Gaming Guides

How to Play Old Games on Your Computer

Learn what you need to know to fire up and play old games on your computer so you can relive some of the very best classics from days gone by.

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Have you ever wanted to dive in and play some of the classic games of yesteryear? Maybe you are young player who wants to see what older games were like. Or, maybe you are an older gamer who wants to relive some of the best games you ever played whenever you were a kid.

Whatever the reason, you need to be prepared if you are going to try and play some of these old games on your cheap gaming laptop or PC. Let’s face it, things have changed a lot over the last several decades, and computers are quite a bit different compared to their PC ancestors of a simpler time. You can’t just install these games and play whatever you want.

However, with the right tools, you can play much more than just PC games. You can even play older games from some of the classic consoles that we all knew and loved when we were kids.

A Few Things to Remember

If you are going to start playing classic games on your modern PC, there are a few things you need to remember so you are prepared.

It Depends on the Game

What you need to do to run an older game depends largely on the game itself. Some games will run just fine on your modern system, others will never run, forcing you to use other means to play them. What you will have to do will vary with each game.

Be Prepared to Experiment

Because what you have to do for each game will vary, you need to get ready to experiment. You will have to install several tools (we will talk more about them later) and play around with each one to get it all to work correctly. This is too much for some people. I understand, this type of fiddling and tinkering isn’t for everyone. Still, if you can stand it, you will end the day with a classic game from your youth playing just as well as it did on your old system when you were young.

Don’t Give Up Too Easily

Sometimes no matter what you do you just won’t be able to get a game to work like you want it. This means even more playing around than you would have to do just to figure out how to run it in the first place. You could find it hard to get the old games to run or they may even crash when you try to play them. Whatever the problem may be, you need to be prepared.

Think of it like this. If you can get your old game to run, just think about the sense of accomplishment you will have. Not to mention that on top of that you get to play a great game that you haven’t been able to touch in years.

Four Main Ways to Play Old Games

So you have decided that classic gaming is for you. Great. Now it is time to figure out how to start playing those classic games on your machine. Remember, each game is different, so you may have to use multiple methods to get everything to work like you want it.

1. Use Emulators

The first way you can try to run old games is through the use of emulators. Now this doesn’t work as well for PC games, as they have different requirements. But if you want to run games from different older consoles or even play classic arcade games, this is definitely the way to do it.

Here is what you will need:

First, let’s talk a bit about the legalities of this method. Technically, you aren’t supposed to download and use roms for games you don’t own. That means you can’t download The Legend of Zelda if you don’t have that old gold cartridge laying around. The same goes for arcade games. You need that old giant cabinet if you want to be completely legal. But hey, it’s not like I or anyone else can stop you right? The truth is for most of the games you don’t have much to worry about, the companies haven’t produced these in decades in some instances and aren’t too worried about losing money on these.

Create yourself some folders to organize everything and import them into your emulators. Using this software you can play almost any game you want. You can even hook up a gamepad and play the games the way they were meant to be played, but a keyboard works too. Just don’t expect to get much use out of your mouse in this type of setup.

The two emulators above will let you play almost every game from arcades all the way up to the first PlayStation, so you should be completely covered for your classic gaming wants/needs. Not every game will work just right, so be prepared for a disappointment every now and then. Still, this is hands down the best way to play old arcade and console games, unless of course you have the old systems just collecting dust in your basement.

2. Use a Virtual Machine of an Old Operating System

Sometimes, emulators just won’t do the trick, and you won’t be able to install the game on your new system. In this case, you need to get your hands on an old copy of an operating system such as Windows XP or older and run the games on it instead.  To do that you will need to create a virtual machine with that classic operating system. A virtual machine is basically a software version of a full computer that runs inside your existing computer, known as the host.

Personally, my favorite virtualization software is VirtualBox. It is free to use and pretty easy to install and run even if you don’t have a lot of experience creating and using virtual machines.

Create your virtual machine using your old operating system and then copy the game files to it. Once you do, you should be able to install it right on that system. Once you do that, you should be able to launch the game and play it for as long as you want.

What you have to remember is virtual machines do take a few more resources to run. After all, you are basically setting up an entirely new machine within a machine. So, make sure your existing computer is up for the task. Also, when you are finished playing your game, then you should not only turn it off but you should also shut down the virtual machine so you can free up some of those extra resources for your newer, more modern apps that you undoubtedly need for both work and play.

3. Try DOSBox

While technically an emulator as well, I separated this one out because it focuses on one type of game – PC games. Now, these games aren’t games that will run on your modern Windows 10 machines. No sir. These are games created in an era when gaming was much simpler. A time when you had to type in the command to run the game. Now those were the days. There were no icons, heck for a time there wasn’t even a mouse.

DOSBox brings that back and gives you one place where you can run those old classic games with relative ease. You won’t have to mess around with other emulators or create any new virtual machines to do it. Just type in the right commands and off you go. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

So where do you get this piece of classic technology? Download your copy of DOSBox right here. Also, if you want to find great games for it, try this site on for size.

4. Buy An Old PC

If all else fails, you can always head to ebay and buy an old PC. Personally, I would look for something running Windows 95 or 98. On those systems, most of the older games would still run pretty well plus you get access to games produced in the late 90s as well. If you would like to find out more about the evolution of spider solitaire then click the link and read one of the most in-depth articles about it.

Believe it or not these systems still exist, although you will have to do a little searching to find one in really good shape. Remember, though, that these machines are pretty old. That means that the hardware could fail at any time and finding replacement parts for these systems will be difficult. If that does happen, you may be better off replacing the entire system.

Still, I view this as a last resort. In most cases, the first three options on this list should do the trick. If not, you can always setup a classic machine with used parts and systems you buy online.


Remember, just because something is old, doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. There were some great games that came out early on in the life of the PC. In my opinion, everyone should try these games at least once. Sadly, many people don’t even know that it is possible to run these older games on their newer systems. They believe that they must only relive these games in their memories, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The reality is that by using one the methods in this article, you should easily be able to run almost any old game from time gone by on your modern machine. While it may take a little more effort than a simple double click and go, in the end it will be worth it, and you will be able to enjoy some of the greatest games ever made for the PC.

By Matt Garrett

Matt is an IT professional with over fifteen years experience supporting network infrastructure and computers. An avid gamer, Matt enjoys his time playing and writing about his experiences both in the IT world and in the gaming communities. You can find more of his writing on our sister ShopNinja sites where he enjoys talking about anything and everything tech.

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