Playing Old DOS Games on macOS with DOSBox

Dosbox Macos Simcity2000 Hero

In the ancient days of Windows versions with 9s in the name, DOS is the dominant platform for early PC gaming. Doom, Quake, Zork, and hundreds of other games took the primitive features of the operating system and created games that are fun and playable even by today’s standards. While macOS is not well-known for gaming, you can still play DOS games on your Mac. Learn how to play DOS games on macOS with DOSBox, the leading DOS emulator on any platform.

Note: for Windows and Linux users, these are instructions are for playing old DOS games on Windows and Linux.

Downloading and Installing DOSBox

1. Download DOSBox from the developer’s website. Make sure to select the correct “Mac OS X” version. If you’re not sure what to download, then download DOSBox for macOS from Sourceforge.

Dosbox Macos Download Link

2. Mount the downloaded DMG in Finder.

3. Copy “DOSBox.app” into your desired directory, typically the Applications folder, but DOSBox can be run from any folder. You do not need to copy the text files on the DMG.

Dosbox Copy Application To Folder

DOSBox Frontends

You can download a so-called “frontend” for DOSBox on the same page. In this context, a frontend is an application that runs DOSBox’s emulation code but wraps the emulation in a container application. Normally, the container application extends functionality or simplifies the process of loading and saving games. While it hasn’t been updated since 2016 and won’t work on Catalina, Boxer is the best-known macOS front-end for DOSBox. It offers library support and streamlined loading and playing: just drag and drop the game onto the app’s icon, and you’re ready to rock.

Boxer Dosbox Macos Frontend

For this guide, we describe how to use the standalone version of DOSBox for macOS.

Running DOSBox and Playing Games with DOSBox

Double-click on the DOSBox icon to open a new DOS session. This will open a console window showing a text-only interface.

Dosbox Opening Screen User Interface

If you’re completely unfamiliar with DOS, this puzzling interface is called the DOS prompt. You run commands by typing their names and targets and pressing Enter rather than using your mouse to interact with graphical interfaces. This is an old style of using your computer and can take some adjustment for contemporary users. To perform actions, users assemble instructions from a coded language of commands. Fortunately, running games only requires a couple commands.

Basic DOS Commands

As we navigate, it will be helpful to remember these critical DOS commands. Also, remember that DOS filenames can only be eight characters long. For organization, it’s easiest to abbreviate the names of your DOS games to eight characters or less.

  • cd directory: change directory to the specified directory or path.
  • cls : clear the screen.
  • dir : display contents of the current directory.
  • help command: show help text for the specified command.
  • type textfile: show the contents of a text file.
  • start filename: open the specified application in a new window. Also works with directories.

Mounting Directories and Launching Games in DOSBox

Before you can load up a game, you’ll need to “mount” the directory in DOSBox. This links the mounted folder to the C: drive in DOS, allowing you to load files from that directory into DOSBox. C: is the location of the main hard drive in DOS, so this folder will be treated as your primary storage by the emulator.

1. Use this command to mount directories in DOSBox:

Dosbox Mount Directory Command

2. Switch to the C: drive by typing its name.

Dosbox Mount Directory Command Drive

3. View the contents of the C: drive:

Dosbox Mount Directory Command Dir

4. Navigate directories with the cd (change directory) command. Enter the folder of the game you want to play:

Dosbox Mount Directory Command Cd

Launch an application by typing the name of the application and its extension. If you’re not sure what application to run, try the EXE file with the same name as the application or a file titled START.COM.

Dosbox Mount Directory Command Start

Once the game starts, the DOS prompt will disappear, and the game will take over the interface. You can now use your mouse if the game supports it.

To return to the DOS prompt, quit from within the game. You may need to choose a “quit” option from a menu: each game varies.

Automatically Mounting Directories

To shorten the process of launching games, you can set DOSBox to automatically run a mount command at startup time by editing the DOSBox configuration file.

1. Open the configuration file at “~/Library/Preferences/DOSBox 0.74-3 Preferences” in TextEdit.

Dosbox Preference File Opening

The exact name of the configuration file will change depending on your version of DOSBox.

2. Scroll to the bottom of the document. Under the “[autoexec]” section, add your mount command. You can also add additional commands, with one command per line. When you’re finished, save the file.

Dosbox Preference Autoexec Mount Command

3. Next time DOSBox is launched, the mount command will run automatically.

Conclusion

You’ll need some games to run in DOSBox. DOSBox will run just about any DOS game, though not all games are compatible: see the complete list of DOSBox compatible games. You can download free and shareware DOS games from ClassicDOSGames and DOSGames.com. Share your experience playing DOS games on macOS with us below.

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