Flash may be dead but the internet games of our youth live on
Everyone that wasn’t a complete fucking nerd in school knows about Cool Maths Games at coolmathsgames.com. First launched in the early days of the internet in 1997, Cool Maths Games is an online library of kids games. The site claims to be “where logic & thinking meet fun & games”, hosting games that “have been carefully selected to be both fun to play and mentally stimulating”. I call bullshit. There’s nothing mentally stimulating about these games unless you count the mental stress of being too late to switch screens just as your teacher walks by.
During the first lockdown, I would hop back on Cool Maths Games and try to drop out of the wacky world outside. I don’t know why, but the soothing effects of nostalgia hit me as hard as I’d hoped. So many hours I’d wasted on yet another game as I tapped into the comforts of childhood.
Cool Maths Games remains an icon of the 2000s, and the worthy recipient for the Nobel Peace Prize for contributions to education. As an homage, I decided to revisit the goodies, just to make sure they’re still good.
Run is such a staple of illicit gaming time. Run is as minimalist as it gets—just an elephant, four walls, and an endless void to fall into. Your objective is to hop, sprint, and jump your way over holes to the end of a four-sided tunnel. Vertigo-prone readers beware, because the gimmick is whenever you run into a wall the tunnel tilts 90° and the wall becomes your new floor. There are 50 levels to the game (not that I’ve ever reached the end) and two follow up games creatively named Run 2 and Run 3.
Let’s put it this way, Run still holds up. It was still actually challenging despite me being 10 years older than when I last played, but way more satisfying cause I wasn’t rage quitting at the second respawn. That old feeling of addiction returned, until slowly but surely, I’d played ‘til level 24 and got my friends hooked back on it—consensus seemed to be “I hate it, but I can’t stop”. This game is basically the old-fashioned way of getting serotonin before TikTok and BeReal melted our brains. Points to Run for keeping the alien elephant non-binary.
Fireboy and Watergirl
Fireboy and Watergirl was for the cool kids who had friends that actually wanted to hang out with you—or a sibling that put up with you. The Fireboy and Watergirl series has five games: Forest Temple, Light Temple, Ice Temple, Crystal Temple, and Elements, each containing too many levels for me to get through as a kid. You control Fireboy and Watergirl simultaneously to solve puzzles and collect diamonds whilst avoiding green goo and other suspicious substances as you explore each temple.
My coordination is still so shit I had to enlist a flatmate for this one. With my unwilling volunteer, we were the unbeatable Watergirl and Fireboy—holding up the gender binary one gem at a time. We proceeded to run into walls, fall into goo, and get stuck beneath boxes. Needless to say, we unanimously decided to give up on the sixth level. The controls were still as laggy as we remembered (totally unrelated to our coordination problems) and the graphics were still garbage. But Fireboy and Watergirl live to kick our asses another day.
Credit where credit is due—Poptropica did actually teach me something. Except that something was that you can still bully someone even if the multiplayer chat function is pre-written—please stop stalking me Prickly Diamond. Poptropica is an adventure game where you control a customisable floating-headed, floating-fisted character and problem-solve through different islands.
RIP Obnoxious Toes, you will be missed. Turns out my childhood account died, so I had to make a new one. The multiplayer chat is still pretty primal—alas, they’re still committed to ‘Child Internet Safety’. Grow up! Just let me call a child a cunt! The best part of the game has always been playing solo, exploring weird worlds like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and 24 Carrot Island—and it’s still a buzz to run around. Even playing the tutorial, making my character do back-breaking parkour chasing after the mouse, took me back to endless hours trying to solve an island’s mysteries. Poptropica used to be fully free back in the old days, but now you have to pay $24.79 to play the first (and top tier imo) islands. Get your bag I guess, Big Poptropica.
The Papa Louie series
The Papa Louie franchise has many games to its name, from the classic Papa’s Burgeria to the questionable choice of Papa’s Sushiria. You’re put in charge of an entire restaurant: that means taking customers’ orders, making them, then receiving a tip based on your performance. Like working at any food outlet, your food burns, customers get pissy, and you’re left juggling 50 tasks praying for closing time.
This game was my first real taste of working for the man: serving a bunch of cunty customers who all happen to go for smoko at exactly the same time. For my replay, I settled for the OG, Papa’s Burgeria—where all the burgers kinda look good except the mayo you spurt onto the digital pattie looks like cum. Honestly, I appreciate this game way more than when I did as a kid—it’s not far from the realities of hospo: you’re anxious the whole time, customers have a rage when you take a bit too long on the 20 ingredient monstrosity they ordered, you get paid like shit. If I had returned to the Papa Louie franchise when I was going through my 2017 social justice warrior phase, it might’ve just turned me into a full-fledged commie. Papa Louie is committing straight up human rights violations. Even now, all that’s running through my head as I play this is how many labour laws are being broken (how TF am I the only staff member on shift???), and the fact that health and safety would not treat my establishment kindly (you couldn’t pay me to eat off that grill…).
For me and many of my classmates, it became a reflex to jump on coolmathsgames.com whenever we were let loose in computer class. We’d never even attempt whatever legit educational task they’d tried tricking us into doing. I’m sorry to break it to you Mrs. Anderson from Year Five maths, but mathletics.com was definitely a front for my illegal gamer time. Not even the warm fuzzies of alleviating famine through freerice.com could turn me to the light side of learning. Perusing the finest selection of Adobe Flash Player games for a precious hour of pixelated fun—that was the school of life. It takes a smart kid to not get nabbed or narked on while you spam the spacebar, very obviously not doing maths.