Welcome to gaming for Windows 7

Before you press the power button, let's talk about what kind of gamer you are. A casual player who indulges in the occasional bout of Solitaire or Bejeweled? An active part of a multiplayer community? A hardcore gamer with controller calluses on both thumbs?

Whatever their level of obsession, more gamers choose to build ancient civilizations, blast aliens, and storm battlefields on the Windows platform than any other. Whether you’re just getting started or have a screen full of high scores, there are additions and enhancements in Windows 7 that will help you level up your on-screen and online gaming experience.

Let's warp directly to the features…

Improved effects, sharper graphics

DirectX 11 is the latest generation of graphics technology, an update that brings increasingly realistic gameplay to newer releases like Medal of Honor and Tom Clancy's HAWX 2, while enhancing your enjoyment of classic shooters and MMORPGs.

It's easy to get lost in the improved on-screen effects—the razor-sharp graphics, detailed backgrounds, and ultra-lifelike characters.

But you don't have to be exploring alien worlds to see the benefit from DirectX 11. You’ll also notice its speed and performance when you're editing video that you shot here on earth.

Shop for games from your sofa

Games for Windows Marketplace

Buying a game in the real world requires hassles like wearing shoes and leaving the house. But downloading those same games from the Games for Windows Marketplace*—on the same day they appear on store shelves—doesn't take more than the click of a button.

The Marketplace has an increasingly long list of titles, from hot new releases to exclusive content that you can't find anywhere else.

Let your friends go to the store. You'll be exploring the Batcave or battling in the Pacific before they even make it out of the driveway.

Spend time playing the game, not looking for it

Games Explorer in Windows 7

Have you ever downloaded a new game and then spent more time trying to find it on your PC than you spent looking for the lost treasure or hidden bonus levels? With the Games Explorer in Windows 7, getting started with a game is so easy that even the n00biest of n00bies can do it.

When you enter Games in the search box, you'll be able to get to every medieval quest, every World War II mission, and every alien planet you've installed on your PC. Games Explorer also shows you each title's rating, your current stats, and any available updates.

But before you even peel the plastic off a new game, you’ll already have a solid library of Windows favorites: Hearts, Minesweeper, two kinds of Solitaire. You'll also find three online multiplayer games, so you can challenge your Internet-based friends to Backgammon, Checkers, and Spades.

The latest updates, delivered to your PC

Setting up game updates for Games Explorer

Just because you have games that are old favorites doesn't mean they need to be old versions. Games Explorer will notify you when an update is available for one of your titles and will guide you to the correct one. It can also track your wins, losses, and other fun stats.

Across the room or across the world

One of the best parts of gaming is playing online, where you can compete against or team up with players that could be on the other side of the room or on the opposite side of the world.

With Games for Windows—LIVE**, you can connect with other gamers via voice chat and text chat and collaborate to earn achievements and explore new worlds.

If you already have an Xbox 360, you can sign in with the same account information, import your friend list, and spend your Microsoft points. If you don't have an account, you don't have to be left out for long: creating one is quick, easy, and free.

Age of Empires

Age of Empires

One of the most popular Windows-only adventures has been Age of Empires—and the latest installment takes it to the next level, so tell the Sphinx to hang on to his nose.

Age of Empires is now online, part of Games for Windows—LIVE**. The newest Age will satisfy longtime rulers and new pharaohs alike. The online version keeps the familiar real-time strategy and historical settings of the previous Ages, but now you'll have the ability to play with or against other would-be world-beaters. You can team up to earn rewards and turn your pint-sized villages into global superpowers, but—in the immortal words of Julius Caesar—"Watch your back, bro."

Parental Controls

Parental Controls in Windows 7

Busy parents don’t always have time to peek over their kids’ shoulders to monitor what they’re doing on the PC.

That's where Windows 7 can help. You can use the built-in Parental Controls to monitor and restrict the games your children can play, what they're allowed to buy, and which gaming sites they can visit. It can be a scary virtual world, but this is a way to ensure that the only red splatters they see are from the glass of grape juice they just spilled on the keyboard. You can also restrict the times they can play those parentally-approved games, limiting them to the hours after their homework or before lights out.

Video games have evolved from hulking, free-standing arcade games to 3D worlds you can enter from your living room. Those old-school, 8-bit versions used to wait until you'd run out of quarters before flashing a screen that said "Would you like to play again?" Now thanks to Windows 7 features like DirectX 11 and games like Age of Empires Online, my answer will always be an enthusiastic "Yes!"

*Games for Windows Marketplace isn't available in all markets.

**Games for Windows—LIVE isn't available in all markets.

About the author

Jelisa Castrodale is a freelance writer who has covered technology, culture, and entertainment on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to her ongoing contributions to MSN and Microsoft, she is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. She is also a recent Jeopardy! champion who should probably stop mentioning the fact in polite conversation.