a free and an affordable paid premium version that offers better visual quality and multiple save slots per game. 

Handheld Console Emulators With Support for Mac

The handheld gaming niche was around long before the release of modern solutions like Steam Deck or Nintendo Switch, and it featured tons of great titles. Revisiting these titles today can only be done through emulation.

Fortunately, there are several good options that can help you: 

  • If you yearn to revisit a favorite PSP title, then you can use the PPSSPP emulator, which has a free and a paid version.
  • If you are looking for Nintendo DS emulators for Mac or an N64 Mac emulator, you should try the DeSmuME or melonDS applications.
  • And if you want to play a Game Boy title, check out the mGBA and VisualBoyAdvance projects.

Finally, for those of you who want to play the more recent Nintendo Switch games on their Macs, the Ryujinx emulator is the best option here. This is another open-source emulator built with much love and dedication that will give you access to your favorite Nintendo Switch titles.

Arcade Game Emulators for Preserving Gaming History

But what if you are really old-school (by heart or age), and want to play one of those 80s and 90s titles that kids used to play through arcade machines? 

For all fans of arcade gaming, there’s one main project that provides an easy and streamlined access to thousands of old-school games on modern PC and Mac computers. That project is called MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) and it has greatly contributed to preserving decades of gaming and software history. 

If you want to enjoy classic games and 8-bit titles, such as the original Street Fighter or Pac-Man on a modern system, you should try MAME. The project not only restores access to those classics but also adds various quality-of-life improvements that the original arcade machines lacked. 

Those include customizable controls, mouse and keyboard support, the option to save games, and even improved graphics for some titles.

Mobile System Emulators (iOS and Android emulators for Mac M1, M2, M3, and Intel)

There are all kinds of console and Windows emulation, but is there an iOS emulator games solution for Mac? 

Of course there is! Like Windows PC emulation, there are a couple of apps that allow Mac users to locally run games originally designed for mobile systems like Android and iOS

For instance, such emulators will let you play the mobile versions of games like Genshin Impact, Honkai Star Rail, and PUBG, which are not natively available for Mac. 

There are four mobile system emulators that we can recommend to our readers:

  • PlayCover: Allows Apple Silicon Mac users to easily run iOS games available on the App Store. The tool is free and offers a lot of customization, including custom key-bindings in case you don’t have a controller for the games.
  • BlueStacks 5: Similar to PlayCover, but instead of iOS, BlueStacks lets you play Android games on your Mac. This app is also free, but it only works on Intel-based Mac models. This significantly limits its application.
  • Andyroid: This versatile app is among the best Android emulators for Mac that lets you run any Android app or game on both macOS and Windows. Like the other two mobile emulators above, this one also has a free version, but there’s also a paid premium variant that provides a keyboard mapper and developer support.
  • NoxPlayer: Nox Player for Mac is another very popular Android emulation that has versions for both macOS and Windows PC. It’s also free to use and though there is some controversy regarding its data-gathering practices, most users are generally satisfied with the app.

One important thing we should point out here is that using such mobile system emulators can lead to getting banned from multiplayer games. Therefore, if you think of using either of these two apps, be sure to game through a disposable secondary account and not your main one.

Utility and Compatibility Tips for Emulation on Mac

Emulating software is, by definition, a finicky undertaking and may not always go smoothly on the first try. One of the most important factors to consider here is the type of game you wish to emulate.

Older console titles may not be natively compatible with any modern system, but their simpler code has made it easier to develop working emulators for them. For this reason, most console emulators you’ll find suggested here should work with little to no hassle.

On the other hand, emulating modern gaming titles tends to be more difficult and with varying levels of success. This is especially true when talking about playing newer Windows games on Mac, where you can run into all kinds of roadblocks before the game can be played.

We’ll provide specific tips, guidance, workarounds, and troubleshooting assistance for each form of emulation that we cover on our site. Still, to give you a general idea about the considerations involved in game emulation on Mac, here are a couple of general compatibility tips to remember:

Do your research

This obvious first step is especially important if you want to play a paid game that you do not own yet. It’s strongly recommended to first check the available emulation solutions (and other workaround options) on our site, and read what other users have said about emulating that game on different forums. 

Also, if you are looking to emulate older consoles such as PS1, SNES, NES, PSP, GameCube, and more, we recommend checking Vimm’s Lair. This is one of the most comprehensive console emulation websites.

Doing your research will give you an idea of whether the game can be emulated reliably and it will also show you which version of the game you need to purchase. For instance, the Epic Games version of some titles can’t be emulated properly, while the Steam version works fine (or vice versa).

Be mindful of your Mac’s hardware and model

There are significant differences between Intel and Apple Silicon Macs. Many emulation methods will work on one type of Mac and not on the other. 

Also, for newer and more demanding games, make sure that your Mac meets their hardware requirements. This can be difficult since unsupported titles don’t have official mac OS requirements, but the information on our site about different games will help you get an idea of how powerful your Mac needs to be to run them. 

Consider your current macOS version

Most emulation methods require a specific version (or versions) of macOS. In most cases, you’ll need to have one of the latest macOS versions to use a given emulator. 

If your current version is too old, you’ll first have to update it before using a particular emulator.

Research and explore the available options

Many games (especially Windows PC ones) can be emulated on a Mac computer in several ways that differ in terms of performance and experience. 

For instance, you can run the Witcher 3 on a Mac through Parallels, but this will typically give you worse performance compared to emulating the game through CrossOver. 

For this reason, if a given emulation solution doesn’t satisfy you, don’t hesitate to explore the other available solutions.

Consider potential repercussions

Since emulation isn’t an official way to run games on Mac, it can sometimes be considered a gray area with unclear rules. For instance, playing games through BlueStacks or PlayCover, while legal, can still result in getting your account banned. 

Another example is that CrossOver and Parallels are incompatible with Anti-Cheat systems, so they can’t run games that have them. Also, it’s possible to emulate games that you don’t own, which is legally questionable and will be explored in more detail below.

Conclusion and Legal Considerations: Are Emulators Legal?

Above we touched upon the legal considerations regarding emulation, and now we must elaborate upon the topic. Game emulation has always been a touchy subject from a legal perspective, but the consensus is that using emulators isn’t illegal. They are simply programs that let you run a particular game on a system for which it isn’t supported.

The main legal problem here comes from the games themselves and here, there’s a difference between console and PC games.

To emulate console games, the game needs to be in the form of a ROM (Read-only Memory). In most countries, creating ROMs of games you own isn’t illegal. However, most people who want to emulate a given game will download such ROMs of games they want to play but do not own, which is a copyright infringement and is totally illegal. 

In some cases, there could be exceptions, when talking about games that are no longer in production and aren’t available for purchase anywhere. There are even sites, such as or romsmania, that state they distribute such games. In such instances, a ROM download can be considered legal depending on the laws in a particular country. For this reason, if you are considering downloading the ROM of an older game to emulate it, you must that the law in your country permits this action.

So, in short, if you attempt to emulate a game that you don’t own, you are committing an illegal action. If you own the game and have created a ROM yourself, then emulating it should be fine.

As for emulating PC games through methods such as Parallels, CrossOver, or the Game Porting Toolkit, here things are a lot more straightforward. Since each of these options lets you access official game distribution platforms like Steam, Epic Games, and, you can directly download the games that you own on those platforms and run them on your Mac. This removes the need for creating ROMs (or the temptation of downloading them illegally).

In other words, emulation of Windows PC games is perfectly legal as long as you are downloading the games from their official distributors and not pirating them.

Frequently Asked Questions