Holiday Gamer's Gift Guide

It’s hard to know how to shop for a videogamer. How do you find something that’s appropriate for their age, fun, and not too expensive if you don’t play games yourself? The answer is: you bend to my will and let me choose your gifts for you.

My goal here is to recommend games beyond the “big names” – the fact is, most gamers are more than happy to go out and buy the big marquee titles themselves; if there’s a gamer in your family with an Xbox, for example, she or he probably already has Halo 2. Instead, I’m trying to find the more oblique, offbeat, and inexpensive selections. Atari Anthology - $19.95 - Xbox or Playstation 2 - Perfect for the older gamer who used to own an Atari, this title will evoke feelings of nostalgia and guilt that will overwhelm the delicate and overjoy the unthinking. It contains 85 of the original Atari VCS games. Only in-house Atari titles are represented. Frankly, all of these games are available in more comprehensive collections for various computer systems, but there’s something to be said about playing them on a TV with a reasonable console game controller. Available in both Xbox and Playstation 2 versions. Appropriate for all ages, but probably most appreciated by those over 30.

Katamari Damacy - $19.95 - Playstation 2 - If you can only buy one game for someone, and they have a Playstation 2, make it this one. You will instantly be transformed from whatever you are to this person – friend, mother, gastroenterologist – into “the glorious angel who bought me Katamari Damacy.” “Odd” doesn’t begin to describe this game. It goes through strange, past whimsical, and wraps all the way around into profound. The colorful graphics, the insanely infectious music, the oddball concept, and the straightforward yet challenging gameplay meld into the perfect game. You can read a review of it, if you’d like, but it’s not necessary. This is the one. Buy it now. Appropriate for all ages; there’s some cartoony violence, but it’s as nonthreatening as an all-consuming ball sweeping up all in its path can be.

Harvest Moon - A Wonderful Life - $19.99 - GameCube - The Harvest Moon games can be a bit saccharine, giving a somewhat idealized view of farm life, but they nonetheless provide a view into husbandry of animals and crops that kids seem to adore. The game centers around doing chores and making schedules (rotating crops, for example). I find this sort of thing a bit tedious, but to kids under 10 it exerts a disturbingly magnetic pull. I wouldn’t get this for a teenager, but for younger kids it’s a good choice.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight - $24.95 (or $4.95 (!) with coupon) - Windows PC - It’s become harder and harder with each passing year to justify using Windows as a game platform. Flight Simulators are probably the last class of games – outside of text adventures, which are more of a boutique hobby at this point – that realistically require a PC to play. MS Flight Sim is still best-in-class, and is beautiful to look at. Not really appropriate for kids, unless they’re obsessed by airplanes – this is a real simulator, and not so much a game. If the giftee loves to fly in real life, and doesn’t have this yet, this is a no-brainer. Also, you can use this coupon until 2005 to obtain a mail-in rebate of $20, making this game, effectively, free.

Reiner Knizia’s Samurai - $19.95 - Macintosh - Boardgames are different overseas. One of life’s ongoing mysteries is why German mass market boardgames are interesting, clever, and fun for all ages, while American mass market boardgames – like Monopoly -- are boring, stupid, and aren’t any fun. Reiner Knizia is a famous German boardgame designer, and Samurai is one of his classics. Played on an iconic map of Japan, players play chits to try to exert influence over three different social groups – samurai, peasant, and priest – to gain domination. The computerized Mac version of this boardgame provides a decent single-player challenge via computer players, and also allows play over the Internet. The user interface is intuitive and the game is visually appealing. There is a demo available for download. Appropriate for all ages.

I hope you enjoyed this little list. If you’ve got suggestions, feel free to add them below. Extra bonus points if the game you suggest is under $25.