Growing up, before I got a job that gave me enough money to buy just about any game I wanted, Christmas was one of the two or three days a year I could look forward to getting a new game. My birthdays were pretty dependable on providing me a new game and sometimes Easter as well, but Christmas, that was the day I could almost always expect a brand new spanking game under the tree. There are plenty of fun memories from the NES and SNES era I can look back on fondly, but the best Christmas gaming moment from my youth has to be the one where my parents spoiled the shit out of me and my brother.
It was the year 2000 and my brother and I were still rocking our — technically his — PlayStation. The Dreamcast had released the year before and the PlayStation 2 was about to drive Sega out of the console market. Having played Soulcalibur at a campground over the summer, I wanted the Dreamcast. I wanted it and Sonic and Marvel vs. Capcom. My brother wanted the PS2, putting us at odds.
Growing up, we only had one gaming console at a time. It went NES, SNES and then the PlayStation. So two sons getting two different consoles didn’t seem likely. But that Christmas morning, that’s exactly what we got. I got my Dreamcast and my brother got his PlayStation 2. If that wasn’t enough, we both got our own 19″ heavy-ass CRT television so we didn’t have to share.
If Christmas is about getting stuff, that year was the best Christmas ever. And while in the years following that I would realize just how spoiled my brother and I were and how that is possibly not the healthiest way to raise a child because it’ll be difficult for them to adjust to a life where they can’t get everything they want without working for it, that morning, in that moment, I was the happiest boy in the world.
Christmas was always the time where my family would get a new games console, the NES, SNES, N64 and many others first arrived at our household on December 25 and we’d always spend the day playing multiplayer games co-op or against each other. Each one was special in its own way but I don’t think any of them had the same impact as when we got the PS1.
We had actually had a taster of what the machine could do before as a friend imported the grey box a month or so before (and the Sega Saturn as well) and I was able to play Wipeout before the console was officially released on our UK shores! But it wasn’t until we had our own along with Destruction Derby, Jumping Flash, and Battle Arena Toshinden when the whole promise of 3D games really awoke in our eyes and we knew this was the way games were going to go! We still have our box and most of our PS1 games but putting the CD-ROM into the box and seeing the future of gaming was quite something indeed! The ads for PlayStation at the time were pretty great too!
A new console, some really fun games and a glimpse of the future. How’s that for a holy trinity?
It’s a simple story, but it took me all of two seconds to remember when this subject came up. Without bringing out the violins, I wasn’t really in a place to be afforded stuff that was considered “hot” or even “lukewarm” at the time. I had friends who literally would just get every new game bought by their parents on release day (and we all knew that one kid who had a Neo Geo), but I would kind of budget myself realistically when it came to birthdays and Christmas, and be very realistic with my list to Santa.
But Christmas 1996 blew my mind when somehow — and to this day I don’t know how they did it — my parents bought me a Sega Saturn, which I really wanted. It cost about £250 at the time, and I used money from other relatives to pick up pre-owned copies of Guardian Heroes and Virtua Fighter. Holy shit, for me it was like I’d won the lottery.
One of my friends had a Saturn and a PlayStation, plus tons of games for both. I remember a bunch of us getting together at my place with his copy of Street Fighter Alpha 2 (which had an amazing Saturn port) and playing it absolutely to death for an entire festive weekend. That weekend will forever be a reflection of what peak gaming was all about during that generation. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.
When I was a kid my parents weren’t really in a position to buy me every hot new game coming out. As a result, I was pretty late to the party on a lot of console releases, but Christmas was the time I could count on something like a console upgrade.
My parents were more likely to spend less money on older hardware. As a result of this, I grew up with an SNES despite being a 90’s baby. I didn’t get my hands on a PlayStation until a few years after its release. This was a big one the first console I didn’t have to share with my sister. The SNES and N64 were “ours” and thus stuck in my living room, but I got to keep Sony’s big grey box in my own room.
I don’t think I have been more excited about Christmas since and I doubt I ever will be again. That original PlayStation is without a doubt my most memorable Christmas gift.
