I don’t like thinking about the past. But none of the new video games I play make me feel how the PC and browser games I used to boot up on my parents’ computer did. Those games, often free-to-play, with dangerously, enticingly rotten graphics and stories, had my brain working overtime about the possibility of “games”—in 2004, when Kotaku was a newborn, I was a six-year-old only just mastering the rules of hopscotch.
Recently, and for no good reason, two different people mentioned the educational PC puzzle game from 1996, Zoombinis, to me. Across Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, algorithms remind me of the Bratz dolls makeover games I played for entire school nights, the virtual worlds I joined while Mark Zuckerberg was still begging Harvard girls to go out with him.
I want to believe the world is telling me something. It’s time for me to grow up and remember the things I used to do when my emotions felt too big and sitting in chairs meant not touching the ground. Let’s walk back up online video games’ garden path together—here are eight games you should try to recall in all their good, gross glory.