Great moments in PC gaming: Digging through discs of 1000 shareware games

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

DOS game discs

Thanks to the Internet Archive and Jason Scott's Textfiles, you can still find ISOs of discs like these online:

101 Games
1000 DOS and Windows games
100 Games and More

Before the internet, games were hard to come by. Most of us only got one for birthday and Christmas, with the chance of the occasional extra when grandparents had the decency to pass away in time for LucasArts’ next release or whatever. The rest of the time, we had to make do with magazine cover disks, with a k. Typically a whole 1.44MB of joy to dig into, in the hope that the disk editor had uncovered some amazing new shareware game or endlessly replayable demo instead of the ‘Christmas socks’ level present of a ‘rolling demo’—a glorified movie trailer. Bah. Pah. Grr.

But with the dawn of the CD came a whole new world of gaming goodness. Stores would stock discs with names like ‘1001 Free Games’, with only the tiniest text clarifying that most of them would be shareware demos consisting of one episode of a game and a request to send a cheque to someone on the other side of the world. But that didn’t matter. Digging in was like digital archeology, with every new directory having the potential to contain the next Doom, or more likely, some crappy remake of Mario Bros. (before they were Super) made in ASCII.

Quality was not exactly top priority with these things, and it wasn’t uncommon to find boring business software lurking in a folder claiming to be full of action games, or even the occasional pirated game that had somehow slipped its way onto the disc. The joy of discovery was better than most of the actual games, but it was a joy nevertheless.

How else would so many of us have learned of games ranging from Snake Pit to Pickle Wars? Truly, a whole world with every compilation, even if it did mean filtering through five billion godawful Skunny games and crap EGA platformers in the hope of striking gaming gold. A slice of it, anyway. A slice was usually enough.