In the year 2018 being online is typified by owning a smartphone, using multiple social media networks, participating in never-ending group chats, binging on entire seasons of television in an afternoon, powering through podcast queues and generally being so connected to the infinite knowledge of the internet that to not be instills a quiet sense of panic.
It wasn’t always this way. You know this.
Perhaps you remember saying things like “I’m going to go browse the web.” You remember sitting down in a chair, hitting the power button on the family computer, and literally logging into the internet.
But you didn’t spend it reading Facebook posts from a cousin you haven’t actually spoken to in years, scrolling through your Instagram feed full of friends trying to one-up how amazing their lives are or watching journalists live-tweet the demise of our civilization. You spent it just trying to kill some time. Chances are, most of that time was spent playing web games.
Whether you were bored at home, goofing off in computer class or trying to run the clock out at a desk job, web games were there for you. Unlike traditional games, there was no installing, no messing with hardware — all you needed was an internet connection, a working web browser and you could be playing your favorite time wasters in seconds (okay, maybe minutes.) To have access of this vast trove of interactive entertainment, well, it’s maybe the most enduring slice of the internet’s middle-age.
Given that we’re in the final throes of summer — when everyone is seemingly on vacation and things seem a little sleepy — there might not be a better time to revisit the Golden Age Of Internet Time Wasting. So, the Digg staff put their heads together and tried to compile something of a definitive list of web games. Heck, we love them so much we’ll be spending the rest of the week exploring how they shaped the internet we know today, their influence on popular culture and what they meant to us.
So grab a seat, get a snack, and let’s dive into the the best part of the old internet.
30. Snake In A Buffering YouTube Player
Sadly, YouTube did away with this in their full transition from Flash to HTML5 in 2015, but you can still watch world record attempts at it on YouTube itself. Initially launched in 2010, before streaming video became what it is, it was YouTube’s clever way acknowledging it’s kind of a bummer to wait for a video to load. Now in 2018 YouTube, rightfully, just blames your ISP. — Steve Rousseau
Play on… you can’t play this in YouTube’s HTML5 player.
29. The New Yorker Jigsaw
I don’t know if this counts as a game, but it’s the only thing I play on my browser and is great when I’m on the phone but want to do something with my hands. It’s nowhere near as rewarding as a real-life jigsaw puzzle, but the way the virtual puzzle pieces snap together onscreen is highly satisfying. (This is only true in the Flash version — the newer non-Flash version feels mushy by comparison.) — L.V. Anderson
Play on newyorker.com
28. Xiao Xiao Series
A series of animations and games made by Chinese Flash animator Zhu Zhiqiang between 2000 and 2002, Xiao Xiao set a benchmark for what could be accomplished with a simple browser plugin, some stick figures and excellent action choreography. The games, admittedly, never fully lived up to the promise of the animated shorts — but even high-budget titles like “Enter The Matrix” and “Path of Neo” were unable to make video game fighting feel as cool as “The Matrix” looked. For those who grew up on the internet in the ’00s Zhu Zhiqiang was, arguably our generation’s John Woo. — Steve Rousseau
Play on newgrounds.com
27. Conway’s Multiplayer Game Of Life
This is abstract art you can play. Based on the classic “Conway’s Game of Life” — where players set an configuration of “cells” and watch them evolve over time based on four rules — this webgame pits you against strangers also just trying to survive. Some games get truly competitive. Others are just a handful of people trying to create things with the set of tools and rules and their disposal. In that way, it really is a lot like life. — Joey Cosco
Play on lifecompetes.com
26. Candy Box 2
The first of a handful of what’s known as incremental games, “Candy Box 2” is the sequel to “Candy Box!”, a simple ASCII incremental game developed by a French teen who just wanted to learn how to code. Part of the beauty of “Candy Box 2” is how it unfolds as the game progresses, so discussing it at length is a bit of a spoiler. If you’ve yet to experience it, go ahead and open it on a new tab at work and check in on it every hour or so. The ASCII graphics won’t tip your coworkers off to your blatant slacking, and you’ll be treated to one of the more unique experiences in gaming. It’s a real treat. — Steve Rousseau
Play on candybox2.github.io
25. Just About Anything From Cartoon Network
The smartphone didn’t kill web games, it just turned them into apps. With that transition came the decline of some of the largest hubs for web games — Newgrounds, Miniclip, Kongregate and so on. But thanks to the influx of TV ad dollars, one still stands: Cartoon Network (and by extension, Adult Swim). To this day, they’re still releasing new games to help promote shows like “Steven Universe” and “We Bare Bears”; that’s in addition to hosting some 204 games from over the past decade. It’s cool to see that in some corners of the web, your childhood is still alive. — Steve Rousseau
Play on cartoonetwork.com
Released in 2009, Adam Atomic’s “Canabalt” came at the very end of the web games era, and the very beginning of the smartphone app craze. I know this because playing the version on the web convinced me that I needed it on my iPod Touch. In terms of production value for a Flash game, few can top it. It’s visuals evoke the popular faux-16-bit sprite art that titles like “Super Meat Boy” and “Pez” popularized, and the music and sounds effects so immersive that the app version strongly suggests you play with headphones.