My family was pretty poor in the 80s, but due to some crafty shielding from reality, I was largely ignorant to that fact. My mom was bringing up my brother and I alone, working +40 hours a week during the day and taking care of us at night. Ronald Reagan’s government cheese was in our lunchboxes, and most of the toys under our Christmas tree were donated. I had a vague idea that the other kids in town got their stuff in a different way than we did, but for the most part, I was unaware of the struggle our family was going through. The one place where I could see a strong contrast between our family and other families was when it came to electronics. All the other kids had a VCR and a game console. All we had was an old black and white TV set.
That all changed in Christmas of 1984 when my mom managed to get an Atari 5200 for cheap, and my world changed forever. Not many people talk about the 5200 today, but it was a powerhouse at the time, standing head and shoulders above its predecessor the Atari 2600 when it came to processing power. All the same, the console was doomed to fail. If the 2600 was the Wii of its generation, then the 5200 was the Wii U. By the time the 5200 rolled around, people were burnt out on the Atari brand, and the gimmicky controllers paired with a lack of big name exclusives only worked to further turn off mainstream audiences.
It had amazing games from Sega (Pengo), Nintendo (Popeye, Mario Bros.) and Namco (Ms. Pac-Man, Dig-Dug), along with blockbuster 1st party titles like Centipede, Qix, and Star Raiders, but it didn’t matter. It was sent to bargain bins within a year after release, another victim of the 1983-1984 video game crash. That was terrible news for Atari, but fantastic for poor kids like me.
Playing the 5200 with my mom is where my relationship with video games grew from an occasional novelty into a major part of daily life. She was a master of Super Break-Out, which was a game I was pretty good at, but she was the best. Even now, I’m not sure how she pulled off some of the moves that she did with those clunky old 5200 controllers. Later on, she would become the only person I’ve ever met to beat Rygar on the Atari Lynx in one continuous run. Likewise, I’m the only person she’s ever met who’s deeply impressed by that.
She just turned 78, and she still plays video games every day. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up, and in at least one way, I guess I succeeded.
Gaming is such a fickle beast. Even now it seems like there’s a level of gaming that’s socially acceptable (Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto) and one that’s really not (literally fucking anything from Japan).
This is a story of the latter.
One of my favorite games as a teen was Final Fantasy X. It took one of my favorite franchises and took it to a whole new level with voice acting a legit graphics. For all the shit the characters get, it was a technical marvel for its time. So of course, some 14 (!!!) years ago when the unprecedented sequel, Final Fantasy X-2 came out, I was fucking sold. I knew it followed Yuna as she tried to move on with her life after Tidus’ apparent death at the hands of Sin, and I knew it was something of a tonal shift from the original that I held so dear. None of that mattered – I just wanted the damn game. So I put it on my Christmas list, hoping Santa would fulfill my holiday wish.
And he did. And not only did I get the game, but I got the official strategy guide, as well! Santa was truly on my side!
…except Santa’s timing was really, really off. We happened to be spending Christmas back home that year, visiting my grandma in her little trailer on the top of the hill in Johnson City, Tennessee. Being a big fan of the then-super-hot Clay Aiken, my grandma was totally down with any weird shit that might be going on in her humble abode. My uncle was not. No, Donnie, the beer-swilling, paintball-playing uncle of mine was just about as Red State as you could get. I opened my gifts – a nice sweater here, some new socks there – unenthused with the whole ordeal. Then finally, I opened the last nondescript package to find my prize: A PlayStation 2 copy of FF X-2 and the official strategy guide.
I was fucking pumped. How could you not be? By the grace of God I had actually deigned to pack my PS2 for this particular trip, bringing along a few games to hold me over (Madden, Jak & Daxter, whatever) during the downtime until our return home. Having just unearthed my ultimate prize, I of course made my way to my console as soon as I could. I was a little self-conscious because the cover depicts three women (egad!) being apparently proud of their life choices (the nerve!), but I didn’t let that stop me. My enthusiasm hadn’t gone unnoticed, however, and in my fervor to get to my PS2 to find the fuck out of noted crybaby and alleged athlete Tidus I had drawn a little crowd in my cousin and my uncle, Donnie. I pulled Madden out of the disc tray, threw it over my shoulder, and let the questin’ begin.
If you have an Uncle Donnie, don’t ever let him near your copy of FF X-2.
