How to Play Atari2600 Games on Your Computer (Stella)

The Atari2600 may be considered the video game console that dominated console gaming in the early 1980’s. While the Atari2600 might be a distant memory for most old-school gamers, it is more than possible to play the games this second generation console brought to homes over three decades ago.

For this guide, we will be using the emulator Stella. So, naturally, we’ll need to go to the Stella homepage and head over to the downloads page. From here, you can pick a release that is appropriate for your operating system. For this guide, we’ll be using Windows to guide you through the rest of the steps, though it is likely that the steps are very similar to that of other operating systems.

When you have downloaded Stella, you’ll need to install it. You can let it install in the default directory. Once done, you can find a convenient place on your hard drive and create a folder for all of your Atari2600 needs. In this folder, you can simply create a shortcut (or move the desktop shortcut if you opted to allow it to create that shortcut) in this folder so you have fast access to the emulator in question. After this, create a directory that will contain all of your ROM images. Once done, place all of your ROMs in the ROMs folder.

Now, open up Stella. Stella will detect if you are running this program for the first time and will probably display itself like this:


To do so, simply double click on the “[..]” line until you find yourself in a familiar directory. Then, browse to where you are storing your ROMs. If you see nothing in the ROMs directory, it’s likely because your ROMs are stored in a compressed format (like a .zip or a .7z for example). Unlike numerous other emulators that emulate various consoles, Stells can not read ROMs in a commonly compressed format. So, you may have to decompress individual ROMs before you can play them.

When you have a ROM that is decompressed, you can go up a directory with the “[..]” line in the emulator and double click on the ROMs folder again to refresh it. Your freshly decompressed ROM will appear there if you needed to extract it.

At this point, you’ll want to try and configure your keys. I found the system used in Stella to be confusing – especially if you’ve never had your hands on a physical Atari2600 control, but if you feel adventurous, you can access the key mapping by clicking on “Options”:


Now, click on the Input Settings:


From here, you’ll see all of the keys that have been mapped in Stella.

To make your life a whole lot easier, the Space bar is for firing, F2 is the “reset” button (needed to start some games), the arrow keys are for movement, F9 is for save state, F11 is for the load state and Esc. is to get out of the game.

Now, all you need to do is double-click on a ROM image to start your game. That’s it!

Happy gaming!


The game I have doesn’t seem to work right. It has all these weird colors and half the functions don’t seem to work at all. What’s going on?
Some games need to be “restart” to let the system know that you are ready to play. For that, just hit something like F2 to start the game.


  • Vedant Singh says:

    When I am trying to play games like river raid and space invaders, I do not know what the start key for those games are. Please Help!

    • Drew Wilson says:

      At the screen when you load up the emulator, click on Options, then in the new window, click on “Input settings”. Each button can be edited, but generally, you can get an idea of where everything is at just by looking at the “action” box below for each button.

      Hope that helps!

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