Ah, the holidays. In these modern times they’re synonymous with over-indulging on alcohol to drown out GamGam’s spicy takes on President Biden and vaccines, but back in the day they were all fuzzy pajamas and shiny wrapping paper.
Oh and gifts, usually video game gifts, as we’re all long-time gamers here. Even back in the day video game consoles and accessories were high-ticket items, the kinds of presents you’d only expect to get from Santa or a well-off uncle. So this time of year whips up memories of ripping away the paper to discover a gorgeous gaming gift underneath.
So, we unpacked all of our holiday trauma, took a healthy swig of our “getting through the holidays” juice, and mustered up some precious memories of the best gaming gifts we’ve ever gotten here at Kotaku. Nostalgia, innit?
The OG PlayStation
It’s Christmas Day 1998 in a split-level home on Long Island, New York. The fake Christmas tree wrapped in tinsel and meticulously decorated by only your mother (who doesn’t trust the hands of fumbling, fidgety children to hang glass ornaments) is in the den, surrounded by gifts. Your eyes scan the piles for a specific shape. Your younger sister has already shaken the shit out of every present before opening it, including some of yours, the most recent of which you suspect may be the thing you’re looking for. It’s a thing that should certainly not be shaken with such disregard.
You glance at your father, who’s recording the opening of every single gift. You want to get this one on camera. “Are you ready?” you ask, your tiny voice punching through the sound of rustling paper thanks to the exaggerated vowels and hard consonants that comes standard with your regional accent. You rip the Santa-covered paper away from the box, barely exposing a corner of it before yelling “PLAYSTATION!” Your parents feign surprise and interest. “DualShock, Dad, it’s the betta one!” For the rest of the morning, you return to that box, crawling on your hands and knees through discarded wrapping paper just to ogle it.
No more renting consoles from Blockbuster for just a few days. No more pushing over an empty shopping cart and climbing in it at the electronics store so you could reach the mounted PlayStation controllers, surreptitiously glancing over your shoulder to see if your dad was coming to snatch you away. No more begging your cousin for a turn when at his house for family holidays. This is your PlayStation. Only yours. Think of all the things you can do with it. Maybe you’ll even make a career out of this someday.
Alyssa Mercante, Senior Editor
Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers
It must have been Christmas of 1991 that I found Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers under the tree, and got the gift of seeing exciting new possibilities in games.
I was a fan of adventure games, sure, having played a few games in Sierra’s King’s Quest series, not to mention Lucasfilm’s brilliant and bizarre early titles like Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. But this was my first experience with Space Quest, Sierra’s comedic sci-fi series starring Roger Wilco, the hapless space-janitor who finds himself thrust into one cosmic misadventure after another.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the quality of Space Quest IV’s puzzles. What I do remember is how varied and vibrant its universe seemed, with harsh alien worlds, moody cantinas, and glitzy space-malls. But what really knocked my socks off about the game was how meta it was. After progressing a bit through Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers itself, poor Roger finds himself flung into (the non-existent) Space Quest XII: Vohaul’s Revenge II.
Today, it’s not so uncommon for games to break the fourth wall and wink knowingly at the player about being video games, to play with conventions in ways both tired and inspired. But wow, was this exciting for me in 1991! The game also sees you venturing into Space Quest X: Latex Babes of Estros (an obvious riff on the 1986 Infocom adventure Leather Goddesses of Phobos) and all the way back to the original Space Quest, which already looked humorously primitive and pixelated compared to 1991’s state-of-the-art graphics, making high(er)-definition Roger Wilco all the more conspicuous.
Space Quest IV may or may not be a great game, I honestly don’t remember well enough to say. I just remember sitting there on my Christmas break, awestruck by the clever meta-ness of it all, and having my mind expanded about the possibilities of what video game storytelling and structure could do.
Carolyn Petit, Managing Editor
The wrong Metal Gear game
One Christmas Eve I held what was clearly a wrapped single-disc PSX game in my hands. This was a problem. I stared at that green sparkly paper for a good five minutes as I began to process another unforgivable episode of parental neglect and disappointment. See, I had asked for Metal Gear Solid for Christmas, which I knew was a double-disc game. As I sat there staring at this wrapped piece of disappointment, I was lost in a haze of wondering how my parents could fail me again? I specifically talked at great length about Metal Gear Solid. I went on lengthy diatribes about it, with endless caveats, irrelevant analogies, and sentences that took minutes for me to say. Weren’t they listening? How could they even think that a single-disc game was worth my time?
