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Am I able to use a controller to play the PC version of Minecraft? If so, can I just plug it in and play or do I have to do something else before being able use one?

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There is no built-in controller support on the PC version of Minecraft. You will need something like Xpadder to change each controller input to a keyboard/mouse input in order to use a controller.

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With a mod, yes. You can use the Minecraft Joypad/Split Screen Mod for actual analog movement (not just eight directions like with XPadder) and UI modifications for the controller (instead of only using an analog stick to emulate a mouse). It also creates the possibility of playing split screen with a friend (but you can use it just to play full screen single-player with a controller): http://retro-hack.blogspot.com/p/minecraft-joypad-mod.html

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If you're on Linux, you may have luck with Joy2Key, found here: http://sourceforge.net/projects/joy2key/

Debian package: http://packages.debian.org/search?keywords=joy2key

Ubuntu package: http://packages.ubuntu.com/search?searchon=names&keywords=joy2key

Another option is QJoyPad: http://qjoypad.sourceforge.net/ which also claims mouse support.

I haven't tested these myself.

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