Still, the beauty of “Canabalt” is that it’s a simple game with slick production. You must run and jump from rooftop to rooftop, evading your unseen captors until you eventually fail. There is no end in sight. — Steve Rousseau
Play on adamatomic.com
In college I buried a lot of hours into this game that I’ll never be able to dig back up. I’m okay with that, though, because Motherload is a fantastically deep game with plenty to enjoy, discover, curse and forgive. You know the drill: find resources, improve your vehicle, repeat. (Note: All the puns in this blurb were intended, because Motherload taught me that once you strike a vein, you should never stop until it’s all picked over.) — Joey Cosco
Play on xgenstudios.com
Nothing reminds me more of seventh grade computer class than “Mini-Putt.” After completing the assigned lessons in “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing,” which took about 15 minutes of the alloted 45 minute class period, we’d take full advantage of the broadband internet afforded to us in the computer lab and just binge on web games. Psycho Goldfish’s (An extremely ’00s internet monniker) “Mini-Putt” was a good one to play because it didn’t look as insane as something like “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Assault” — which would, for sure, get you in trouble. — Steve Rousseau
Play on psychogolfish.com
In the days in which web-based 3D games were more of a curiosity that ran like garbage, “Curveball” clever use of perspective and mechanics gave you the sense of three-dimensional space without actually nuking your computer. Even today, where our phones can run “Fortnite”, you can still find a simple joy in just batting a ball back and forth with a computer opponent, only to destroy it seconds later with a sick curve out of nowhere. — Steve Rousseau
Play on albinoblacksheep.com
“Bejeweled” might be the platonic ideal of “web games your dad plays when he gets his turn on the computer.” Growing up I never played it, and I don’t even think my parents played it, but even as a 12-year-old one look at it on the MSN Zone just made me think that this was a game for people who liked going on cruises. Why played “Bejeweled” when you could download the “Quake 2” demo while your parents were out at dinner, spend 30 minutes playing it and then rush to quit and uninstall when you heard the garage door start to open.
