It’s common knowledge in the gaming world that Macs aren’t the best machines for gaming. I even wrote a whole post about optimizing your Mac for gaming recently. But that hasn’t stopped people from trying (including myself). After all, buying a Mac doesn’t leave you with a whole lot of cash to go and grab another PC for gaming. This is why I’m going to show you how to connect a controller to Mac in this post.
Officially, an updated Mac supports the following controllers:
- Xbox wireless controller (Model 1708, a.k.a., most Xbox One controllers)
- Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2
- Xbox Adaptive Controller
- PlayStation DualShock 4 Wireless Controller (a.k.a., the PS4 controller)
- Various MFi (Made For iOS) controllers (though not all)
However, you can connect a few more than this using some less obvious methods. In this post, I’ll cover all of the major gaming controllers, as well as the Steam Controller, and then I’ll go into controller mapping at the end.
Let’s get into it!
- How to connect a controller to Mac: PS4/PS5/PS3
- How to connect a controller to Mac: Xbox One
- Connect an Xbox 360 controller to Mac: What you need
- Connect a Steam Controller to Mac
- Map a controller on Mac using a controller mapping app for Mac
- Connect a controller to Mac to get the most out of your Mac gaming
How to connect a controller to Mac: PS4/PS5/PS3
First, we’re going to cover my favorite controller, the PS4 controller (fight me). According to research, it appears that you can also connect a PS5 and PS3 controller to your Mac since these all use Bluetooth. I don’t have a PS5 controller yet (heartbreaking) but I do have a PS3 and PS4 controller to confirm that these will work with your Mac in 2021.
Since these controllers are all so similar, they all connect in essentially the same way (thank you PlayStation for adopting Bluetooth early). I’ll include methods for Bluetooth as well as wireless.
Let’s start with how to connect a controller to Mac using Bluetooth.
Connecting a PlayStation 4 controller with Bluetooth
To connect a PS4 controller to Mac, all you need to do is place your PlayStation controller into pairing mode and then choose it from your Mac’s Bluetooth menu. Let’s start by opening the Bluetooth menu.
Click the icon in the top-left of the Menu Bar on your Mac and click System Preferences… from the dropdown menu. From there, click the Bluetooth icon.
Next, we’re going to set the PS4 controller into pairing mode. To do this, press and hold the PS button (the small, round button in the middle of your PlayStation controller) while also pressing and holding the Share button (the small button to the left of the touchpad on your PS4 controller).
After a few seconds, the light on the front of your PS4 controller should start blinking rapidly. If you look on your Mac, you should see the PS4 appear in your Bluetooth settings.
Click Connect, and your PS4 controller should instantly connect to your Mac. You won’t notice any immediate uses for the controller; Apple hasn’t added any way for this controller to interact with your apps natively. Instead, you’ll need to play a game on your Mac that supports this controller. Most Steam games should.
And that’s it!
Connecting a PlayStation 3/4/5 controller with a cable
Next, we’re going to connect a PlayStation controller to Mac using a cable. As mentioned, I’ve tested and confirmed that this works with PS3 and PS4 controllers, but not PS5. So I’m purely speculating that this will work with your PS5 controller.
Another note: You’ll probably run into a problem of ports when trying to do that. That’s because most MacBooks only support USB C now, and most of your gaming cables are going to still use a traditional USB insert. So you’ll need some kind of adapter or hub to bridge this gap unless you’re using an iMac or Mac mini.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to the tutorial.
First, plug the controller you want to use into your Mac. All three controllers (PS3, PS4, and PS5) use a different cable. Make sure you have the right one for your controller.
Once plugged in, click the icon in the top-left of your Mac screen and then click About This Mac. This will bring up the following popup:
On this popup, you’ll click the System Report… button. This will bring up yet another popup.
In the left pane, you’ll see a section labeled USB. Click it. This will show you all of the USB devices currently connected to your Mac. If you see your PlayStation controller in this list, as shown in the image above with a PS3 controller, then that means your PlayStation controller is connected to Mac. You can use it with gaming apps on Steam, the Epic Games store, and more.
