These old gaming Winamp skins are both incredibly badass and a fascinating time capsule

(Image credit: Future)

As I type this I'm looking over at Spotify on my second monitor, and man, it's just so... functional. I mean, it's nice in a minimalist, modern kinda way. But I can't help but get misty-eyed about the days of Winamp, when your music player wasn't just a thing you played music files you downloaded from Napster on; it was also an extension of your angsty teenage personality.

Deus Ex / Final Fantasy X / Oni (Image credit: Future)

Which is why I love the Winamp Skin Museum, an incredible interactive exhibit that collects thousands of skins from the late '90s and early 2000s. Browse this extensive collection and you'll find all the hallmarks of that particular period in time: Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager, The X-Files' Mulder and Scully, Limp Bizkit, Legolas from Lord of the Rings, and so much anime.

Final Fantasy VIII / Baldur's Gate II / Unreal Tournament (Image credit: Future)

And, of course, there are a lot of skins themed on various videogames of the era, the coolest of which I've scattered around this article. The web at the turn of the millennium had a very specific look, which extended to forum signatures, warez sites, and 'portals' like Planet Quake—and you can see that aesthetic in full effect in these skins. They really do capture a moment in time.

Warcraft / Quake / Doom (Image credit: Future)

Of course, nostalgia plays a part here. Enough time has passed that I now find this aesthetic cool again. Twitter accounts like the Y2K Aesthetic Institute have made it their mission to champion and document early 2000s design, typography, and technology.

But Winamp skins have their own particular appeal, because they show us what hobbyist designers were making at the time.

Soldier of Fortune / Half-Life: Blue Shift / Half-Life 2 (Image credit: Future)

And yeah, granted, some of them are pretty ugly, and laugh in the face of functionality. But that's all part of their charm. When I was using Winamp skins, I didn't care if the controls were fully visible; I just wanted to see a character or game I liked represented on my desktop in some way.

System Shock 2 / StarCraft / Fallout 2 (Image credit: Future)

These skins are also a snapshot of the games people were playing and resonating with when Winamp usage was at its peak. As well as big hitters like Quake, Deus Ex, and Max Payne, it's cool to see skins for deeper cuts like Anachronox, No One Lives Forever, and even Daikatana.

Duke Nukem 3D / Hexen / Thief: The Dark Project (Image credit: Future)

Planescape: Torment / No One Lives Forever 2 / Max Payne (Image credit: Future)

Anachronox / Daikatana / Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (Image credit: Future)

Street Fighter / Fallout / Halo 2 (Image credit: Future)

Medal of Honor: Allied Assault / Silent Hill 3 / Splinter Cell (Image credit: Future)

Thanks again to the Winamp Skin Museum for keeping the dream alive.

Andy Kelly

If it’s set in space, Andy will probably write about it. He loves sci-fi, adventure games, taking screenshots, Twin Peaks, weird sims, Alien: Isolation, and anything with a good story.