A Gamer's Guide to Holiday Gatherings

BY Jace Proctor  //  November 25, 2009

Our hobby has a place in Thanksgiving.


oming from a family that doesn't share my passion for electronic gaming, I know how frustrating the holiday season can sometimes be. Being around family, friends, and loved ones is wonderful, but when they don't share in your favorite recreational activities, you can sometimes find yourself at a loss for words.

My family is big on reading, singing, and talking to one another, and while I love them dearly, I would love nothing more than to replace a few of their books with controllers or slide a Rock Band drum kit in front of the person awkwardly playing the piano during dessert. It seems like a big waste to have so many people, tables, and chairs in a house and not throw a LAN party. This is how my brain works. My family thinks I'm weird, but they're wrong. They just don't know it yet. Allow me to illustrate.

While I love my family dearly, I would love nothing more than to replace a few of their books with controllers.When I was five, my family moved from South Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Nevada mountains on the border of California and Nevada, to Fort Worth, Texas. We drove a U-Haul the entire way, and my illustrious place in this cross-country journey was the two-foot gap behind the bench seat in the cab of the U-Haul truck. This space definitely wasn't intended to hold a human being for any length of time, and it was a thoroughly miserable experience even at five years old; so to make amends for shoving me back there for 2,000 miles, my mother bought me something truly magical: a Game Boy. I had the original grey brick model, with the lemon-lime-Gatorade-colored screen, and it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. I had Tetris, Dr. Mario, and a few other games that I don't remember, and that was the only thing that kept me from driving my parents insane during our journey halfway across the United States.

Sometime during the trip, my grandmother (who was traveling with us) picked up my Game Boy and started playing Tetris. I've never asked her why she did and she's never volunteered to say; she never took any interest in my NES or my blossoming video game obsession before, aside from the occasional Christmas or birthday present that she didn't understand in the slightest. But when my grandmother picked up Tetris and started playing it, it changed her life forever. She never got tired of it in almost twenty years. She went from my Game Boy, to her own Game Boy, to a Game Boy Color, Advanced, SP, and finally a DS, through countless iterations of the same Tetris formula. From the time I was five years old until just a few years ago, when she lost most of her eyesight due to macular degeneration, there was rarely a day when she wasn't playing Tetris. It was always and still is a secret source of pride for me, and even though she can't play anymore, I know that we will always share fond memories and an awesome, unique bond because of that game.

Not all video games are for everyone, but everyone has a video game that they'll enjoy.The point of that story is this: not all video games are for everyone, but everyone has a video game that they'll enjoy. With the sheer volume and variety of games out there now, I'm firmly convinced that anyone can become a gamer. The trick is finding a game they like. In order to do this, hardcore gamers such as myself are sometimes forced to look outside the normal go-to titles and genres. The big releases that the gaming world tends to look forward to these days are usually huge multiplayer offerings like first person shooters or MMOs, or epic story pieces like the titles in the Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, or Grand Theft Auto franchises. These examples, while demonstrating some of the best aspects of modern video games, are not the easiest games to pick up and play. They require significant time investments for a variety of reasons; to master the controls, experience the full story, or level up; and the nuances that set these games apart as leaders in their respective fields often go unappreciated by non-gamers.

In order to help, I've assembled a brief list of holiday-friendly games. These are games that have high local multiplayer factors, simple controls, little to no steep learning curves, and small time investments required; perfect for gatherings where video games might not normally make an appearance. They don't sacrifice on the things that gamers appreciate, like intuitive menus, good graphics, solid level design, balance, etc.; but they are accessible enough to appeal to those who don't consider video games a passion or even a hobby. Above all, they're fun. For convenience I've broken down the list by console, with a special category at the end for games available on all platforms.

If you find yourself attending a gathering of family or friends where there's a console present, run out and rent one of these games! Instead of keeping the console tucked away in a cabinet or entertainment center because it's "not for everyone," you can bust it out and show your less-than-savvy relatives that video games come in all shapes and sizes. From golfing to shooting zombies to trivia, there's sure to be something that anyone will appreciate and have fun with. You might even discover that you have something in common with someone that you barely knew. The whole point of video games is to have fun, so break out your consoles this holiday season, put a controller in someone's hand, and celebrate everyone's favorite time of year in true, unapologetic, gamer style.


Wii Sports/Wii Sports Resort. Wii Tennis and Wii Golf still remain two of my favorite things to do on the Wii, even after years of "more advanced" tennis and golf games. The simple fun of tennis, bowling, or golf is hard to deny. With 17 sports across both titles and 1:1 motion control with the Wii Motion Plus, your relatives are sure to find something they identify with and enjoy.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii. This might be the hardest sell in the Wii category, but I think it has the most potential for fun, too. The opportunity for mischief in this game could lead to some thrilling and potentially legendary family feuds. Of course, I guess the possibility for cooperation, bonding, and love also exists, depending on whether or not you actually like your family members.

Xbox 360

Left 4 Dead/Left 4 Dead 2. This might scare some of your less savvy relatives away, but as far as first person shooters go, L4D and its sequel are remarkably intuitive and easy to learn. The thrill of navigating through a level, rescuing each other and banding together to overcome the zombie horde, is something that makes this game irresistible in group settings.

Geometry Wars 2. Besides being brilliant to look at, this game offers some of the best, fastest, and easiest to learn local multiplayer available today. The controls couldn't be simpler, and even with the new modes in GW2, gameplay is incredibly easy to learn. Despite the lack of complexities there's enough challenge and depth here to keep you busy well into the new year, and it's cheap!

PlayStation 3

LittleBigPlanet. The gameplay of this platformer couldn't be simpler — guide your little sack dude to the end of the level. What makes this game wonderful, aside from the lovable aesthetic, is the huge variety of content and the cooperative level design. Working together to scale an obstacle or solve a puzzle in LBP is one of the most satisfying and enriching things one can do on a console.

Buzz! Quiz World. I almost shied away from including this title because of the proprietary controllers, but I can't deny the fun of competitive trivia. Buzz! is one of the strongest trivia offerings on any platform, sporting a huge variety of categories, different play modes, the ability to write your own questions, and impressive graphics. It even calls you by name. Perfect for family settings.

Bonus Category

Rock Band/Guitar Hero/etc. This is the obvious choice for gatherings, and it isn't hard to figure out why. Even with the instruments possessing a somewhat steep learning curve, it's hard for people to say no to these games. I can't count how many of my non-gamer friends I've introduced to Rock Band, and almost without exception people seem to love the experience. With such a huge variety of music available via the base games themselves, track packs, and DLC, people are bound to find a few of their favorite songs to jam along with. Guitar Hero 5 makes swapping people in and out incredibly easy, Rock Band: The Beatles supports up to 7 people with the additional microphones, and Band Hero introduces more adolescent-friendly songs with pop artists like Taylor Swift. There's so much variety, unless you absolutely hate the plastic instrument experience you're bound to enjoy these games.

(Author's note: Special thanks to Ryan for helping me with the list, and lots of love to my Nana, who turned 85 on the 18th.)

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