Yay, it’s finally December, and my (self-imposed) rules now allow me to get my Christmas freak on, so today will be a veritable feast of yuletide-y yuletideness, up to and including this here blog. And, actually, especially this blog – because, as I’m about to explain, for me, Christmas and games are, in many ways, inseparably linked to each other. Ordinarily, I tend to keep my general geekery reasonably well hidden, and I definitely try to tone down how much I bang on about games, but given I set this place up for exactly those things – I’ma go to fucking town with that shizzle. And because it’s December, I also get to let all the stored-up Christmas stuff spill from my brains too, so basically – hashtag: winning.
Anyways, without further ado, here are my thoughts on Christmas and Gaming…..
Spending Christmas in another country can be pretty weird, for many reasons. Indeed, if you consider that the whole festive period is, essentially, a potent combination of traditions, food, drink, people, music – i.e. accumulated memories with a big old chunk of nostalgia thrown in for good measure, being somewhere where few, if any, of those things are the same can be a strange, and disorientating experience (“what do you mean you don’t have mince pies? It’s freakin’ Christmas!”).
I’d wager that for most people who are, for whatever reason, living in another country, Christmas is indubitably the time when homesickness really kicks their ass, and when the distance, and differences, are at their most obvious.
This is where, for me at least, games and gaming really step up, offering a kind of medicinal eggnog which can help to counteract the sadness of being 6000 miles away from family, friends, and pretty much everything that Christmas means to me (my dear). And whilst the link between, say, fighting off an Alien invasion, or drop-kicking people in the face and the ‘season of goodwill to all men’ might not be immediately obvious, I suspect that for a lot of people, games and Christmas are, or have been, inextricably linked.
In fact, as far back as I can remember, my Christmas list has been dominated by games and gaming paraphernalia – and the last letter I ever sent to Santa had a paragraph explaining why I’d definitely earned me a particular game on account of having studied so hard for my University Finals. Of course, a big part of the reason for this was because, as a child at least, I had no real income of my own, and Christmas was one of only two times a year I could really get games (although eventually I did manage to persuade my family that games were a great, healthy alternative to Easter Eggs – but that took a few years of constant nagging, and a lot of scaremongering about childhood obesity) so I always seized the opportunity with the zeal of a downing man grabbing at driftwood.
Anyway, the upshot of this was that, come Christmas morning, there was a fairly good chance that some of my presents would contain games I’d been dying to play for many months. The magic of the whole event; the twinkling lights, the smell of pine needles, the sounds of Christmas classics all became indelibly tied to the experience of opening up a small, rectangular package and seeing that it was, in fact, Tennis Ace, Altered Beast, or Street Fighter. Every few years, it might even be a new machine to play games on – and this was even more amazing, not least because I’d usually foregone my birthday present to get it as a joint one at Christmas instead, and the anticipation and eventual pay-off was enough to blow my tiny little mind.
Even the playing of the games themselves became an integral part of the Christmas ritual, and after the last sprout had been eaten (or cunningly hidden), and people began to succumb to the post-feast drowsiness, I’d usually be allowed to play on one game for a little while. Those family members who were still conscious would watch: at first with disinterest, moving on to bemusement, and gradually settling on a kind of intense fascination. Invariably, curiosity would get the better of most of them, and they’d eventually ask to have a go at using “the button pressing thingumy”. As you’d expect, watching my Grandparents (who grew up without indoor plumbing) trying to get to grips with the (at the time) advanced technology of a Street Fighter bout was a genuine comedy goldmine (even before factoring in the Christmas “lubrication”), and much hilarity would ensue. The laughter(/mockery) would often wake the nappers up, and those pixelated characters on the screen eventually became the focus of the whole family’s attention, in much the same way a boardgame, or the Queen’s Speech would have done.
In this respect, games became an active part of our Christmas, a catalyst for creating some of my family’s most treasured shared memories, not only of Christmas, but of times when we were all together; of the family itself. As time goes on, these memories have become all the more precious to me, and I’m that bit more thankful for those games as a tangible – and valuable – link to a past that meant so much to me.
Fast forward twenty+ years, and games remain an integral part of my Christmas, and when I’m here in Brazil for it, an anchor to some of the feelings and traditions of my past. Even though it’s the wrong day (Christmas presents are done at midnight on the 24th here – because keeping kids up ’til midnight then throwing toys and sugary foods at them is a great idea, obviously), and there’s not a mince pie within 2000 miles of me, Christmas is still Christmas if I’m opening a rectangular present that I’ve been really looking forward to getting.
Moreover, gaming still has the uncanny ability to work itself into the essential Christmasiness of Christmas too – actively integrating itself into the whole festive experience. The inevitable forward march of actual generations has been mirrored by the forward movement of console generations, so there’s now a new lot of kids playing on new lot of technology. The “button-pressing-thing” might now be a motion detection device, but the result is still the same: three, sometimes four generations of a family laughing and playing together. It might be a million degrees Celsius in Brazil, and there might still be something of a language barrier between some of us, but whenever games are a part of my Christmas, there’ll always be some part of me that feels at home, and positively saturated with the Christmas spirit.
And the fact that, aside from all of that, I still have an awesome new game to play on – well, in a way, that’s just gravy! Which, thinking about it, is actually quite important, because they don’t have that here at Christmas either.
[Originally Published last December, but re-published again now. Because, Christmas!]