The opening cinematic would make Liberace blush. Seriously, I’m very secure in my masculinity and even to this day I wince a little when I think of Yuna’s big J-pop coming out party that was the first five minutes of this game. Now, I’m never more than two Zimas away from kissin’ dudes and I was taken aback – but just imagine how my poor Uncle Donnie must have felt. I’ll never forget his mouth hanging open, speechless at the weird shit going on on the screen in front of him. For my part, I was totally embarrassed as I had no idea this game was so…out there.
“Uh, maybe we should play something we can all enjoy,” he said, most likely resisting the urge to call me something you’d hear over Xbox Live. And that’s how it ends – my uncle preempting my own system from me to play Madden with his son. And it’s all thanks to the very un-American-ness that is the opening sequence to FF X-2.
Is this my favorite Christmas gaming memory? No in that it was fucking embarrassing and reinforced the inherent shame that once came with the distinction of being a “gamer.” But yes in that I mostly had it good growing up, and if my only striking memory is my dickbag uncle (who my aunt kicked out so hahahaha fuck you Donnie I hope jerking off to scrambled porn is treating you well you cretin) being a dickbag, then do I really have all that much to complain about?
FF X-2 is still dope as hell, btw.
I don’t have one favorite Christmas memory so much as two that over time I tend to remember as being the same incident, even if the timelines don’t logically line up. I’m referring to the first time I was given an SNES (with a copy of Super Mario World) and the day I received a copy of Duke Nukem 3D. Duke 3D and Super Mario World were released roughly five years apart, and even accounting for the delays inherent in not being able to choose when to get new hardware as a kid, it doesn’t make sense that I’d have been a PC gamer by the first time I discovered high-quality Mario (we owned an old Famicom, but I was too young to appreciate OG Super Mario Bros.). Therefore it must have been two Christmases that I remember as one.
Like many Christmas gift memories, it’s your standard recollection of being super giddy at receiving the awesome gift from my uncle, so I won’t bore you with those details. Instead, I’ll tell you why I remember the Duke Nukem incident, and it’s because that same uncle constantly mispronounced the title as “Duke ‘Em Nuke ‘Em”, and was saying it over and over, incessantly, for that whole evening. To this day, I can’t look at Duke without thinking of him saying “Dook-em-nook-em!”.
Robo Panda Z
I caught the gaming bug early in life, trying to play the first Final Fantasy before I could read (This didn’t work out well, and led to saving over my brother’s file). I spent a lot of time on his NES, and accumulated a lot of my own games for it – but it was always “his” console. He made the rules, he was Player 1. That sort of thing. He was, well, your standard-issue big brother in this sort of thing.
Well, one Christmas — and it was a pretty nice Christmas overall (My family REALLY likes Christmas) — things were pretty much over and done with, and we were packing up to go visit my grandmother for an evening of stuffing our faces, when I hear, “Oh, it looks like there’s one more thing behind the tree.”
It was for me. It was three things, in fact: A brand-new SNES, and copies of A Link to the Past and Street Fighter II (My parents realized not having a 2-player game around may lead to murder).
Did it ultimately end the sibling conflict? No. Had my parents blatantly ripped off A Christmas Story? Yes. Do I care? Absolutely not – I still own and treasure that console: My very first.
Pixie The Fairy
As Christmas gaming memories go, nothing can top the Christmas I got The Legend of Zelda on the NES, which is really showing my age.
You know how many open world games can kidnap and enrapture a friend or family member for weeks on end? You know the thrill people get swapping information and building wikis for Dark Souls? Back then that is exactly what Zelda was doing to kids but in non-internet ways.
The idea I could just wander, burn things, poke statues and blow up stuff and discover secrets was something that changed my perception of what a game could be at the time. Before that, it was just about getting the high scores.
Breath of the Wild really brought that sense of exploration and curiosity back to the series in a big way, too. This is why no one shuts up about it. Today, however, families have more than one TV in the house and BotW doesn’t even have to compete for a TV with off-screen play on Wii U or the portability of the Switch.
The NES, though. My dad grew to hate my NES and Zelda because it kept him from seeing that fancy cable TV programming he paid for. He wanted to watch G.L.O.W. and such. So as a bonus, Zelda eventually helped me score a TV.
Such wonderful heartwarming stories and also Wes’s Uncle Donnie. Tell us your favorite memories below and Merry Christmas!