Get your game on
As observant PC owners will note, the funny thing about gaming on Windows 7 and Windows Vista is that you needn't even consider yourself a "gamer" to enjoy it. That's because an intuitive interface and ever-expanding range of titles for all ages, genders and skill levels make it easy for everyone to instantly jump in and play.
Enter the era of "casual games," or user-friendly digital diversions that require zero background or familiarity with the pastime to enjoy. So while diehard enthusiasts still benefit from full support for hardcore offerings like Fallout 3 and The Witcher, everyone else is suddenly rediscovering the pleasures of family game night as well.
The proof is in the pudding, too. According to the Casual Games Association, over 200 million people enjoy these titles each month, 51.7% of which are women, with those participating in online communities averaging 7-15 hours of gaming every week. A six-month study conducted by East Carolina University's Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies even shows these amusements can significantly lower stress, brighten one's mood and reduce depression levels – a great excuse to play.
Available for sampling and purchase via online download or local retailers, casual games don't just cost less and sport lower system requirements than typical Games for Windows offerings, making them even more accessible. They're also immediately engaging, easy to try in advance and capable of providing the kind of catchy hands-on experience that's easy to learn, yet hard to master, guaranteeing they'll captivate hardcore players as well.
Following is everything you need to know to play like a pro.
At odds with traditional PC games, casual games sport several distinct characteristics:
Low prices—Single titles often sell for US $19.99 or less on average, compared with a standard US $39.99-49.99. Purchase a monthly subscription package, and prices can dip as low as US $6.99 per game. Added bonus: Pogo.com and PopCap.com actually let you compete in puzzle and card games for cash and prizes – now that's what we call "play money."
Minimal system requirements—Even older PCs can comfortably run these titles. While cool peripherals like sound and graphics cards or wireless gamepads provide tangible play enhancements, coming out of pocket's typically unnecessary, with add-ons considered strictly optional. Compare the minimum system specs required to run Windows 7 with those for popular title Diner Dash, and it's obvious… make the upgrade, and you'll be set for some time to come.
Casual games like Burger Island 2 let you cook up instant fun.
Familiar themes—From travel to trivia, weddings to Westerns, and even cakes to county fairs, casual games generally feature concepts based on everyday topics or pop culture references, increasing their overall reach and appeal. Many are further inspired by timeless arcade favorites, earning extra points for nostalgic appeal.
Small sizes—Game downloads generally average about 25-50MB in size, meaning disk storage won't be a problem. Better still, you can also retrieve them with little difficulty, even on a dialup or DSL Internet connection. Be aware, however. Certain titles originally sold on CD-ROM, such as Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock, or those containing multiple in-game movies like Casebook, may require 10-20X as much storage space, and take hours to download. Be certain you double-check system requirements and expected transfer times with online vendors before making any purchase.
Try before you buy—Dozens of providers like I-play, iWin and Reflexive Arcade offer endless hours of amusement. Titles either run right from Internet Explorer, or can be sampled gratis before you decide to purchase them via complimentary downloadable trials.
Get started gaming at Reflexive Arcade.
Ease of installation—Installing casual games onto your PC couldn't be simpler. Just double-click on the file you've downloaded or, in the case of retail titles, insert the CD and follow on-screen prompts or included instructions to launch the program. A step-by-step, guided wizard will walk you through the process.
Free with Windows
Even more exciting: Several cool casual games are included with Windows 7 and Windows Vista straight out of the box. To access them, simply open the Games Explorer, found on your Start menu.
Access free games right from the Games Explorer.
Between enhanced versions of old favorites sporting sharper graphics and gameplay to all-new, addictive outings, you're sure to spend weeks entranced by these runaway hits alone. (Although parental controls in Windows 7 and Windows Vista let you easily prevent kids from doing so when schoolwork calls.)
FreeCell—The card game classic receives a pleasing facelift in the form of additional animation as well as built-in hints and tutorials.
Minesweeper—Avoid explosives as always, only now atop selectable backdrops boasting customizable grid sizes and slicker picture quality.
Purble Place—Includes three challenging children's diversions based on baking sweets, matching shapes and playing guessing games.
Solitaire—A fresh edition featuring several decks and scoring systems, plus handy save options so you can take a break at any time, then pick up where you left off later.
Classic games like Solitaire get sweeping upgrades in Windows 7 and Windows Vista.
Other bonuses include Spider Solitaire, Hearts, and Mahjong Titans.
You can preview the entire selection available for Windows 7 here and for Windows Vista here.
While hundreds of titles are compatible, several acclaimed casual games such as Darwinia and Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved have been specially enhanced for use on Windows 7 and Windows Vista.
These all-star outings promise major upgrades like snazzier audiovisuals and additional levels, and can even cause your Xbox 360 Controller for Windows to rumble, offering the most immersive gameplay possible.
Peggle Nights will test your patience and hand-eye coordination.
In addition, you'll also find a limitless supply of equally engaging alternatives including:
Peggle Nights—Using a limited supply of balls, angle shots correctly to eliminate all colored pegs and blocks. Spunky power-ups add excitement.
Home Sweet Home 2: Kitchens and Baths—Like an interactive DIY home improvement TV show: Create custom interior designs then race to build them on tight deadlines.
Mortimer Beckett and the Time Paradox—Equal parts fantastical adventure and virtual scavenger hunt, this time-traveling odyssey wins with its smart challenges and catchy presentation.
Play for free online
Surprise! We've saved the best news for last: Literally tens of thousands of casual games are also available free to play online – and without the need to download and install additional software!
MSN Games – a great place to play.
Just fire up your favorite Web browser (i.e. Internet Explorer) and hit the following sites to permanently kiss boredom goodbye:
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