When it comes to Linux, few people really associate it with gaming. Most people feel that gaming in Linux is not well supported and that there are very little or no games for Linux (which is a myth). Obviously this is not correct as there are plenty of open-source games for Linux as well as Windows-based games that you can install via Wine. The only thing that can hamper the experience is the Linux distro itself. While any Linux distro may be used for gaming, there are some distros specifically optimized for gaming. Here are the best five.
Related: The Best Open-Source Games You Can Play on Linux
1. Ubuntu GamePack
If you are a fan of Ubuntu, your first choice for a gaming distro is the Ubuntu GamePack. As its creators claim, “It will provide a guaranteed start in more than 22,381 games and applications for MS Windows and MS-DOS, and original, designed specifically for GNU/Linux platform.” The distro comes with Steam, PlayOnLinux, Lutris, Wine, Crossover, DOSBox and DOSEmu and many more game environments.
Ubuntu GamePack also comes with Adobe Flash, so if you want to play Flash games online, this is possible, too. Despite its power, Ubuntu GamePack doesn’t require very powerful hardware, which makes it perfect for older machines as well.
For many Linux gamers, SteamOS is the best Linux gaming distro. It doesn’t support as many hardware devices as the other distros, and that is why it comes in second on this list. It requires at least 4GB of RAM, which is certainly not much, but if you want to turn your old machine into a gaming station, this is unlikely to happen.
SteamOS is based on Debian, and it comes with Steam pre-installed. Steam is a proprietary gaming engine, and you can run gazillions of games in it. They have a store where you can buy even more games.
SparkyLinux is also a popular choice for a Linux gaming distro. It’s based on the testing branch of Debian, which might be the latest and greatest, but I have my doubts about stability – it’s a testing branch, after all. SparkyLinux favors light desktop environments, such as LXDE, Enlightenment, JWM, KDE, LXQt, Openbox, MATE, and Xfce. This is great because when games themselves load the machine, the last thing you want is a resource-hungry desktop environment. When you run SparkyLinux, you can play right away, though as its creators themselves state, “SparkyLinux isn’t targeted at Linux beginners,” so be prepared in the beginning, as there might be a slight (or not so slight) learning curve.
I included mGAMe, or Manjaro: Gaming Edition on this list because it is an Arch-based distro, and I know Arch has fans among our readers. mGAMe is a good choice for novice users. It comes with PlayOnLinux and Wine, lots of emulators (DeSmuME, Dolphin Emulator (64-Bit only), DOSBox, Fceux, Kega Fusion, PCSXR, PCSX2, PPSSPP, RetroArch, Stella, VBA-M, Yabause, and ZSNES) and terminal add-ons, such as Colors, IloveCandy, and Screenfetch. The default theme is set to dark, but you can change it if you like.
All retro gamers will love Lakka! This distro is a bit different from the rest. It turns your computer into a retro game console. It’s lightweight with minimal hardware requirements. Lakka is based on the RetroArch emulator, and it can emulate numerous systems. It also has automatic joypad recognition, rewinding, netplay, and shaders. Lakka is also a great option for setting emulators on a Raspberry Pi device. Lakka runs from an USB and the install is only about 300MB.
These five distros are what I consider best for gaming on Linux. Of course, tastes differ, and it doesn’t mean you’ll think the same. It’s nice there are a few more to consider, if these five distros are not good for you. You can also check Fedora Games, Game Drift Linux, or Solus. There used to be one more – but Play Linux has been discontinued. Still, there is quite a lot of choice of Linux gaming distros, and chances are your favorite games will run in any one of them.