Ah, Christmas!

It’s a magical time of year. The off-key singing of Christmas carols. The fire hazard of dry pine trees decorated with strands of short-circuiting electrical lights. The barely enthusiastic expression on your son’s face after he unwraps his brand new videogame and thanks you with a forced smile.

Yes, years ago your young one would jump all over the living room on Christmas morning proudly touting his newly acquired bit of gaming goodness with unbridled glee. But as he got older that youthful enthusiasm faded with each passing year.

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Well, you can’t really blame him. After all, you’ve bought the boy a videogame every Christmas since he was old enough to hold a controller. That makes you awesome. It also makes you predictable. You see, he’s expecting the gift of gaming now. He also happens to be an expert on the exact size, shape and weight of a wrapped game, so he knows what’s under the wrapping paper before he ever tears it off. It’s not that he isn’t grateful, he’s just not surprised. What can you do?

Fear not, wayward parents, for I have several tips for keeping your gamer guessing on Christmas morning. You see, it’s all in the delivery. Giving him a game in a way he isn’t expecting will make things a lot more fun and drag a genuine smile out of him.

The Decoy
First thing’s first. This particular strategy relies on the fact that console games come in DVD cases. If you’re buying a hand-held or computer game, skip this section.

Still here? Awesome.

OK, as I noted above, if you simply wrap the game as is, the shape and weight will be enough to tip young Sherlock off to its contents. But that’s OK. You’re going to use this to your advantage.

Buy a pack of empty DVD cases. They usually come in packs of 10, but you really only need five. Now, you’re a smart cookie, so you’ve probably already figured out where I’m going with this, wrap the empty cases individually and put them under the tree with the wrapped game. Junior will see the similarly sized gifts under the tree and won’t know which one’s the videogame.

That is, until he picks them up.

You can’t underestimate the little guy. To him, the weight difference between a game and an empty DVD case is a dead giveaway. The problem is the game’s instruction manual. Simulate the extra weight by stuffing a dozen index cards into each case. Throw in a blank DVD, too, if you have some lying around. Now you have five or six similarly-weighted and -sized boxes under the tree, and he won’t know which one is the diamond in the rough.

See that smile creeping across the boy’s face as he discovers the first empty case? He knows he’s getting a game but sees that you’re mixing things up a bit. You’re making Christmas morning more fun, and he appreciates that.

The Disguise
A wrapped DVD case is easy to spot. Two or three stacked together? Not so much.

Take that console game and bundle it with two or three empty cases, or better yet, bargain-bin DVDs. If you really want to throw him off, don’t stack them neatly. Wrap them with one facing one way and one facing the other. It makes a cross. Imagine what it looks like wrapped. Alternatively, you can wrap two games side by side. Just put a piece of cardboard above and below to help the package keep its shape.

This can also work with hand-held games. They’re usually cheaper, so if you can afford to bundle a two or three together, go for it.

A less fun but certainly cheaper way to disguise your gift is to simply drop the game in a padded mailing envelope and wrap it that way.

Buying a computer game? Well, if the fruit of your loins is still into action figures, stack one on top of the game box and wrap them together. You’ll have a gift with a very odd shape. He’ll never guess what it is. Unless he’s the last son of Krypton, in which case he has X-ray vision and you’re SOL no matter what you do.

The Infiltrator
The garment box.

All children know and fear the garment box. Its contents routinely bear something embarrassing, from underwear to a hideous sweater that would have been out of style in the ’70s.

For this strategy, you’re going to hide the game inside the garment. You know you can’t resist buying clothes for your pride and joy, so don’t try. Just make sure you fold the game inside the garment. That way, when Junior picks up the package to give it a good shake, all he’ll hear is the familiar sound of a garment wrapped in tissue paper sliding back and forth.

If you’re feeling particularly devious, combine this method with the Decoy. Wrap five or so empty DVD cases (with the index cards, of course) and stick them under the tree with the garment box. Junior will tear through all the empty DVD cases looking for his game before he gets around to the garment box. This is especially effective if you pulled the Decoy on him last year.

Eventually his game hunt will come up dry and he’ll dejectedly reach for the garment box. He won’t be expecting a game. His mind will be preoccupied with the inevitably embarrassing set of clothes he knows you expect him to parade around in. In fact, he may not even find the game until he’s in his room trying on his snazzy new duds.

Just be aware that in his excitement he may run out half naked, so have the camera ready.

The Absconder
Don’t wrap it.

Huh?

That’s right, this year it’s not going under the tree. Instead, after Santa’s done stuffing the stockings, have him sneak the game disc into Junior’s console. Later that morning, after all the gifts have been opened, invite your disappointed-but-trying-not-to-show-it child to play a game he already has. Watch the expression on his face as he discovers what’s already in his console. Haven’t seen a smile that wide in a while, have you?

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Warning! Know your gamer. To many, opening a game package is akin to a religious experience. Creative as he may find your gift-giving tactics, he may be a bit miffed that you opened his game. How would you like it if someone opened your Hickory Farms gift basket of meats and cheeses before presenting it as a Christmas gift?

Here’s a rule of thumb: If the boy uses a razor to open his game packages and displays them on a shelf in alphabetical order, you should probably choose a different strategy.

The Mimic
This is an evil one. You’ll love it.

Put the game inside a computer software box. Something Junior would never want or use. Say, Turbo Tax. Imagine the look on his face after he unwraps his new gift. Relish that confused look. Amuse at his feeble attempts to look grateful while trying to hide his thoughts of “Why the hell did they buy me this?”

Now enjoy his reaction as he pulls out the game he’s always wanted. Hand in hand, skip merrily to the game room and play it together.

Miyamoto Bless Us, Every One!
And that’s all there is to it! If you’re looking for something other than the typical lackadaisical reception of your gaming gift, simply take my advice and enjoy the beaming smile it brings to your young one’s face on Christmas morning.

Feels good to make the little bugger so happy, doesn’t it? Enjoy it, you awesome parent you!

Now, what are you going to do next Christmas?

Santa’s Game Shop

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