It’s Christmas, 2002. I’m 21 and the family is getting together for gift giving. A few weeks earlier, my father had asked me for a list of PS2 games I wanted. That year, both Suikoden III and Contra: Shattered Soldier had just come out, and they topped my list. My father had never supported my gaming hobby, and in years previous had refused to buy games for me. That year he seemed to change his attitude, but he didn’t give me a budget for my list.
Turns out his budget was far less than I had assumed. These were new releases, $50 each.
I opened my Christmas gift and inside was Eternal Ring, a game I’d never heard of. What’s worse, the game case was empty. On Boxing Day my father took me back to the Wal-Mart he bought the game from and had me dig through the $5 bargain bin to find another copy. When we concluded there were no more copies of Eternal Ring available, he got his money back and ordered a copy from eBay instead. He was determined to give me Eternal Ring. He had purchased the cheapest possible game he could find because he didn’t understand the difference between a $5 and $50 game.
But Christmas is about giving, right?
This line is only used by people who buy terrible gifts. If Christmas is about giving, why are you giving me shitty socks or an ugly sweater instead of any of the hundred other things I would have liked more?
And here’s the problem with Christmas. If you ask your kids for a list, you’re building an expectation that they will get something from the list. If they ask for LEGO Star Wars and you get them the MEGABLOKS Ninja Turtles set—for any reason, logical or not—they will be disappointed.
Christmas is about giving, and don’t you want to give your kids exactly what they asked for?
Games are a very specific hobby.
Like Magic: The Gathering, Warhammer, and other game-related hobbies, video games are very specific. An Xbox game won’t work on a PlayStation (we’ve all heard of those clueless grandmothers). A Nintendo Switch game won’t work on a Wii U. But it’s more than that. Someone who loves the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, might not appreciate Star Wars: Battlefront II as much as a game with similar gameplay.
Here are some ways to avoid Christmas disappointment
- Make the list together. Sit down and watch trailers (or Let’s Plays if the game is already out). If you don’t already know their tastes, use this as a chance to learn what sort of games your child enjoys.
- Sit with them and play the games they already have. If they want the new Call of Duty, sit and play the old Call of Duty and have them explain the difference between the new and the old. Kids can be passionate about this sort of thing, so it can really give a clue as to which games from the list would be the best picks.
- Narrow it down. Got a list of five games? Tell them they have to narrow it down to three. Then two. Regardless of what your budget is, always make it appear smaller so you can get an idea of which game is really at the top of the list.
- Don’t buy a game that isn’t on the list.
I worked at Wal-Mart in my mid-twenties and I saw the exact same thing happen. A father would come in with a list from his child. All the newest games, all $60. Then they’d start looking at the $20 shelf and wonder why The Da Vinci Code was $20 when Call of Duty 3 was $60. A father explained to me that a PS2 game is a PS2 game and what his son really wants is a new PS2 game, so he bought the Da Vinci Code. Sometimes the parents would listen, usually not. So for anyone who got the Da Vinci Code in 2006, I’m sorry. I tried my best.
Christmas is about giving, so give a good gift.
That statement goes both ways. If Christmas is about giving, a gift giver has a responsibility to get it right. If all else fails, one of the best gifts a gamer can receive is actually a gift card and a trip to the game store on Boxing Day.