May 19, 2012, 7:25 AM — We all strive for focus at work, but sometimes a bit of distraction is a good way to become unstuck or gain a new perspective on some problem. Here are a few great games that you can play for free, from the comfort of your browser, without installing anything (except Flash, which you probably already have). Though they may not contribute directly to getting those TPS reports done to spec, they don't carry an "NSFW" label, either. After a few minutes of decompression, you'll be refreshed and ready to work again.
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Ambient games are all about the journey, not the destination. Cipher Prime Studios' Auditorium is a prime example of the genre. In this gorgeous game, a source point emits particles, and you must deflect them toward one or more destinations. At the beginning of every level, you receive several different deflectors, each of which makes the particles that strike it move in some direction. Your job is to place the deflectors on the board and control their strength so that the beam ultimately hits all the right spots. There is more than one way to solve each level, and the soundtrack is very soothing. Auditorium is available for the iPhone, too. If you love the game, you can buy the full version; but the free demo makes for a great time, too.
Pulsus, by Anthony Mattox, is now marketed for iOS, but its original version is still available for free in-browser play. Much like Auditorium, Pulsus challenges you to direct particles to desired destinations, in this case by carefully placing deflecting circles all over the field. The two games are quite similar, though each has its own distinctive style (Auditorium is darker). I recommend that you try both, and see which one strikes your fancy more.
If deflecting streams of particles sounds a bit too abstract, you may enjoy Tasty Planet from Dingo Games. This game is similar in spirit to Katamari Damacy, a popular title released for PlayStation 2 in 2004. You start off as a small germ, and your goal is to eat everything that is smaller than you are while avoiding everything that is larger. As the game progresses, you expand to greater and greater size, and go through several levels of devouring progressively bigger things--from tiny tiny bacteria at the beginning to whole planets (and more) later on. The game is available as a paid download for Windows, Mac, and iPhone, but you can also play it in your browser for free on Kongregate.
If you're looking for something that's more peaceful, and you have a yen for gardening, you may enjoy Bobblebrooks' Rare Breeds: Petunia. In this simple game, you selectively breed flowers, two at a time, for surprisingly beautiful results. A pleasant piano and birdsong soundtrack adds to the relaxing mood.