Snow falling, lights strung across streets where washing normally hung, the soothing tones of Dean Martin singing, ‘Let it Snow’, a bare knuckle fist fight and some bad language. This was Christmas!
That special time of year is almost upon me once more. The one where I can melt slightly deeper into the sofa, beneath the gentle glow of the fairy lights twinkle, a mince pie in one hand, a glass of Baileys in the other, a controller in the other, and a long pulled cracker in the other, and I can ponder that I might just be a little bit drunk. But it’s Christmas, so who cares!?
“But it’s Christmas…you ignorant *******!” shouts my long-suffering wife, having long since reached the end of her tether as I wile away another hour spent ignoring guests and nursing a tipsy smile as the TV spills out lavish graphical splendour, ear-shattering explosions and the rat-a-tat of my wildly spraying machine-gun, at a volume that would wake poor old Bing up from his dreams of a ‘White Christmas’. All good wholesome festive fare in the truest spirit of the season.
None of the above is true of course, But, despite me not spending all that much time indulging in video games over Jesus’ birthday (even though it’s almost certainly what he would have wanted), it truly is the season to deck the halls with an AK volley fa la la la la, la la la la, hum if you know it. Because Christmas and video games just works. What better way to let the dark evenings drift by, than in the shiny green boots of Master Chief, stomping around as the Covenant scum are crushed underfoot? Actually in reality, my wife (the long suffering one) came home early that day and, a tad embarrassed I removed the boots and skulked off to play video games instead. But they work all the same. As the nights draw in, the gaming nights get longer in some sort of beautiful universal symmetry.
The Video Game Christmas Wasteland
However, the one thing I always wish was more abundant within the video gaming universe, is some actual quality festive themed games to play. Films get annual Christmassy releases where everyone is happy and all the houses are lit up, parties swing, love fills the air, families come together, and sometimes little green creatures go all bloodthirsty and kill some neighbours, and string the dog up in the fairy lights, and get their own faces chewed up in the family blender, fa la la la la, la la la la (A Gremlins reference in 2017 is still relevant right?). Music is also in on the act with the yearly edition of, “Here Are The Same 52 Christmas Classics You Bought Last Year, Now In A Different Running Order, Volume 81 appendix B.” But games, always, seem to miss the party.
There are occasional nods in the direction of Santa and his crew, but by and large the games that go all in for the celebrations are pretty forgettable, whist the bigger titles don’t so much embrace the season, as give it a warm handshake before quickly scuttling off into the night.
Mafia II is a prime example that took the latter approach, but, to be fair I was pretty mesmerised at the Christmas feel it captured. Snow falling, lights strung across streets where washing normally hung, the soothing tones of Dean Martin singing, ‘Let it Snow’, a bare knuckle fist fight and some bad language. This was Christmas! I just wish it wasn’t so brief because in a game I really enjoyed, this was the star atop the tree.
Bully also played the seasons pretty well. Autumn was highlighted by bringing in Halloween, and Christmas by the ‘Christmas is Here’ mission and a fantastic red nose reindeer jumper. But then, just as I was getting my festive cheer on, it was over. Again, sort of like Christmas.
And erm…there was a Christmas tree in Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 2. I liked that.
Looking in the Wrong Place
It was after pondering the sparsity of festive games for a while, I realised two things. One was that I really love weather in games. Snow alone is great for adding some Christmas vibes, but I love anything that throws in something other than clear skies. And second, perhaps I was looking in the wrong place for my Christmas games.
I began to think about the actual games that hold a seasonal feel for myself. And surprisingly, pretty much none of them had anything to do with Christmas at all. You have no idea the nostalgic warmth and wintery glow I get when thinking about playing Madden on the Sega MegaDrive. I wasn’t even good at the game, in truth I barely understood what the hell was going on. I just knew what I’d seen on TV, and there, this American Football lark, looked like a good place to sit back, eat hotdogs, drink beer, and watch some sports for three seconds every five minutes. But, simply because when I played the game as a kid, Christmas was just around the corner, it always holds a special place in my heart and never fails to make me feel slightly more festive. Was John Madden the real Santa Claus?
The same rules apply to Donald Duck Quack Attack, and to PGR3, to Call of Duty 3, to Simpson’s Hit and Run and Grabbed by the Ghoulies, and don’t even get me started on Gears of War! Just the opening melancholy notes from the unforgettable ad get my baubles a jangling. I realised something I’d probably always known, just like certain songs, regardless of their content, will whisk me away to summers past, there are certain games that will take me straight to the heart of winter.
And Winter is coming. The nights are already well and truly in, the wind is colder, and before we know it another Christmas Day will be upon us. Almost without fail up and down the land another game is about to become the one that makes us glaze over for a moment as we recall playing, surrounded by our loving family, as the wafting aroma of cooking turkey hangs in the air. The gentle lights and shimmering ornaments of the tree, pulled crackers, murderous Gremlins, and jolly songs, as wives and husbands, mothers and fathers gently whisper in our ear, “Put that ******* controller down you ignorant ******, it’s Christmas!”
And God bless us, everyone.