Dos and don’ts of video game shopping

by manylaughs on December 14, 2012

With the holidays upon us and the pressure building to get presents for everyone who counts and lots of people who don’t, it’s time for a little gift giving advice. This is a reprint of an article I originally did for the Examiner. It was published in December, 2009, but the sage advice still holds true, today.


They lit the National Christmas Tree down on the Ellipse on Thursday. The First Family was in attendance and the ceremony was broadcast throughout the country. In Washington, D.C., the lighting of the National Tree is wonderful sign the Christmas season is upon us.

It’s also a big old, multicolored, warning beacon telling us we’d better get our butts off the sofa and go to Tyson’s Corner or Mazza Gallerie or wherever we do our shopping and buy something for our loved ones.

While the hot, slobbering breath of the Christmas-shopping hounds may not be on our necks – not yet – we can hear them howling in the distance.

The pressure to buy a gift – Any gift! – can lead to very uncomfortable Christmas moments. You know the ones. It’s Christmas day, your 16-year-old daughter is opening that present, the one you picked out for her, personally. “Is it a game?” she asks. She’s all excited. “You just have to open it to find out,” you say. You’re all excited, too; you just know she’s going to love it.

She quickly tears off the wrapping, and when she discovers you’ve bought her Hannah Montana’s Music Jam there’s no giddiness or shouts of joy like you expected. Just silence, silence you couldn’t cut with a chainsaw.

She manages to be polite – like you taught her – and says, “Thank you, Daddy.” and you even get a kiss, but you know you did the wrong thing. You glance at your wife, and she leans over to you and whispers, “She really wanted Assassin’s Creed, dear.”

Here are some Dos and Don’ts to help you avoid that chainsaw-silence on Christmas day:

Do Buy For The Right Platform
The person you’re buying a game for might own a PS3, an Xbox, a PC and a Mac. Different games play better on different platforms. Sorry. This does make things more confusing, but it’s true. Massively multiplayer games, like Aion or Champions Online, tend to play better on PCs or Macs, probably due to their heavy emphasis on pointing-and-clicking. Fight games, like Tekken or Street Fighter, play better on consoles. The arcade controls of a console are just better suited for fight games than a keyboard.

Also, some people just want to play their games on their console. Just because that person has a PC or Mac, don’t assume they want to play games on it. Many people use their home computer for school work and emails and browsing the web. In their minds, game playing is for their game console.

Do Check The Minimum System Requirements
Every PC game has a minimum system requirement. Without a certain amount of memory, graphics power or CPU speed, they probably won’t run. If you can, get the system configuration for your gift recipient’s PC. You don’t want to buy a game they can’t play

Don’t Buy The Game Based On The Movie or TV Show

Games inspired by a movie or TV show are usually rushed to market. They are specifically targeted to take advantage of an audience that needs more Transformers, Avatar, CSI, Hannah Montana or what have you. They might satisfy that clambering need for more-more-more, but they’re not going to be very good games. There are exceptions like The Simpsons: Hit and Run or The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher’s Bay, but those are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Do Check The Ratings
We don’t want Congress involved in our computer games, anymore, so please check the ratings on those computer games before you buy. Some games, well many games, are not meant for kids. Computer games can be violent and bloody and, sometimes, sexual. If you don’t want your kids exposed to these things, don’t buy games for them that aren’t appropriate for their age.

There’s a rating guide on every computer game. It’s there to help you. Read it, please.

Don’t Gender Identify (aka Being Sexist)
Do not assume your daughter or girlfriend or wife wants to play The Sims because that game is all about building communities, and women love that kind of thing because they’re nurturers. Don’t be sexist moron.

Girls, gals, women play it all. They play Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Champions Online, Rock Band and Tekken. They play it all. They like to role play and blow things up and pwn the other boy, guy, man, just like the rest of us.

Do Ask
Really. Just ask. Ask the person you’re buying a gift for, “Which game do you want?” How easy is that? Then, when they open their gift on Christmas day, you can avoid those silences you couldn’t cut with a chainsaw and the gift recipient might even be giddy and happy.

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