Flash Games Are Leaving Soon, but Their Memory Will Never Fade

Can we get some F's in chat for this legendary era of web gaming?

I remember the back of my school computer lab, minutes before the period ended, with my eyes fixated on the QWOP keys. I was playing a goofy Flash game. It’s the one where you maneuver an uncoordinated Oolympian by controlling his thighs and calves individually. I was doing surprisingly well, too. My friend had just synced up the song “Chariots of Fire” and started quietly cheering as he saw how far I made my character flail on my last failed run. This was the run, though. I could feel it. My friend could, too. I would make this clumsy runner go for gold.

Something shifted when I started that run. I don’t know if it was my confidence, or the pure power of friendship, but I pirouetted across the screen like a seasoned professional. A couple kids beside me saw my progress and joined the preteen gamer huddle around my screen.

I wound up face planting after somehow managing to jump a hurdle, but it still shattered my personal record on a wonky web game built for raging. That’s a win in my book, and that moment stuck with me until now, years later. Flash games have a strange ability to lodge themselves in your memory, no matter how short, or hard, or weird.

When I started writing this piece, I made a tweet to gather up people’s favorite Flash games. As I read through the picks I was shocked at how many people remembered their faves and how varied all of the games were. From licensed hits like the Lilo and Stitch: 625 Sandwich Stacker, to the independent aggravator called The Impossible Quiz, to the bootleg Super Smash Flash, some of the most versatile, inventive, and straightforward games I’ve ever played lived in the Adobe Flash Player.

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The software is (or was) incredibly accessible, allowing people to play Flash creations on basically any computer for free since its launch in 1996. It allowed developers to make any web-based game with the audio, video, and animation that they wanted. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Adobe Flash Player became a medium for independent developers and animators to express themselves — then share the expression with almost anybody. Sites like Newgrounds and Kongregate popped up to serve as offbeat hubs for avant-garde, user-submitted projects. They became bottomless pits of easy-to-access entertainment for anyone who was bored, or unable to afford a gaming rig outside of their school computer lab.

A lot of young developers even got their start on sites like those. You might recognize The Behemoth, the team that made the highly praised Castle Crashers and Alien Hominid. The latter console game was originally crafted for the Flash Player.

Flash was cool as hell, but times change and things happen. Since 2017, Flash games have been living off borrowed time. Adobe now plans to stop all development and distribution, shutting down the format forever by December 2020.

It’s not a surprising choice… Open standards like HTML5 simply outclass Flash player. HTML5 pushed Flash out of the default because it uses less resources, doesn’t need to be additionally installed, and functions on more devices. The choice to shut down is a logical step, but it still has real reverberations with the Flash communities still active today. Earlier in July, Kongregate announced it wouldn’t be taking any new Flash game submissions, deactivating most of its chat rooms, forums, and other social features a few days ago, leaving its members to find other ways of communicating.

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It’s clear the age of Flash is finally coming to an end. Yet the innovative creations live on due to the proactive archivists working on Flashpoint. It’s the Flash paradise we children of the old kind of free online game needed. Every half-memory in your head of a quirky web game is preserved on this application — functioning like a mix of the emulator community and Archive.org.

The international team, run by BlueMaxima, has ported over 52,000 titles already. That translates to a free, surprisingly compact 468 GB museum of easily searchable classic browser gaming. I’ve spent the past couple of days playing my friends’ Flash nostalgia recommendations via Flashpoint, and I love it. It runs smoothly and has that massive library, the surface of which I haven’t even begun to chip.

Chuckling over Discord about our old favorites that haven’t held up, or being unanimously surprised at how fun some of them still are reminded me how often Flash games once brought people together. I remember bonding hard with people I barely spoke to after playing a co-op keyboard game, or having intense 1v1s in Matrix Bullet Time Fighting, then getting a slice of pizza with pals. There are too many experiences to count. The best part is my friends and I never had to pay for them. It highlights the importance of publicly available, accessible, and approachable games in much the same way we treat public libraries.

Outlandish Flash games helped me realize my fascination with the medium — and just how bizarre it can get. I’ll never forget that. Although the software is quickly becoming obsolete, it’s comforting to know such a large part of gaming history will still be available for people to try years into the future. You know, when we’re all in our virtual reality gamer spheres focused on not getting motion sickness from playing as a first-person Sonic the Hedgehog.

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