How to Run Emulators on the Steam Deck

The Steam Deck is an incredibly emulator-friendly system, and with a few handy tips and tricks, you can quickly learn how to run emulators on the Steam Deck. Valve, the creator of the Steam Deck, understood that players would be eager to relive their favorite gaming systems from the past and enjoy timeless classics. That’s why the Steam Deck allows you to conveniently select and run an emulator straight out of the box.

Disclaimer: Emulation exists in a legal gray area since it’s often challenging to obtain ROM files from legitimate sources. At Digital Trends, we do not endorse the illegal downloading of any games you don’t own, nor can we guarantee the authenticity and security of any ROM files obtained from unofficial sources.

How to Run an Emulator on the Steam Deck

Step 1: First, turn on your Steam Deck. Once it’s up and running, press and hold the Power button located on the top-right of the device for a few seconds. This action will open a menu where you can select “Switch to desktop.” By choosing this option, you’ll reboot the Steam Deck in Desktop Mode, allowing you to make important changes. Although it’s not entirely necessary, connecting the Steam Deck to a larger monitor, along with a mouse and keyboard, can make navigating Desktop Mode easier.

Steam Deck Apps
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Step 2: The Steam Deck provides various emulators available for download through the Discover app. However, this process can become complex. To simplify things, we recommend using a shortcut: the EmuDeck program. EmuDeck handles all the intricate details on the backend and takes care of installing and configuring emulators, particularly RetroArch. RetroArch is a front-end infrastructure that integrates well with the Steam Deck, making it an ideal choice for emulation. To begin, visit the EmuDeck webpage and click the “Download app” button. If you’re having trouble following the links, the URL is

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EmuDeck Install Button
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Step 3: Open the EmuDeck file in Desktop Mode and run the program to initiate the installation process. EmuDeck will guide you through a setup wizard, ensuring a smooth experience. It will eventually prompt you to run the Steam ROM Manager, which EmuDeck simplifies. If you haven’t previously customized any emulators on the list, feel free to choose the option to overwrite them all.

EmulationStation in Steam Deck
Retro Game Corps

Step 4: When requested, select “Preview” and then click “Generate app list.” EmuDeck will then work to establish a library of classic games, complete with images and other essential data. Once it finishes, click “Save app” to complete the process. Keep in mind that this step might take several minutes or even longer. Be patient and let the Deck do its thing.

Step 5: Close any open apps and select the “Return to game mode” icon located in the upper-left corner. In your Steam Library, you’ll now notice a new Emulation collection, containing the EmulationStation app ready for use.

Steam ROM Manager
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Step 6: If you have any concerns about managing ROM files, don’t hesitate to revisit the Steam ROM Manager. There, you can review configurations, compatibility, and more. While EmuDeck handles most of the work for you, you still have customization options. You can choose which emulated consoles to display, change their appearance, select specific games, and more.

RetroArch Menu
Retro Game Corps

Step 7: Suppose you plan on storing your ROMs on a separate SD card for easier organization. In that case, it’s crucial to obtain an SD card, configure it for your Steam Deck, and label it appropriately. This way, you’ll always know what awaits you inside. SD cards utilizing Ext4 or Btrfs filesystems are compatible with EmuDeck. Make sure to insert the SD card and have it ready before running EmuDeck.

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The RetroArch Menu
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Step 8: Should you encounter any issues with your Deck or an external controller, such as unexpected behavior or incorrect button mapping compared to what you remember from the game, you can easily address them. For example, RetroArch features a Controls section in the settings, allowing you to remap buttons and save your configurations for each game. A little bit of tinkering can go a long way.

Once you have your favorite games up and running, why not try playing them on your big-screen TV? Alternatively, you can switch to the Steam Deck’s Desktop Mode for even more precise control.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • After four months with the ROG Ally, I’m going back to my Steam Deck
  • The Steam Deck and Nintendo Switch had a baby, and it’s Lenovo’s Legion Go
  • Refurbished Steam Decks are now official — here’s how to buy one
  • Don’t worry; Armored Core VI is ‘fully supported’ on Steam Deck
  • Asus ROG Ally vs. Steam Deck: here’s how they compare

OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

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