Image source: http://spazboy225.deviantart.com/art/A-Very-Metal-...
A very merry Christmas to you all! Phew, I feel glad I can actually say that now that it's December. Take it from someone who works in retail, or rather someone that works in a toy shop at Christmas (yeah think about that for a second), it feels like it's been Christmas since the end of September. I've already been listening to Christmas songs on repeat, everyday, for a month. Ugh, Christmas.
Bah humbugs aside, this is my very first 'Bloggers Wanted' blog and what a lovely subject to be able to write about, the giving and receiving of gifts. These days, giving and receiving video game related items as gifts, seems second nature to me. Thanks to the power of the Internet, grabbing a video game for a friend online is only a few mouse clicks away. And it's not just the delivery that has been made easier, gift selection in many cases needs very little thought whatsoever. Thanks to Steam I can scroll through a friend's wishlist and find that one game, that one little gem, that is the second cheapest item on their wishlist so I don't seem too stingy when I buy it for them on their birthday. 'Happy Birthday Ray, it's not Fallout 4, but you did say that you wanted it!' Heck, as a League of Legends player, gift selection is thrown completely out of the window thanks to the godsend that is mystery gifting. 'Merry Christmas James, didn't know which skin you'd get but I'm sure you'll love it! A Karma skin, your favourite... right?'
This type of gift selection isn't limited to just video games of course. Most retailers these days are well equipped with gift cards to provide their customers with, what my store's 'wonderful' tannoy describes as, "the gift of choice". I've received about as many gift cards as I've given away and the Steam gift card is the most common I receive these days, with the occasional GAME card being redeemed in store for, of course, another Steam card. But don't think me as being cynical towards gift cards, heavens no. I can't not be grateful to the lovely ladies at my local Bonmarché (a women's budget clothes store in the UK) for preparing me numerous wonderfully prepared gift cards over the years, always delivering their service with a smile. Thanks Bonmarché, another Mother's Day saved. Gift cards are a great, convenient way of grabbing a present when you're not sure what to get, particularly at the last minute. Or, if you happen to be my mother reading this, a fantastic and thoughtful gift from an assuredly loving son. *wink*
The point I'm slowly getting to, is that in 2015, as a 26 year old independent adult (who still loves his mother very much, yes he does... too much maybe? Yep, blew it), this process of selecting, delivering and receiving presents has become the norm, as has the giving and receiving of video games themselves as gifts. Yes, I do still get physical presents as well, but most of the gift pile tends to be digital or plastic card based and usually requires me to go and get the actual thing that I want myself. Which is good, now. But that's not how I remember it as a child. In fact, as a kid, I don't recall video games being involved at birthdays and Christmas much at all.
Now when I say kid, I don't mean as a five year old. At age five at Christmas, you're not going to receive that one video game you've been yearning for. You're going to receive the biggest, coolest looking, brightly coloured toy. A toy you may have never heard of before but are receiving because Dad grabbed it quickly from the toy shop because it was the largest looking toy at the most reasonable price and guess what? YOU ARE GONNA LOVE IT! Why? Because: Christmas, new toy, Dad's not at work, Christmas, giant box, lots of wrapping paper to rip off, bright colours, play with it all day, Christmas. That's why. And incidentally, that's pretty much exactly how I fell in love with Crash Dummies when I was a child in the early 90s (the following picture being the actual first playset I received from my parents on Christmas Day!):
It was awesome, you'd crash the vehicles into it, or launch the dummies through the wall. I got a taxi that's front would crumple when it smashed into something and one dummy even came with a video of the 1993 TV special:
I loved these toys as a kid but it all started with something that I didn't know I was going to get. Something about that surprise made it all the more special. Anyway, I started that bit with: "Now when I say kid, I don't mean as a five year old." What I mean now, is more as a teenager, at an age where I was actually keenly interested in video games, the years when video games would stop being just something I did for a bit of fun and start to become an important part of my life as it is now. For me, even though I was really starting to get into video games, I rarely gave or received games as birthday or Christmas presents. My parents might buy me one on occasion because it was cheap and they thought it'd be something that not only I'd enjoy but they would enjoy too (thanks again to Mum and Dad for Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil, you liked it, I loved it!). In fact, as I flick through the PS2 games I still own, only one was bought for me as a birthday present, but that was years later as more of a retro gift (I owned a PS3 by this point). In fact, I can only recall two Christmases where I received a video game as a present and you'll see why they are important in the context of this blog post.
