Gaming is a pastime that’s always been very close to my heart. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve enjoyed getting lost in exciting new worlds where I’m unencumbered by real-life problems and limitations. I’ve found video games to be one of the best media for cultivating creativity and turning it into a lifelong interest in computers and technology, especially at a young age when one’s imagination is unrestrained. In retrospect, I have my love of gaming to thank for my eventual interest in programming.

But gaming means different things to different people. While today’s gaming industry boasts superior hardware, games-as-a-service subscriptions, and vastly open worlds, none of that existed in my childhood. Back in the good ol’ days, it was all about browser gaming. When my mother wasn’t working, I’d hop on our Windows XP desktop and wait for our dial-up internet to boot up in its signature cacophony of noise, just so I could play the latest and greatest games for a mere thirty minutes to an hour a day using none other than Internet Explorer.

The late 2000s marked the golden age of Adobe Flash: a dinosaur-age technology that powered some of the most enjoyable, quirky, and questionable games that my younger self had ever played. I frequented sites like ArmorGames, CrazyMonkeyGames, Kongregate, Addicting Games, Newgrounds, and many others in my free time in search of new adventures. These sites featured classic Flash games like Kingdom Rush, The Last Stand saga, the Bowman games, Interactive Buddy, Feudalism II, Learn to Fly, Kitten Cannon, Stick War, Age of War, the Bloons TD saga, Mud and Blood 2, the Epic Battle Fantasy games made by the incredibly talented Matt Roszak, and a treasure trove of far too many other games to list here.

Bowman 2, a Flash game featuring archery combat.

Flash games were my first and earliest exposure to computers and the wonders of the web. Inspired by Bowman, Stick War, and the Sniper Assassin series, I’d run off to Pivot Animator and sow bloody chaos among my own little world of stickmen.

Before my friends introduced me to RuneScape, I was immersed in the fantasy worlds of iconic RPGs such as AdventureQuest and DragonFable.

An advertisement banner for the video game DragonFable by Artix Entertainment. Artix, one of the main NPCs in Dragonfable, poses heroically in his gold-trimmed paladin armor, with a giant axe resting on one shoulder and his free hand beckoning the player to join his campaign. In the background, a giant skull adorns the gateway to one of the in-game areas.
Image credit: Artix Entertainment.

If you didn’t own a gaming console or a proper gaming PC, you played Flash spin-offs of popular games: Portal: The Flash Version, Super Smash Flash, and hundreds of Super Mario clones made with—you guessed it—Flash.

Super Smash Flash's title screen, featuring a roster of iconic players like Knuckles and Sonic, Mario, Link, Samus, and Pikachu.

Flash gaming was a time of unfettered creativity, uncorrupted by the micro-transactions and other predatory practices that plague modern gaming. The limited hardware of the time, combined with the genius of early-Internet content creators, gave birth to thousands upon thousands of hours of addictive browser games. But it also blessed us with animated classics like Salad Fingers, The End of the World, and a metric ton of Zelda, Mario, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Pokémon parodies.

Salad Fingers 1 and 2, uploaded to Newgrounds.com.

Sadly, all of this is now a distant past—a precious little slice of the Internet relegated to the history books.

Flash Reaches Its End of Life

Today, December 31, 2020, marks the end of Flash as we know it.

Adobe announces Flash's end of life in a popup dialog window.

In the words of Monica Bing, it’s the end of an era.

I don’t even know why Flash isn’t safe. I can’t be bothered to Google it because I don’t actually care. All I know is that Flash games mattered—to me and a lot of other people who grew up playing them, malware be damned. Flash games were a source of immense creativity and fun in the early days of the Internet, and I’ll miss them dearly.

There’s some good news, though: While browsers are discontinuing support for Flash and Adobe is prompting you to uninstall it, Flash isn’t being completely wiped from our history. Since 2018, BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint project has archived 70,000+ Flash games and 8,000+ animations for posterity, to preserve this important part of the Internet’s history.

Starting today, though, browsers like Chrome and Firefox will officially block Flash content from running, so archives like this one will be your only option for reliving the glory days of Flash gaming. Any games that weren’t already ported over to Unity or JavaScript simply won’t work.

Chrome prompts you to unblock Flash by default.
Why are you like this, Chrome?

It feels like a part of my past is being torn from me. I wish I had more time to go back and replay all of those games I once cherished, outside of archives. On the other hand, I wonder if any of it will still be the same or if these games will have lost their charm.

Nostalgia does tend to cloud one’s emotions, but there’s no denying that Flash games were an important part of early Internet culture. They were fun to play, even if they didn’t feature the top-tier graphics or massively open worlds that we’ve come to expect from developers. (On that note, I think some people have lost sight of what really makes a game fun, but that’s an essay for another day.)

Goodbye, Flash

Anyway, I suppose that’s it. I wish I had more to say, but I don’t think there’s much more left to say. Flash games were great, and I’m glad I got to experience them before they went away.

RIP, Flash—you will be missed.

The 'press F to pay respects' meme from Modern Warfare, where the player attends a military funeral. An easel featuring a portrait of the deceased was altered to show the Flash logo instead.