Play a Computer Game in Windowed Mode

Man playing computer game using joystick, high angle view
ColorBlind Images/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Most computer games take over the whole screen when you play. However, depending on whether the developer allows it, you might be able to play it in a window instead. 

The process to window a game might take just a few seconds if the method you try ends up working for you. However, some games don't natively support windowed mode, so you may have to take some more involved steps to prevent those games from taking up the whole screen.

Check for the Easy Button

Some games, in their settings menus, explicitly allow the application to run in a windowed mode. You'll see options listed using varying language:

  • Windowed Mode—runs the game in a resizeable window just like any other application
  • Borderless Window Mode—runs the game as a window, which may be full screen or not, but without the usual chrome (borders, toolbars) that normal apps enjoy
  • Fullscreen (Windowed) Mode—runs the game full-screen, but full-screen view is just a maximized window, so you'll be able to run other apps atop the game
Windowed mode settings in Starcraft on Windows

Sometimes these settings, if they exist, are either buried in the in-game settings menu or are configured from the game's launcher.

Make Windows Work for You

The Windows operating system supports command-line switches to adjust certain start-up parameters of programs. One way to "force" an application like your favorite game to run in a windowed mode is to create a special shortcut to the program's main executable, then configure that shortcut with the applicable command-line switch.

  1. Right-click or tap-and-hold the shortcut for the computer game you want to play in windowed mode. If you don't see it on the desktop, you can make the shortcut yourself. To make a new shortcut to a game or program in Windows, either drag it to the desktop from the Start menu or right-click (or tap-and-hold if you're on a touchscreen) the executable file and choose Send to > Desktop

  2. Select Properties.

    Properties submenu for Starcraft on Windows 10
  3. In the Shortcut tab, in the Target: field, add -window or -w at the end of the file path. If one doesn't work, try the other.

    -w flag added to Target field in Starcraft alias Properties screen
  4. Click or tap OK.

  5. If you're prompted with an "Access Denied" message, you may need to confirm that you're an administrator.

If the game does not support Windowed Mode play, then adding a command-line switch will not work. It's worth trying, however. Many games—officially or unofficially—allow the Windows operating system to control how the game renders.

Alternative Ways to Window a Game

Some Steam and other games can be recomposed into a window by pressing the Alt + Enter keys together while in the game, or by pressing Ctrl + F.

Another way some games store full-screen mode settings is in an INI file. Some might use the line "dWindowedMode" to define whether to run the game in windowed mode or not. If there's a number after that line, make sure it's 1. Some may use True/False to define that setting. For example

or

.

If the game relies on DirectX graphics, programs like DxWnd serve as "wrappers" that offer custom configurations to force full-screen DirectX games to run in a window. DxWnd sits between the game and the Windows operating system; it intercepts system calls between the game and the OS and translates them into an output that fits into a resizable window. But again, the catch is that the game must rely on DirectX graphics.

Some very old games from the MS-DOS era run in DOS emulators like DOSBox. DOSBox and similar programs use configuration files that specify full-screen behavior through customizable toggles.

Virtualization

One option is to run the game through virtualization software like VirtualBox or VMware or a Hyper-V virtual machine. Virtualization technology lets an entirely different operating system run as a guest OS within your existing operating system's session. These virtual machines always run in a window, although you can maximize the window to get a full-screen effect.

Run a game in a virtual machine if that game cannot be run in a windowed mode. As far as the game is concerned, it's functioning like normal; the virtualization software governs its appearance as a window in its host operating system, not the game itself.

Considerations

  • Some games cannot be run in a windowed mode no matter what you try.
  • Reverse any of the changes mentioned above if you decide you want to play the game in full-screen or regular mode again.