Portable gaming is more varied than ever with Valve’s Portable Steam Deck. Their library features thousands of verified AAA titles, and you’ll probably find it hard to run out of games to play, but there’s even more to choose from in the emulation world.

If you’re not familiar with the term, emulation is when one device pretends to be another. Modern gaming hardware is so powerful that it can mimic previous generation consoles relatively easily, meaning you can still play your favorite titles from years past.

There are pros and cons to emulation, with varying degrees of accuracy and stability on each platform. We’ll walk you through the easiest way to get started and help you understand why every console has variations of seemingly identical software.

EmuDeck: Everything in one place

EmuDeck emulation station (Image credit: EmuDeck)

Each console tends to have more than one emulation option, especially for the larger retro brands like SEGA and Nintendo. While it’s relatively easy to find emulators for these platforms, it’s not uncommon to be confused by the sheer variety of choices.

Rather than diving into the nitty-gritty of explaining the nuanced differences between something like bsnes and snes9x, we’ll start with EmuDeck. It’s the easiest method to access emulators on Steam Deck and requires minimal configuration, so even an absolute novice should feel comfortable with it.

EmuDeck is not an emulator but a collection of scripts designed to configure popular software like RetroArch and emulation station. It is available as a single installation file directly from the EmuDeck official website. You can skip straight to games as it usually picks emulators with a balance of performance and accuracy.

What is RetroArch?

Retroarch (Image credit: Windows Central)

RetroArch is one of the easiest ways to access emulators. With an elegant visual design, it acts as a GUI to manage configuration in the background. Settings can be saved across multiple platforms, meaning you don’t have to constantly define your button inputs, which is a huge time saver for a console like Steam Deck.

It offers more than a convenient way to browse your installed emulators and games with a collection of graphical shaders, online netplay, and advanced features like gameplay rewind.

Available on a wide variety of platforms, including even the Xbox Series X|S, RetroArch gives you quick access to emulators for virtually any platform and is the powerhouse of EmuDeck’s convenience.

Steam ROM Manager vs Emulation Station DE

Since RetroArch handles the heavy lifting of emulating your video game saves, Steam ROM Manager and DE emulation station offer two different methods for managing your library.

If you plan to transfer a large number of game saves for emulation, you’ll need to decide whether or not to list them as separate games in your Steam Deck library. The beauty of using the included Steam ROM Manager software is that each game will be displayed with its appropriate box art as if it were an official game purchased from the Steam store.

Using Emulation Station DE (desktop edition) can limit your collection to a single executable if you prefer to separate them from your regular PC titles. Whichever you choose has no impact on playing the emulated games, but both provide benefits for library management.

Dedicated emulators

Flathub emulators for Linux (Image credit: Flathub)

If you only plan to emulate a particular platform or prefer full control of your console, you can choose to install individual emulators instead of using EmuDeck. You’ll need to research which platform each emulator supports, but their logos are usually relatively large.

By using the Discover application in office mode, you can quickly and easily find Linux applications hosted on Flat hub. It’s a community project dedicated to simplifying the Linux ecosystem, and you can easily remove each app if it doesn’t satisfy you.

Consoles that use CD or DVD media are generally easier to make backups, as you only need a desktop computer or laptop with the appropriate drive. For instance, xemu emulates the original Xbox console. If you’re feeling nostalgic for some old-school Xbox classics, pull out your original discs and follow along. official instructions.

The same goes for any dedicated emulator; each will have a different installation process and file requirements. It’s worth diving into if you have the time as it will open your Steam Deck library further than the official store, but you should probably consider upgrading your storage with one of the best SD cards for Steam Deck.

If you’re looking for even more games to play, check out our guide on how to install non-Steam games on Steam Deck. The method is virtually identical to installing emulators, so you only need to learn once and then your options are nearly endless.