As a newbie returning to Linux... again and again... and wait I'm back
I'm in the same/similar boat as you. I come from a Win XP/Win 7 background, and I'm a Windows PC gamer as well. I reluctantly upgraded to Win 7 from Win XP 32bit because 32bit XP would not recognize the full 8GB RAM in my PC, and I wanted a 64bit OS to go with my 64bit CPU. I don't have Windows 8, but that thing infuriates me so much that I would rather watch reality TV shows than turn on a PC that has it. Keep in mind I loath
all reality TV shows. I'll probably dual boot Win 7 for games until I get a very good understanding of WINE.
Like you, I got real bored/annoyed with Win7 (windows in general) and wanted to replace Win 7 with Linux. I distro. hopped a bit and I'm back to surveying the Linux landscape (aka distro. hopping). I have a fairly customized Win XP / Win 7 environments and want to re-create my comfortable environments in Linux.
I tried Slackware (v13.37) but felt that it forced me to jump through way too many hoops that I wasn't ready for; especially in the updating, configuring, and customizing departments. Slack is not the most new user/newbie friendly distro. However, if one has the time/patience to learn slack then I imagine almost any Linux distro. will fit your needs.
This distro is even less newbie friendly than slackware. The install is much more involved. My experience with Gentoo was like using a Baking Soda/Peroxide/Whitening toothpaste on extremely sensitive gums/teeth. In short, painful! However, this distro pissed me off so much that I want to come back to this later on and master this distro. This is going to be my tech. challenge. I last touched upon this disto. in the latter part of 2011.
This was much easier to get started with, much easier to install/configure/customize. While they have some very good ideas/philosophies with this distro. I loath Unity as much as I loath Win 8. Who ever came up with Unity is over due for some cruel and twisted punishment/torture. The last version of Ubuntu I used was 11.04, which included an older Gnome 2.x desktop alternative to the Unity desktop. I believe in the current v12.04 that the older Gnome environment has been completely removed. I'll be finding out soon enough. I started enjoying Ubuntu a lot as soon as I learned how to get Unity out of the way.
I tried several different version of the Mint 11.04 distro. (LXDE, XFCE, Gnome 2.x, KDE). Mint is a built from Ubuntu but has some additional polish as a product. This was a bit easier than regular Ubuntu 11.04 to work with. I used KDE in the distant past with a different distro. but I didn't like the plasma experience very much. I also used Gnome 1.x and 2.x and Gnome 2.x I'm most comfortable with. Even though Mint has a lot of customization and polish on top of regular Ubuntu I have a suspicion that the customization/polish will somehow get in the way at some point.
I tried these. They were all pretty good. However, Kubuntu spurred my dislike of KDE even further. I don't remember exactly why, but I remember exploring Kubuntu for about a 1-2 days and being rather excited about wiping that from my PC. Linux Mint seemed to be better than these.
[Arch Linux / Arch Bang Linux]
These are tinkerer's distros. much like Gentoo. However, the learning curve on these guys is much lower than Gentoo. These aren't what I was looking as a replacement to Win 7 and my cozy customized setup. I might use one of these as intermediate step toward conquering Gentoo.
[Salix / other Slackware based distros]
I tried Salix. and another Slackware based distro., which I can't remember the name at the moment, and both were easier to work with than the raw Slackware distro. However, they were still below the quality, polish, and ease of use of the Buntu distros.
What really held my interest and faith in Linux is what I encountered on a site called Linux Screen Shots. The site is dead as far as I know (this isn't the site --> http://www.linuxscreenshots.com/
). The site showed some rather extensive customization and theming of almost every active distro. in late 2010/early 2011. I believe I spent a good 7-9 hours one Saturday just looking at the eye-candy and becoming very much sold on Linux. I was motivated enough to re-install KDE based distros. just to re-evaluate them as I was left with a sense of not doing enough research.
So when I posed the question of which distro. to use, Snowpine, another LQ user, suggested that I take a look at the following --> http://distrowatch.com/dwres.php?resource=major
My suggestion is try them out, come back to the forum and post your findings.