I exhaled heavily, ready to see some fucking game that I had no interest in, and tore open the wrapping paper to find Metal Gear Solid…VR Missions. I shook my head and said “this isn’t what I asked for.” What a foolish and unappreciative brat I was.
While I’d eventually con some family member into buying me Metal Gear Solid months later, I ended up devouring VR Missions. So, by the time I fired up MGS for the first time, I knew how to do everything already. It was kinda worth it. In the full version, I was able to directly engage with the aesthetic and narrative elements of the game, never once needing to worry about learning the mechanics. I knew how every gun worked, and how to move around stealthily. Also, those Grey Fox missions were pretty neat. VR Missions also provided a foundation for MGS2’s themes of VR and “reality” to take root by the time I got to that game.
Parental units, I forgive you. But just for this.
Claire Jackson, Staff Writer
In 2004, my parents were in the midst of a messy divorce, and that Christmas was the first year my family had two separate visits from Santa. I’ve never asked my mother outright if she was trying to set a precedent for her kids to be more excited to hang out with her during the holidays than my dad, but given the gifts my siblings and I got in 2004, it was probably in the back of her mind. My oldest sister had recently moved out and taken her PlayStation 2 with her. I had asked for Sly 2: Band of Thieves for Christmas under the impression that I’d play it at friends’ houses or whenever I was able to visit my sister and her PS2 that wasn’t seeing use as a game console, probably. But in the weeks leading to Christmas, my mother had been asking about the recently-released PlayStation 2 Slim console that was supposed to be smaller, thus cheaper to make and buy. I was still too young to have really been paying attention to the industry in any meaningful way, but I wasn’t expecting to get a game console for Christmas.
Well, my mother defied my expectations that year because I walked into our living room and saw a PS2 slim sitting on the couch with a copy of Sly 2 and a wireless MadCatz controller leaning up against it. I was fascinated by the PS2 Slim because I couldn’t believe it was technically the same device as my sister’s giant OG console. The new system having an openable top cover instead of a protruding disk tray broke my brain, but I was always glad to have it because I was less scared of breaking it every time I tried to switch out a game. But I wasn’t switching games that Christmas because I devoured Sly 2 that Christmas break. These days, I’m not usually one to play video games out of order, but Sly 2 catapulted my interest in Sucker Punch’s heist platformer from passing knowledge into obsession, so I got the first game shortly after. Now, thanks to that fateful Christmas morning, I am 18 years older and in constant distress about the fact that Sony refuses to greenlight a fifth game that would resolve Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time’s cliffhanger, which has been more traumatic for me than the divorce that probably got me this gift. So maybe, in the long run, I have suffered more psychic damage than enjoyment. But it still set the bar pretty high for the Christmases that would follow.
Kenneth Shepard, Staff Writer
Nintendo Game Boy
It’s kind of hard to fathom, here in 2022, just how incredibly exciting Nintendo’s Game Boy felt in 1989. Portable video games you could carry in your hand! (Maybe even your pocket, if you had particularly huge ones.) To a generation of kids newly turned on and tuned in thanks to the record-shattering success of the Nintendo Entertainment System, this was mind-blowing stuff.
No matter that it could only show four colours, all of them shades of pea green, or that its low-res 166×144 pixel LCD display blurred to high hell. Even if the Tetris craze left you scratching your head, the latest Mario game was exclusive to the thing. Game Boy was a must-have.
Only one problem for this ‘80s kid: It cost $US90 ($125) that I did not have (about $US216 ($300) in 2022 monies). Good thing for Santa! Don’t remember if I still believed in the guy, but I certainly believed that I needed a Game Boy, and that Christmas was about the only way I’d get one.
When my siblings and I rushed to open presents, I didn’t find a sleek new portable games system. Instead I found a surprisingly large, very heavy box. I don’t remember my exact reaction, but I’m certain my parents were enjoying the show as I sad-dogged my way through unwrapping it. I pulled off the lid, and…
It was a brick…nestled next to a shrinkwrapped box. The Game Boy! My parents got me good with the most basic trick in the book, but no matter. It was time to catch up with Mario in the strange new realm of Sarasaland. Those first four AA batteries didn’t even last through the evening. Which, given these things’ battery life, was perhaps not surprising.
