Monsters and Mistletoe

Monsters and Mistletoe
The (Slightly More Than) Twelve Games of Christmas

Chris LaVigne | 2 Dec 2008 12:33
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Maybe it was too much to hope for an original, A+ Christmas title. I tried a couple of licensed Game Boy Advance games, but they were terrible. The Santa Clause 3 was just generic platforming with the occasional picture of Tim Allen in between levels. The game based on the movie Elf was dreadful. I regard the moments spent playing it among the worst in my life.

I moved on to titles that were holiday-themed re-skins or expansions of other games. They played like transparent attempts to cash in on the season by throwing in a couple candy canes and covering the ground with snow. Holiday Lemmings, Jazz Jackrabbit: Holiday Hare and The Sims 2: Holiday Party Pack seemed festive, but were emotionally hollow. Like the horrible He-Man Christmas special I watched as a kid, selling holiday levels for pre-existing games certainly captures the consumerism of Christmas, but not the spirit.

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Some non-holiday titles like Bully and Animal Crossing offer seasonal content. People in World of Warcraft celebrate Winter Veil, a Christmas stand-in that can provide some holiday feelings amidst the usual monster-killing and dungeon-crawling. Residents of Second Life celebrate Christmas online, although a rain of festive penises may not be everyone's definition of "merry."

Still, I hadn't found a dedicated Christmas game worthy of adding to my yearly traditions. I turned to the realm of casual gaming. I played Holly: A Christmas Tale and Christmasville, both mildly amusing holiday-themed games from the Where's Waldo-esque hidden-object genre. I tried Santa's Super Friends, where you match toy parts together. I dabbled with Believe in Sandy: Holiday Story, where you process orders for toy shop customers. A website called Santa's Arcade offered some fleeting holiday fare with interesting premises (i.e. Christmas Zombie Defence and Pimp My Sleigh), but most were playable for only a few seconds before turning annoying. Nothing in the casual genres felt any more festive than a Christmas-themed word search or crossword puzzle.

I ended my quest disheartened. Given the task of creating a holiday title, developers just plugged generic gameplay into a superficial seasonal setting. They proved unable or unwilling to build something unique where the gameplay itself would evoke the Christmas spirit. Christmas isn't about double-jumping between floating platforms, matching puzzles or killing bad guys. The conflicts involved during the holidays aren't the external ones developers are used to. A Christmas game ought to make players feel happy, spend time with family and encourage an increased amount of caring about the world. For now, though, no game captures Christmas the way movies, music and literature do. Maybe the gamer generation is too ironic and cynical to embrace a game built around such earnest, idealistic feelings. For now, I'm still optimistic. Someday I'll find a great Christmas game I can incorporate into my holiday traditions.

Chris LaVigne wishes Escapist readers all the best for the holidays. May your gift pile contain a high videogames-to-ugly-sweaters ratio.

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