Of course, what started as a web game in 2001 eventually became a game ported on almost every single platform imaginable, downloaded hundreds of millions of times and saw two sequels and two spinoffs. No doubt the early success of “Bejeweled” paved the way for developer PopCap Games’ opus, “Plants vs. Zombies.” — Steve Rousseau
Play on zone.msn.com
19. The Google Chrome Dinosaur Infinite Runner
Perhaps it speaks to the influence that web games had that at some point, like the YouTube example above, developers just started adding them as easter eggs into anything. If you lose internet, and then try to go to a website, Google Chrome will tell you you don’t have any internet. But hold the spacebar and the little T-Rex will hop up and down, and start an infinite runner. Maybe you don’t actually need to reconnect to the web. — Steve Rousseau
Play on, well, disconnect from the internet and open Chrome
18. City Jumper
Everything about City Jumper screams “web game.” From the MS-Paint art style, to the cluttered menu design, to the guy-making-sounds-into-a-microphone sound effects it evokes a time when most of the stuff online was lovingly unpolished. And like most games of its time, it’s deceptively hard. In my, erm, research, I found it almost impossible to get past level 6. If you have any tips please send them my way. — Steve Rousseau
Play on nationlocation.com
17. The Impossible Quiz
I suppose you could consider “The Impossible Quiz” more of a point-and-click adventure rather than an actual quiz. At some point, you’re going to get it wrong, and you’ll need to learn what the game actually wants you to do. If you forgot just how annoying trick questions can be, “The Impossible Quiz” will be happy to remind you. — Steve Rousseau
Play on theimpossiblequiz.net
Ruthless, massively multiplayer, only uses 5 colors. Agar.io is as simple as it is addictive. It even earned a shoutout on “House of Cards” as a favorite game of fictional president Frank Underwood, which can only mean it has some fans over at Netflix. If you’ve never played before, give it a try. Who knows, the anonymous dots you gobble up could belong to Beau Willimon, David Fincher or Robin Wright. — Joey Cosco
Play on agar.io
“FarmVille” arguably bridged the gap between the web games era of the internet, and the social media-driven era we now find ourselves in. Facebook wanted people to sit on their website, so they hired a developer, Zynga, to make a game that would get people to sit on Facebook. And it worked. In 2010 there were some 35 million people playing “FarmVille” daily. Eventually Facebook decided that people would be happier looking at posts and videos, and there are now groups on Facebook dedicated to trying to find other humans playing “FarmVille 2.” That should give you a sense of where things went. But if you’re craving a return to your farm, well, you should just play “Stardew Valley” instead. — Steve Rousseau
Play on farmville.com
14. The Idiot Test
This is basically “An Email Forwarded From Your Grandparents: The Game.” Similar to “The Impossible Quiz” this is just a series of trick questions, Simon Says patterns and “read all the instructions before doing anything” type challenges. Some jerk manager at a FedEx store definitely made potential hires play this. If there’s one thing “The Idiot Test” proves, it’s that we’re all idiots. — Steve Rousseau
Play on crazygames.com
13. Slime Volleyball
If you want to play a game that looks fun but is soul-crushingly impossible, play “Slime Volleyball.” My goodness, I’ll admit this never really cracked my circle of friends, but just playing it now for a few minutes I can’t really see how anyone might be good at this. Is this a prank? Are my coworkers pranking me? — Steve Rousseau
Play on cwestify.com
The ’00s internet was chock full of “Worms” clones, but “Tanks” — its name evidence of an early arrival to the scene — removes the lovable characters, adds numbers and leaves you with something an accountant would find “absolutely thrilling.” Which isn’t a bad thing! Your tank sits here, your enemy sits across the screen. Figure out how to destroy them with math and trial and error. It’s the “Microsoft Flight Simulator” of artillery games. — Steve Rousseau
Play on crazygames.com
Neopets is one of the few web games that was so popular that it fostered and entire community and culture. Sure, you’ve probably played all of the games on offer here, but on Neopets all of those games — like counting potatoes, or spinning a wheel that takes hours to stop or guessing the weight of a watermelon — contribute to something worthwhile: a digital pet of your own. Nowadays kids go wild over Fortnite dances and skins, but before that, we had Neopets. — Steve Rousseau
Play on neopets.com
10. Universal Paperclips
Yet another idle game, but no wait stop, please keep reading because this one is different. We blogged about it when it first came out because it provided a unique narrative experience so rarely seen in a browser-based click-this-button game. And almost a year later — even after getting to the (spoilers!) very good and introspective ending — Universal Paper clips still holds up; it’s worth revisiting. I know, I just sunk 30 minutes into it by accident. — Joey Cosco
