You’d be forgiven for thinking your Chromebook can’t handle the rigors of PC gaming. After all, it is an underpowered and lightweight device used primarily for browser-based tasks. A device running Chrome OS won’t be able to support the latest AAA titles on high settings, but it can play quite a bit. The trick is finding the right games to play.
Play Web-Friendly Games in Your Browser
Remember back in the day, when you were bored, and you’d pull up Tetris(Opens in a new window) in your browser to pass the time? Well in-browser games are still around, and we’ve come a long way since Elf Bowling(Opens in a new window). These days, computers are powerful enough to run plenty of classic games right in a browser window.
The Internet Archive(Opens in a new window) has a massive collection of old software, much of which you can run online, from old-school console games(Opens in a new window) to the DOS games of your childhood(Opens in a new window). Performance is less than ideal on some of them, so you’ll have to search around and see which ones are actually playable, but it’s pretty remarkable what the website has accomplished from a historical preservation standpoint.
If you want to play those old DOS games with improved performance, there are a handful of other sites that may emulate them better. DOS Zone(Opens in a new window) has a decent selection of games built-in, including Doom (Opens in a new window)and Wolfenstein(Opens in a new window), but many of them are the limited shareware versions, so you can’t play through the whole thing.
NaclBox(Opens in a new window), on the other hand, allows you to upload your own DOS games to its in-browser emulator, allowing you to play the full version of whatever game you want (and even save your progress for later). So shoot up some Techbots in Duke Nukem(Opens in a new window) or induce some motion sickness with Descent(Opens in a new window), no extra operating system required.
Some classic games may even have their own sites dedicated to in-browser emulation, like QuakeJS(Opens in a new window). If there’s a specific game you want to play, search around and see if someone has built an online emulator for it—you might be surprised at what you find.
Grab Android Games From the Play Store
Chrome OS can run Android apps, so there are many mobile games that you can play right on your laptop with minimal hassle. This option isn’t available on all Chromebooks, but it is available on many of them.
Enable the Play Store on your Chromebook by clicking the clock in the lower-right corner and selecting the Settings cog. Scroll down to Google Play Store and click Turn on to install apps and games from Google Play.
If your Chromebook has a touch screen, most games should play well. But if you’re stuck with only a keyboard and mouse, you’ll want to seek out games that work well with that control scheme. Titles like Asphalt 8(Opens in a new window), Vainglory(Opens in a new window), and Baldur’s Gate(Opens in a new window) support keyboard controls.
Others may work with a gamepad, like Oceanhorn(Opens in a new window) or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas(Opens in a new window). And plenty of games work perfectly fine with the mouse simulating touch, including Project Highrise(Opens in a new window) and Rol(Opens in a new window)lerCoaster Tycoon Classic.
Go All-Out With Steam on Linux
If you’re not satisfied with online emulation or mobile apps, you can take advantage of Chrome OS’ underlying Linux system and run actual, honest-to-goodness desktop games. You’ll still be limited by your Chromebook’s hardware, and by which games have Linux support, but it’s something. (Some Windows-only games may be playable through WINE(Opens in a new window), though that’s a bit outside the scope of this guide.) If you haven’t already, check out our guide to installing Linux on your Chromebook to get set up. If you’re using Crouton or dual-booting Linux, then you should just be able to open a Terminal and run:
sudo apt install steam
If you’re using Chrome OS’ built-in Linux support(Opens in a new window), also called Crostini, click the clock in the bottom-right corner and click the Settings cog. Open Advanced > Developers then click Turn on next to Linux development environment (Beta). Click the Install button in the next window, then enter a username and manage your internal storage and give Linux enough storage space for the games you wish to play.
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You can then download the Linux version of Steam(Opens in a new window). Check out these instructions(Opens in a new window) on the /r/crostini wiki for more information. Just know that Linux support is still in beta and still comes with a few quirks, though that may change(Opens in a new window) soon. Only certain devices(Opens in a new window) released before 2019 support the feature and some games may work better than others.
Once Steam is installed, you can download Steam games that support Linux(Opens in a new window). GOG also specializes in classic games that might run better on lower-end hardware. If, like most Chromebooks, your CPU is a little underpowered, check out our guide to gaming on a low-end PC for more tips.
Stream Games on the Web
If you’re unsatisfied with the selection of games available to you, game-streaming services allow you to play PC titles over the internet using their Chrome or Android apps. You’ll need a strong internet connection—preferably tethered over Ethernet or a USB-to-Ethernet adapter(Opens in a new window)—but the selection of games is much wider, and you don’t need to worry about underpowered Chromebook hardware, since the game is running on a server with a high-end graphics card.
Google’s own Stadia(Opens in a new window) service—which lets users play in a web browser or from the Android app—was envisioned as the perfect solution here, but performance was not strong out of the gate, and it may not be long for this world. Amazon’s Luna can work right in a Chrome browser window, but not many games are supported yet. Nvidia’s GeForce Now works in Chrome OS(Opens in a new window) and Xbox Cloud Gaming, though not officially supported at this time, is useable on Chromebooks.
Stream Games From Your Own PC
If you’re gaming at home and have a gaming PC in another room—maybe you just don’t want to get off the couch—you can also stream games using Moonlight or Steam Link. Moonlight has support for Chrome through an extension(Opens in a new window), while Steam Link will require the Android app or Steam running through Linux. Steam says it doesn’t support Chromebooks with its Android app, but I got it working fine—your mileage may vary, but it’s always worth a shot.
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