Alexandra Hall, Senior Editor
PSP and WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2007
My Christmas story from gamer’s past came around the time when I was ten years old and my mum got me a two-fer gift buying me a PSP and WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2007. Despite this being the best gift a parent could give a child who headcanonned that the Rock was his father for the first five years of their life, I already knew she was planning on getting me the game months in advance. You see, she started taking more interest in wrestling all of a sudden beyond asking me who all those tattoo’d white men were. I, however, acted totally normal about my Christmas gift precognition. Whenever she’d step out of the house, I’d sneak into her closet to ogle at the product boxes for the portable console and game that was haphazardly tucked away in a month-old Gamestop bag. When she came back home, I’d place the gifts back the same way she’d left them. This would go on every day until Christmas when I’d feign surprise at the gifts like a multi-Oscar award-winning actor.
Isaiah Colbert, Staff Writer
Magenta Game Boy Colour and Pokemon Yellow
I already commodified my memory of the best holiday gaming gift I ever received for this website a couple of years ago. Instead of rehashing that one (spoilers: it was Earthbound) I will share the runner-up: a magenta Game Boy Colour and Pokémon Yellow. It was the Christmas of ‘99. I was at the peak of my Pokémania. My cousins already owned an OG Game Boy and had been playing Red and Blue for the last year. Everytime we hung out I’d just sit there playing it, starting a new game and then never saving since there was only one save slot. How many times did I catch a Pikachu in the Viridian Forest only to release it hours later when I had to leave? Too many to count.
But that Christmas I not only finally got my own Game Boy Colour — a beautiful little device the hue of watermelon bubble gum — I got my own copy of Pokémon, and one where you started the game with Pikcahu and it followed you around. All I did that day was play it cause no one could tell me to stop. There was no TV I had to share, or turns I had to take with the Nintendo 64 or PlayStation. Just me, the electric rodent, and endless random battles in the tall grass. I can still hear the music, and see my starting team from that original playthrough.
Ethan Gach, Senior Reporter
Super Nintendo and Donkey Kong Country
The best gaming Christmas present I got was my very first one: the Super Nintendo, which came alongside Donkey Kong Country. I was garbage at the game. I don’t think I ever got to the third world and I remember literally praying hoping I’d survive those bitch-arse mine cart levels. I think once I threatened a family member with a knife for trying to take away my Power Rangers game, which was when it was decided that maybe I shouldn’t be watching Power Rangers so young (baby’s first heated gamer moment :)). Anyway this was the start of the end for me, clearly.
Patricia Hernandez, Editor in Chief
Sega Genesis and Power Rangers: The Movie The Game
The year was 1997. I was six years old. My brother was barely four. We had, before this point, played video games over at friends’ houses and even at my grandmother’s home. She had a whole collection of Atari 2600 carts and the original console complete with multiple controllers. It was awesome. But we didn’t have a console of our own.
That was going to change. For Christmas that year, my parents decided to finally buy us some goddamn video games. Thing is, video games were (as they are today) very expensive. So instead of buying us the PlayStation 1 or N64 — which was out and flourishing at that point in time — my parents took the advice of a dude working at some random Walmart or Kmart and bought the older Genesis. It was cheaper and had a ton of games and if we young, dumb kids liked it, in a few years they could buy a better console.
The Christmas morning, I don’t remember much. But I do remember my brother and me opening the last gift and discovering that we now owned a Sega Genesis. I didn’t really know what that meant, but then it was hooked up to our TV in the living room, and discovered that it played video games. For the rest of the morning and afternoon, my brother and I played it. We had one game: the licensed beat ‘em up, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers The Game. Eventually, I would go on to beat that game and it would be the very first game I ever finished. But that Christmas morning we didn’t beat it. I’m not sure we even got past the second level. Didn’t matter. We had so much fun. We finally had our own video game console.Over the next few years, I played the shit out of that Genesis. And it started me down a path that eventually led me to here, a dude writing about video games online for a living. Not bad for a cheap console bought at Walmart.
Zack Zwiezen, Staff Writer
It was the third night of Hannukah, 1999. I had just beaten out my brother for the recovery of the sacred afikomen, and was high off of my win. But then, I opened up a Sega Dreamcast. It was the first console I could call truly my own, having only ever peaked over my brother’s shoulder as he played Genesis for years — the original Twitch experience. I played Power Stone 2 and Soul Calibre and Marvel Vs Capcom 2 on it the most, but on that day it came with Sonic Adventure, which was fine. Dreamcast will always hold a special place in my heart and it lasted me a long time, because my next console wasn’t until the Nintendo Wii.
Eric Schulkin, Video Lead