Play on decisionproblem.com
9. Line Rider
Line Rider represents a unique time in the webgame continuum. A lot of people might remember it as that fun, barebones game with just two buttons: “draw” and “undo”. Those people might be surprised to learn the little guy on the sled managed to get around: Line Rider earned real video game titles on the Nintendo DS and Wii. And to this day, the webgame still has a pretty vibrant community. — Joey Cosco
Play on linerider.com
8. World’s Hardest Game
This is the web games version of “I Wanna Be The Guy.” They really aren’t kidding when they say it’s the “World’s Hardest Game.” Here’s a fun thing to do: watch someone speedrun it, and then play it yourself. — Steve Rousseau
Play on crazygames.com
7. The N Games
Platforming was never really the speciality of web games. Something about the keyboard just feels clumsy compared to a controller. And yet, The “N” series of platformers, through its artstyle, mechanics and level design, made you want to play a platformer on a keyboard. In fact, it’s so good that you can play the latest installment “N++” on your Nintendo Switch right now. Everything has, apparently, come full circle. — Steve Rousseau
Play on thewayoftheninja.org
It’s not a web game in the traditional sense. You aren’t controlling anything. It’s not exactly a mindless time-waster, but as something that got you and your friends huddled around a computer for hours on end quiz website Sporcle is definitely one of the best web games. — Steve Rousseau
Play on sporcle.com
Dark Souls before Dark Souls was Dark Souls. Playing QWOP is an exercise in both discipline and masochism. It’s also a wild four-finger workout. And if you’ve managed to beat it, you should check out developer Bennet Foddy’s latest game, “Getting Over It With Bennet Foddy.” — Joey Cosco
Play on foddy.net
4. Frog Fractions
An absurdist masterpiece. Frog Fractions perfectly captures the feeling of being on the internet in all its weirdness and humor and unpredictability. Progressing through its vastly varying stages is frustratingly difficult and intuitive and sublime and stupid all at once. To this day I still say something is “like Frog Fractions” if I want to pay it my highest compliment. Check out this documentary on the game’s development here. — Joey Cosco
Play on twinbeard.com
3. Cookie Clicker
This baby just turned 5 and it’s still clickin’. An icon of the idle game genre, Cookie Clicker is a masterclass in careful game design that combines clever writing, beautiful artwork, endless replay value and surprisingly thought-provoking philosophy. All right in your browser window. — Joey Cosco
Play on orteil.dashnet.org
In terms of web games, “RuneScape” is easily the most ambitious: an entire massively-multiplayer online role playing game, playable in your browser. First released in 2001, Jagex’s “RuneScape” hit on a lot of web firsts that are still in play today. It was one of the first browser games to use, albeit primitive, 3D graphics. It was one of the first free-to-play games in the model we have come to love or loathe today. It was one of the first games to truly corner the bored teen market games like “Minecraft” and now “Fortnite” would later come to dominate.
Looking at sheer player numbers, “RuneScape” became the “Most Popular Free MMORPG” in 2008 according to the Guiness Book of World Records. In 2013 the game split between the lovingly janky “RuneScape 2” and the updated, more-polished “RuneScape 3”. But based on player sentiment, the game peaked in 2007 — which its culture is still trying to chase those first highs, even a decade later.
While more hardcore fans are reticent to call the officially sanctioned “old School RuneScape” a fully authentic experience, it’s still there for you. And you can still spam “Buying GF” in chat. Because that joke never got old. — Steve Rousseau
Play on oldschool.runescape.com
1. Helicopter Game
There are plenty of games online that are like the “Helicopter Game.” Simple premise, simple controls, simple graphics. You could argue that there are even some games on this very list that do some things better than the “Helicopter Game.” And we would agree with you.
But when terms of “web game”-ness, the combination of mechanics and visuals manages to do something that not every web game can: transport you directly to the ’00s web. Yes, it still plays great. It still has the ability to waste 5 minutes or 5 hours. It is exactly as you remember it, which, upon revisiting some of your old favorites, is rarely the case.
In putting this list together we learned two things. The number of web games released in the ’00s is a beautiful, raw and sprawling mess of titles that, with each passing day, becomes a little harder to access. The places that once hosted these games are fading away, the archives are crumbling and it’s only getting worse.