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Bob Muir avatar 10:38 PM on 12.23.2007  (server time)
Rantoid: Gaming changed my Christmas

Necros Says: After a brief hiatus, Rantoid is back, and just in time for the holidays. I'm going to claim that releasing tonight's installment on a Sunday was intentional so it would coincide with the day before Christmas Eve and not because I've been too busy with sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll to type up something thoughtful. Anyone who says otherwise gets coal in their stocking. Be forewarned, tonight's Rantoid is somewhat different from the usual fare.

Unbeknownst to me while enduring the final days of my fall semester, it is that time of year again, the time when people spend buckets of money on temporary decorations and stores switch their background music to "poorly-written holiday tunes," infuriating anyone with good taste in music. Thankfully, my university manages to only lightly suggest the holiday season, perhaps opting not to forcefully shove good cheer down our throats. However, the lack of constant reminders that Santa is coming actually made me completely forget about appropriating gifts for my family to enjoy (besides bringing Wii Sports back home). For me, this meant a wild scramble but one week before the sacred celebration/marketing event of the year.

I soon remembered my days as a wide-eyed, less cynical kid, and how it didn't seem to be so much work back then. Gifts for my family was something I barely had to think about, and they always seemed happy for anything. Similarly, the gifts that I received were always "just what I wanted." It was Christmas, and the idea of a bunch of gifts was too good to find fault in some of the goods.

Confession time: when I was young, I didn't have video games, not a single one. My parents, trying to be responsible, encouraged me to play with toys and regular games and do horrible activities like going outside. I got most of my early gaming in at friend's houses. So since all video games were a Nintendo at the time in my parents' eyes, I probably should have foreseen the incident I'm about to relate.

My parents would take us to a couple of stores like Toys 'R' Us around Thanksgiving to make up a wish list for Santa. My sister and I would rove the isles like wild dogs, pulling out toys and games to put on the list, then promptly forgetting about them the moment they were written down. However, I'll never forget my first experience with the Nintendo 64. There it was, a giant screen with a strange controller coming out of it, and the most beautiful game I had ever seen before: Super Mario 64. At first, I was overwhelmed at the concept of moving in a 3D space, but I soon found the hang of it. I was distracted from my wish list creation for at least half an hour, not even playing any of the levels, just jumping around the castle courtyard. I knew that I had to have this for Christmas. And so, onto the wish list it went. However, since young kids these days are all ADD, I forgot about the must-have game and system within a few days.

Christmas finally rolled around, and all the usual festivities of the night before ran their course. I woke up to see what Santa had brought me and was overjoyed to find...a Sega Game Gear with five games, already unpackaged! Oh boy, this was the best Christmas ever! With the N64 completely out of my mind, I joyfully started playing, not even the fact that there were no manuals for anything deterring me.

In retrospect, I can certainly imagine what happened. My parents, knowing only that I wanted "some video game," had walked into a used game store and went for something that wasn't too expensive: the failing Sega Game Gear. In deciding what games to pick, they picked what they thought would be good: a token Sonic game, a Ren and Stimpy game, a football game, a soccer game, and a baseball game. When asking why the used games didn't have any manuals, they were told that "kids like to figure it out on their own," which was later relayed to me. (Hint for parents: if there's no in-game tutorial, kids will have no idea what's going on.) So good intentions ran afoul of a lack of gaming knowledge.

When I finally realized at least a year later that I had actually asked for an N64, Pokemon fever was just starting. After getting a Game Boy Color with Pokemon Blue in the summer, a decision my parents would refer to as "his descent into the clutches of gaming," I needed to have an N64 this Christmas for Pokemon Snap. I provided a picture of what I wanted with my wish list. This time, it worked.

I realized that my parents, as well-intentioned as they were, couldn't be expected to know about gaming purchases, such as different systems and which games were good. I soon created more complex lists, including desire-rankings, estimated costs, and eventually even links to where the games could be viewed and bought online. I started getting more and more of what I wanted, but at the cost of surprise.

I could tell that Christmas as a gamer who wouldn't play just anything had changed the process forever in 2001, when the Gamecube launched. This year, I placed the Gamecube (only black, no purple!), a memory card, and Super Smash Bros. Melee at the top of my list, and explained to my parents that just one of these things would not work without the other two. Soon, my parents were openly communicating with me about how hard it was to find a Gamecube, where they could look, and if purple would be acceptable if they found it. (I refused to own a purple Gamecube, incidentally.) There was no longer any surprise in my Christmas gifts; as a gamer, I had replaced the wish list with a grocery list.

Today, I've made peace with the fact that Christmas isn't going to be what it was like as a kid. I pretty much know that I'm going to get a PSP for Christmas, as it's the way things work now. The difference lies mainly in who buys the game, me or a family member. However, I couldn't just lose something and gain nothing. Come Christmas, I'm putting out the Wii front and center to play Wii Sports with my family during our festivities. I can't view the traditions with the same doe-eyed wonder I did as a kid, but hopefully, I can create some new traditions.

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