Flash Before Your Eyes! A Farewell to Adobe Flash
These days you’re probably spending more of your recreational Internet exploration watching videos and playing games on your smartphone. But for a generation of millennials, hopping onto the family’s only desktop after school or work to do anything else was a ritual. Back on December 31st, 2020, we said goodbye to a defining source of creativity, entertainment, and access to the pre-iPhone era: Adobe Flash.
On July 25th, 2017, Adobe released an official statement that marked the end of 2020 as the defunct day for its multimedia software that allowed people from all around the world the ability to watch videos, create animations, and design web games. Due to years of un-optimized and rampant security exploits in the program, usage for Flash has declined expeditiously throughout the past decade. In a scathing 2011 open letter, Steve Jobs had even lambasted Adobe on Flash’s performance issues on the forthcoming generation of Apple products.
However, Flash has much more to be remembered for than just a worm in Jobs’ Apple. It’s probably many millennials’ first encounter with Adobe other than Photoshop. Flash brought the creative kid into the digital space. If you were playing Line Rider on your school’s Mac computers in secret, you have Flash to thank. This innocuous program made an enormous impact on the digital content we are familiar with today, as well as the ways in which we interact with them.
Countless hours were spent blasting pixel zombies, navigating scary mazes, and clacking your keys to the rhythm on “Free games online!” sites. Chatboxes of hundreds of strangers filled with discussions about hundreds of simultaneously played games, becoming an open forum for exchanging strategies. These Flash game websites became a community for fans, hobbyists, and tech-savvy children like myself to share their content in a meaningful and accessible way.
While my site of choice, Kongregate, prioritized games, sites like Newgrounds were multimedia communes where art, music, and animations were distributed, discovered, and collaborated upon. Today’s household indie game developers got their start on these sites, including Edmund McMillen (Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac) and The Behemoth (Castle Crashers, Pit People), recruiting budding musicians, artists, and programmers onto their projects.
But while Adobe is officially shutting down Flash, that same independent spirit that allowed these games to flourish in the first place is now looking to preserve them. Open-source emulators and archives are ensuring that the history of Flash content is freely available. Projects like the Flash Game Archive and BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint act as libraries for these creations to continue entertaining beyond Flash’s best by date.
How are your Neopets doing? It might be good to check on them before the year ends because all the classic games on the site ran on Flash. Whether it was spinning wheels for prizes or Nokia-Snake-imitators, Neopets was a community built on Flash from its animations to its games. Don’t fret too much though, Neopets (via their official Twitter) confirmed that they have been doing the legwork converting any Flash reliant elements to HTML. It doesn’t seem that they’ve met this deadline, but they’ve confirmed that Neopets will continue into 2021.
The once mega-popular webtoon site Homestarrunner.com has also had to contend with the demise of Flash, even making a panicky episode about it. They have since then migrated most of their content to a new website and YouTube piecemeal. Though small features such as secret links and their highly interactive splash pages will be forever lost in translation as Flash-specific nuances, it continues to live on. Recently, they even released a 10th level to their Flash-only Megaman parody game.
Flash was for everyone. Major animated television series and films throughout the 2000s were produced through Flash. Flash was taught in university courses. The popularity of Flash browser games led to the creation of itch.io where new, emergent creators have more freedom to prototype their game ideas with the same open source attitude that Flash cultivated, and where I programmed my first video game.
While the future of Flash itself starts to dim, its footprint on the internet is deeply felt. Do we remember what the Internet was like before we could waste our time on it? Flash opened the door to a warmer, more human, more interesting place. So as we start to leave behind 2020, pour one out for Flash–the tool that gave the Internet light.