Flash is dead and has been for years. Every major web browser disabled the infamous plug-in back in 2020 (the main thing we all remember about that otherwise uneventful year). Most of us didn’t mourn the buggy, overused service, which was a security nightmare and a frequent cause of browser crashes by the time it died. One group does miss Flash, however: casual gamers.
Before smartphones and app stores, the best place to find quick, free games were sites like Addicting Games and Newgrounds, which offered up all sorts of Flash-based games. These sites are also an important piece of video game history—some indie classics, including Meat Boy and VVVVV, started life as free Flash titles.
That history disappeared from the web when Flash stopped working. It’s coming back, though. Ruffle, an open source emulator built in part by a former Newgrounds employee, makes it possible to play these games without the security problems Flash had late in life. A variety of websites are using this technology to bring back Flash games.
Find Your Old Favorites
If you’re reading this article there’s probably a classic Flash title you have in mind. The good news that is you can probably find it, and possibly even play it, without having to do much in the way of setup. That’s because a variety of sites have already added the Ruffle emulator, meaning you don’t need to configure anything.
This includes the website Crazy Games, which so far as I can tell is the best collection of such games on the web right now. I was able to find Defend Your Castle and N very quickly. Another large collection is the cryptically named ooooooooo.ooo, which has thousands of obscure titles. Failing that, the Internet Archive has a big collection of Flash games, and you can search the entire archive to find even more.
You’re not limited to collections, either; a couple of stalwarts of the early 2000s are powered by Ruffle these days. Homestar Runner, which my WIRED colleague Eric Ravenscraft lovingly eulogized a couple of years ago, is a piece of internet history full of cartoons and games that’s aged very well. Neopets also recently got all of its old games working using Ruffle.
Now, not every game works perfectly—there are bugs. A lot of games run great already, however, and it’s going to keep getting better, because development on Ruffle is ongoing. Notably, mobile devices are supported, meaning you can finally play Flash games on the iPhone against Steve Jobs’ will.
Set Up Ruffle Yourself
If you stumble upon an old website with a broken Flash title you’d like to play, you can do so by installing Ruffle on your computer. There are browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. Just install the extension and any Flash content that you run into on the web, new or old, will automatically open in the emulator.
Alternatively, there’s a desktop version of the application you can install on Windows, Mac, or Linux computers. This is great if you want to download SWF files from sites like the Internet Archive and open them directly. The Mac version also offers a Safari extension, though you’ll have to allow unsigned extensions in order to use it.