If you don’t see it, then that either means that you’re Mac isn’t updated enough to support this feature, or it means the PS5 controller isn’t compatible yet.
How to connect a controller to Mac: Xbox One
Next, we move on to the Xbox One controller. This section is going to encompass the generic Xbox One controller, as well as the specialty Xbox Elite Wireless Series 2 and Xbox Adaptive controllers. These can be connected to your Mac using the same cable as the PS4 using the same method from the above section, Connecting a PlayStation 3/4/5 controller with a cable.
Does your Xbox One controller support Bluetooth?
You can also connect a controller to Mac if your Xbox One controller has Bluetooth support. I learned the hard way that not all Xbox One controllers have Bluetooth support. Only the 1708 model does. You can check which model you have by opening the battery compartment on the underside of your controller and reading the MODEL XXXX portion.
If you see a 1537 or 1697, then that means your Xbox One controller doesn’t have Bluetooth built into it. You’ll have to use the wired method. If you have the newer 1708, though, you can easily connect it to Mac.
Connecting your Xbox One controller to Mac using Bluetooth
To do this, you’re going to follow the same procedure as the PS4. Open your Bluetooth settings on Mac, set the Xbox One controller into pairing mode, and connect it to your Mac. Let’s start by opening your Bluetooth settings.
On your Mac, press command + spacebar to bring up Spotlight. Type “Bluetooth” and select Bluetooth from the options that appear (do not select Bluetooth File Exchange.app).
Next, we’re going to set the Xbox One controller to pairing mode. After turning your controller on, press the small circular button on the front of your Xbox One controller, next to the USB port. It should have three small arrows (>>>) next to it. Press and hold it until the Xbox button on your controller starts to blink.
Once it starts blinking, return to your Mac and you should see it in the Bluetooth menu. Click the Connect button next to it. After a few seconds, the controller should pair to your Mac. You can now use it with gaming apps on your Mac.
And that’s it!
Connect an Xbox 360 controller to Mac: What you need
The Xbox 360 controller is next up on our tutorial to connect a controller to Mac. It’s a pretty straightforward device to connect to your Mac, though you’ll probably need to make some purchases.
Like the PS3 controller, the Xbox 360 controller will need to be connected to your Mac with a cable. That’s because the Xbox 360 controller not only lacks a Bluetooth profile for Mac compatibility, but it lacks Bluetooth altogether.
Unlike the PS3 controller, however, most Xbox 360 owners didn’t get a cable with the Xbox 360 controller. This is because Xbox 360 used replaceable batteries and rechargeable battery packs in place of a controller that could charge via cable.
So if you don’t have a cable that can plug into your Xbox 360 controller (and you will need a proprietary cable to do so) you can click on this link to pick one up off of Amazon (this is not a sponsored link). The cable in that link is only $7 and has more than a thousand positive reviews.
Connecting your Xbox 360 controller to Mac
Once you have the cable and the Xbox 360 controller in hand, you’re ready to connect a controller to Mac. As with the PS3 controller, you may run into the issue of having a USB end on your cable and a USB C port on your Mac. For that, you’ll need an adapter or a USB hub with both ports on it.
Either way, once the Xbox 360 controller is plugged into your Mac, click the icon in the top-left of the Menu Bar and then click About This Mac. Then, click System Report… In the window that appears, click USB in the left-hand pane.
This will show you everything plugged into your Mac via USB. If everything has gone according to plan, you should see your Xbox 360 in this list. If you do, you’re ready to start playing games with your Xbox 360 controller on Mac.
And that’s it! That’s how to connect a controller to Mac à la Xbox 360.
Connect a Steam Controller to Mac
Last up in this tutorial to connect a controller to Mac, we’re going to cover the Steam Controller. While this might not be the most popular controller on the market, I wanted to make sure everyone was covered, and I think this is the last mainstream controller that can be connected to your Mac.