The first was bought for me by my parents in the year 2000 when I was 11 and my brother was 9. I remember my Nana and her partner (my grandfather had died a number of years earlier) visiting us for a few days over Christmas and at that age, having the Grandparents over at Christmas was still really special but also much better than having to spend Christmas at their home. This was also the last Christmas for a long time that neither me nor my brother would know what our main present was going to be as Christmas after this was used to get us useful things we needed like musical instruments, our own TVs and HiFis for our rooms and computer monitors for our PCs. So we come to open our main present, reasonably sized box, not big but reasonable. We were told we had to open them at the same time, so clearly we were both getting the same thing. From the info I've provided you can probably guess what we got. Year 2000, video game related, one each, not overly big. Yep, a Game Boy Color each, mine with Donkey Kong Country and my brother's with Donald Duck: Quack Attack. And we had no idea. Not one clue or hint had been dropped, we hadn't been asked, we hadn't even said we wanted one (I don't think so anyway). And come to think of it, that Game Boy Color is the best Christmas present I've ever received. I'd already stopped believing in Santa at this point, but thinking back to that Christmas now, opening that present was magical. It was the best surprise, on the best day from the best people. And then my Dad produced an unopened pack of fresh AA batteries. I repeat, magical. Thank you Mum and Dad.
The second, I can't work out the exact year but I must have been about 13 or 14, so somewhere around 2002-03. By this point, my family had a PS2, I was in Secondary School and had a girlfriend (I was only 13/14 so obviously nothing deeply loving, romantic or sexual but a girlfriend nonetheless). And between me and my brother, my girlfriend's family had given us three PS2 games for Christmas. This was pretty cool on its own merit, as I've said, I didn't receive many video games as gifts, so three all at once was awesome. The first two games (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Simpsons: Road Rage) were pretty good, unexpected and fun. The third is the important one. Not in the context of Christmas presents but just as part of normal conversation about games, I had at one point said to my girlfriend that I really liked the look of Ratchet and Clank and I probably suggested I would try and get it one day. She clearly remembered this, as the third game I received was... Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. And I remember looking at it slightly disappointedly thinking, "she's been really thoughtful and tried to get me something I'd told her I'd like, but she picked the wrong game." I was grateful, I was really happy to have a new game to play, but at the same time, slightly disappointed. But it's what happened when I played it that makes it special. I loved it. At the time, I'd heard of the game, but didn't know anything about it and it was great. As I'm sure many of you will agree, the first Jak and Daxter game is fantastic, one of the best platformers of all time. I fully completed that game, found every precursor orb, every relic, 100% completion. In fact, it's probably the first game I ever deliberately went out of my way to fully complete. And to this day, I've never owned, nor finished (played but not finished) the first Ratchet and Clank. Once again, that surprise, that sense of the unknown made what was already a good present, even better in the end. Thank you Gemma.
I think that a combination of not receiving many video games at Christmas as a kid and the surprise and delight I experienced at something I didn't know I was going to get or was completely unexpected is what made these moments memorable for me. I can't remember actually opening and receiving many presents, I just remember having the item, but these two in particular I can specifically remember opening, holding and being excited about. Because it didn't happen very often, and it was a really nice surprise. And I don't get that as much as an adult. My current girlfriend tries very hard to emulate that experience and she does do a very good job. They tend to be gaming related, she's bought me a Masterchief helmet, a Yu-Gi-Oh! duel disk and Atlas and P-Body figures to name but a few, however we did get to a point where last year at Christmas I went to our Royal Mail office to pick up some missed post and because one package addressed to her had been sent in a J!NX packing bag, I knew exactly which t-shirt she had bought me. With Steam wishlists and gift cards being more convenient, you do lose something special that you'd only get from buying a physical item that you can open. I guess also, because I'm a lot more knowledgeable about games in general, I'm more likely to know stuff about a game or gaming item that I receive. I loved the three items I mentioned before, but as soon as I opened them, I knew exactly what they were, what they did and what they meant, because I already knew those kind of items existed. I still love them today though, great gifts. Thank you Adele.
Let's wrap this up shall we. Great pun.
I'm not suggesting that we all drop giving out gift cards or making digital purchases online, they're damn convenient and still extremely thoughtful. Lots of people would prefer a gift card to spend on what they know they'll like than end up having a Christmas present they don't want or already have. Some people will love that their Steam library just got that little bit bigger or perhaps you just got them that game they weren't sure whether they were going to buy or not and you just took that decision out of their hands. Now they have a brand new game to play, everybody wins. What I will say is this. If you have a wishlist on Steam, or Amazon or wherever, get adding to it if you haven't already, it takes a lot of pressure off of those who just can't think about what you might want. And if you can, maybe find that extra time to get someone, even if it's just one person, something really special, something they'd never expect, something they didn't even know existed and be prepared to watch their eyes light up on December 25th. But not something digital, something they can see wrapped up, make guesses about depending on its weight and size. Something they can then unwrap, feel in their hands and see that it's real. And maybe play with the box for it afterwards. Find joy and delight in the gifts you receive, be grateful no matter how crummy you might think something is, you never know how much joy you might get from it. Make someone's Christmas special. Particularly if it's a child. Especially if it's a child, they'll remember it well. Trust me, I work in a toy shop.
A very Merry Christmas to you all. Thank you reader.