As most cubicle dwellers can attest, porn and solitaire eventually lose their charm. Still, for those looking to slack off there exists an increasing number of online gaming alternatives that are free, require a minimum of downloading and/or processing power, and can easily be closed out when the boss comes wandering by. Best of all, a player doesn't have to worry about accidentally sitting on a 20-sided die.

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In terms of ease of use and simple, compulsive gameplay, the zombie movie simulator Urban Dead (www.urbandead.com) rules the roost. Utilizing a clean, no-frills graphical engine depicting an infected city, the game offers players a simple choice between fight or flight: Either choose to be a survivor and hole up behind barricades while searching for fire axes or shotgun shells, or roam the streets as a shambling, drooling brain junkie. While the game's moderators do a good job of breaking up their scenario's essential monotony, occasionally airdropping supplies or erecting cell-phone towers in order to keep things hopping, it's the social interaction between players that makes the game well worth a bookmark. Whether scrambling frantically for a safe house or participating in a full-out hungry-zombie assault, the gameplay can often get surprisingly, gratifyingly tense. Bargain-basement graphics or no, when surrounded by a horde of 200 or more organized flesh eaters, it's difficult to keep from reaching for the Zantac.

Featuring a much larger variety of objectives, the similarly rendered Cities (cities.totl.net) lets participants boogie around castles and swamps while slaying monsters, gathering swords, and making potions out of elderberries. The need to pause in the middle of a quest in order to accumulate more slowly allotted action points can get tiresome, but the pun-filled, regularly updated missions mostly tread the fine line between enjoyably geeky and Monty-Python-and-the-Holy-Grail maddening.

Folks more in the mood for full-body nerd immersion, meanwhile, would do well to check out Achaea (www.achaea.com), a rather insanely ambitious medieval fantasy. Choosing between a variety of races (elf, lizard, dwarf, and so forth) and professions, the player undergoes a series of text-only adventures that favorably recall the low-fi glory days of Zork and Ultima. The sheer glut of options can prove daunting (the instructions for communicating with other players alone may take a good day to parse) but the imagination and resourcefulness of the designers manages to shine through. As with the games previously mentioned, it may soon prove addictive enough to consider canceling dates and other social engagements, assuming that those were a possibility to begin with.

Also see:

The Reincarnation (www.the-reincarnation.org): Undead mage returns from hell, learns spells, builds army, chats with other players using words like "thither."

MafiaRPG (www.mafiarpg.com): Embrace your inner Scarface or Corleone. Fun enough in small doses, but have your mute button handy.

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Furcadia (www.furcadia.com): AKA "The magical world where the animals have learned to walk upon two legs and speak." Terrifying beyond belief. recommended

editor@thestranger.com