The best video game gift I got this Christmas was this puzzle book

Christmas Presents

I think I’ve got it!

My father has been dreaming of a “White Christmas” for about 20 years now. And I can understand why. Besides the aforementioned song that gets blasted over his classic yuletide Spotify playlist each year, every Christmas movie we watch during the holiday season paints a picture of snow being as common as perfectly wrapped Christmas presents under the tree or marriage proposals from hunky Canadian actors you’ve never heard of before. But thems the breaks when you live in California, as my parents do. There are no white Christmases in their town, only rainy ones with fleeting moments of clear blue skies. What’s ironic, in an Alanis Morissette kind of way, is that if my folks decided to make the trek to where I live for the holiday, we all would have been treated to a white Christmas with the winter storm that is just battering my town right now.

But I can understand his desire. I too long for the picturesque white Christmases we’ve been singing about since the 1940s. I can’t remember the last time it snowed on the big day, but really, I don’t remember much at all about past Christmases or even just the past in general. Most of the knowledge I have in my head of my youth is just the embarrassing stuff my brain can use against me whenever my self-esteem registers a notch above “non-existent.” I’m sure I’ve had some great Christmas mornings in my youth, but the only one I can strongly remember is the year my brother and I both got our own video game consoles and televisions for our rooms, meaning we never had to communicate with each other again. That was a great Christmas, but this year, I got a beautiful reminder of another piece of my past that had previously been lost to the miasma of my mind.

This year was a pretty good year for me, presents-wise. I really got into photography over the past year, so the big gift waiting under the tree for me was a new Fujifilm lens for my X-T200. With a 230mm zoom, I should really be able to step up my wilderness and wildlife photography this year. Beyond the lens, I got a nice new sweater, some Friends wine glasses and socks, a shaved ice machine, and a nice, wool Gatsby cap. I also got this $5 book of puzzles from Kohl’s, which held great meaning for my mom as she tried to explain to me why she bought it.

Christmas Presents

As I unwrapped the book, she told me she had to buy it because it reminded her of this game we used to play years ago, back when I was a kid. She said it was that “Professor game.” Now, you probably already know what game she’s talking about. But I, the extremely clueless and forgetful person that I am, drew an absolute blank. She pressed on, repeating “the professor game, that professor game” to no avail. I started asking myself, “What professor game did I play as a little kid?” My mind immediately went to Super Solvers: Midnight Rescue. But I only played that at school because we didn’t have a PC at home back when I was in elementary school.

After about two minutes of me just sitting there like a dummy, my mom gave up on trying to get me to remember with a devastating, “I guess it meant more to me than it did to you.” That’s such a mom thing to say, but with those words, I knew I had to remember. I wouldn’t open another fucking gift until I could recall this moment in our shared history she was talking about. I remembered most of our other gaming memories, from Kirby’s Avalanche to Mario Kart Wii, so surely this knowledge had to be tucked away somewhere in my mind.

So, I pressed on. I asked her what grade I was in when I played this, to which she responded, “You were already out of college. You know, that professor game where you rescue those people?” Her memory of what you actually do in this game may be spotty, but the moment she said “out of college” I knew the exact game she was talking about. Those three little words broke the dam in my mind and the memories started flooding back in. I remembered walking two miles to the Kmart to buy the game, putting in my Nintendo DSi, and playing through it over the course of the week. I remembered my mom asking me what I was playing, explaining to her what the game was, and seeing genuine excitement in her eyes when I told her all about it. I remembered coming home from work and catching my mom working on her own playthrough of the game on my DSi and the long talks we’d have about the game and how we’d help each other solve its puzzles.

The game in question is, of course, Professor Layton and the Curious Village. I have adored this game since I first got wind of it in the pages of Nintendo Power and made it a point to pick it the moment I had the money for it. My mind is filled with memories of playing through the entire Layton series, but until yesterday, I had completely forgotten that I once shared those memories with somebody else, someone I care about a great deal who didn’t always understand why I spent so much time with a controller in my hand. Professor Layton wasn’t just a pivotal game for me, but for my mom as well as it was one of the few games she could get into to understand why it is I love video games so much. Without The Curious Village, she might still think of gaming as something I should have outgrown by now.

Sadly, this would be the only Layton game we’d bond over. By the time Diabolical Box came out in North America, I’d moved out of my parent’s house and taken my DSi with me. She never bothered picking up one of her own, so from then on, the only time we’d connect over games would be during rounds of Wii Sports and Mario Kart Wii. Today, she doesn’t game at all, instead, spending her free time searching for recipes on Pinterest. My dad is now the gamer of the two if you can call playing slot machine apps on a Galaxy Tab being a gamer.

The Fujifilm lens is great, the Gatsby hat is nice, and the Friends wine glasses are pretty goddamn Caucasian, but the best gift I got this year is a memory, a beautiful memory of my past that had been lost until my mom came across a $5 puzzle book on a shopping trip to Kohl’s. No piece of plastic or glass will bring me as much happiness as that.

I just can’t share this fact with my parents because I still do enjoy getting all those expensive things too.

CJ Andriessen
Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games.