I brought the a Laptop on holiday primarily as support to my wife's fairly serious photography hobby (total quantity of digital imagery captured during one 10 day holiday: 19 Gb) and also as a means of accessing the internet whenever a signal could be found. Gaming was certainly not a priority but I did install a few games on the machine more as an experiment than anything else.
First decision was what games to bring. My Laptop is fairly new with a Core 2 duo processor, 8Gb ram and a discrete Nvidia 9300M GS graphics card so it can handle fairly demanding games quite well on its 13 inch 1200x800 screen. I don't expect Crysis 2 to run on it but Left 4 Dead is very playable as is Half Life 2 and its sequels. A more severe restriction was my unwillingness to lug game dvd's around on holidays so only games that were fully playable from the hard drive without an internet connection could be considered. I have in the past resorted to no cd cracks for games I legally own but it never felt entirely safe so this time I decided to experiment with Steam and its elusive "offline" mode. Steams offline mode is not very user friendly but with a little bit of care it does the job, material for another blog post later I think. Anyway here are the games I installed:
Left 4 Dead
Half Life 2 Episode 1
A Kingdom for Keflings (not a Steam game)
Rome Total War
All the above games ran well on the laptop but not all were played. I did complete a chapter of Left 4 Dead in offline single player mode and spent a couple of hours playing Episode 1 but I really don't enjoy fps gaming on the laptop. I used a plug in USB mouse and external headphones to overcome the inadequacies of the touchpad and crappy laptop speaker but the whole thing felt very cramped. It is not just the small screen size, it is also the fact that the screen and keyboard are so close together forcing you into cramped hunched position as you stare down at your left hand. I actually think a plug in keyboard would solve a lot of the problems allowing you to space out your hands and the screen but who wants to pack a keyboard in their suitcase. A game-pad might be a more practical option.
The more casual games (Peggle and Keflings) actually worked much better because they can be played without a keyboard. They can even be played using the touchpad giving the option of true lap top gaming with the computer on the lap.
I didn't try any mmorpg on the laptop but I would guess that the keyboard heavy nature of the controls would also make for uncomfortable gaming.
Conclusions: While a surprising amount of games can be played on the laptop I won't be throwing out my desktop gaming machine any time soon. Being able to play a game and being able to play that game in comfort are two very different things and in this respect the desktop is definitely the way to go for more serious games. The situation is a bit more complicated with casual games that have simple controls. In these cases the ability to play while slouched on the couch or in bed is quite attractive.