While the Steam Controller can be used wirelessly, it needs to be plugged into work on Mac. Go ahead and remove the batteries from your controller and plug it into your Mac using a USB C to micro USB cable.
Once connected, open Steam and click the Big Picture button in the top-right of the Steam client.
If you’ve never used Big Picture mode, it’s just Steam’s mode for when you’re treating your PC more like a traditional TV and console setup. It prepares Steam for use with a controller and even a TV if you so choose.
Anyway, once you’ve switched to Big Picture mode, Steam might automatically start installing firmware updates for your Steam Controller. If this happens, you’ll need to restart your Mac to proceed.
And that’s it! If you plan on using your Steam Controller while it’s plugged into your Mac, that’s all you need to do.
Pairing your Steam Controller to Mac for wireless use
For those who want to use their Steam Controller with Mac wirelessly, you’ll need to put in a little extra work. Here’s how to connect a controller to Mac with Steam.
After restarting your Mac (assuming you needed to in the previous step), you’ll manually pair your Steam Controller to Mac. To do this, insert your wireless receiver into a port on your Mac that your Steam Controller can easily detect. In other words, you probably don’t want to plug it into the back of your Mac if you can avoid it.
Next, turn your Steam Controller off and launch into Big Picture mode on Steam. Click the Settings icon in the top-right.
Next, click Controller, then Add Steam Controller. This will initiate an on-screen pairing process. Follow the instructions that appear, and in a few moments, your Steam Controller should be good to go!
And that’s it! Yet another way to connect a controller to Mac.
Map a controller on Mac using a controller mapping app for Mac
Finally, as we reach the end of the article, we’re going to touch on mapping your controller to your Mac. If you don’t know, mapping refers to the process of associating each button on your controller with a key on your Mac’s keyboard.
You won’t need to do this for all of your Mac games; many of them will feature controller support. That means you’ll only need to connect your controller to Mac and launch the game, and it should automatically detect the controller for you.
Others, however, won’t recognize the controller. When this happens, you’ll need to download an app or configure your controller in Steam so that you can map your keys to buttons on the controller.
Mapping a controller on Mac with Steam
This is pretty easy to do in Steam. First, open Steam, enable Big Picture mode, click Settings, then Controller Settings, then place a check next to the controller(s) you want to use with Steam.
Once you do this and connect/reconnect your controller to Steam, you’ll get a prompt to name your controller. Name it, then head to your Library in Big Picture mode.
Click the game you want to configure, then click Manage Game.
Next, click Controller Configuration. This will bring up an image of the controller you’re using along with a way to map each of the buttons on your controller to a key on your Mac. Whatever you map each key to is how the game will respond when you press that button on your controller.
For instance, if moving forward is the “w” key, then you’ll want pushing forward on your left joystick to be mapped to “w”. If your jump is “spacebar” on your Mac, then you might make that “X” on a PS3 controller.
Mapping a controller on Mac with a third-party app
Of course, you won’t always be using Steam for your Mac gaming. Maybe you want to download an app from the App Store or a website. In these cases, you might not have any options to use a controller with the game using the built-in options. When this happens, a third-party mapping app can save the day.
A few popular (and safe) apps are Joystick Mapper and Enjoyable. Both will not only allow you to map your controller to keys on your keyboard for games, but they can also map your controller to work across your Mac. That means you’ll be able to replace your mouse and some keys on your keyboard with a controller.
There are tons of other apps on Github if you end up not liking either of the suggestions. Just make sure to do your research before downloading a mapping app to your Mac.
Connect a controller to Mac to get the most out of your Mac gaming
If you’re like me, you grew up playing console games long before you ever tried to play a game on the computer. This can make the switch to a mouse and keyboard a difficult and tedious process. Hopefully, this tutorial has shown you that you don’t have to give up a controller to game on your Mac.
For more articles on everything macOS, check out the rest of the AppleToolBox blog!