So, yes, Christmas appears to be coming. Ho, ho, ho, and all that frivolous codswallop. I don’t know about you, but I’ll probably spend the festive season locked away in self-imposed, solitary confinement as I silently bemoan the folly of mankind as a degenerative species. Just like always, basically.
For most folks with a modicum of seasonal cheer, however, Christmas is a time of recumbent downtime, a short-lived window of opportunity to indulge in one’s most treasured pastimes. For many, that means gaming. And lots of it.
Naturally, then, a substantial number of stockings will be fit to bursting point with boxed gaming products from angsty relatives who dived headfirst into the high street electronics shops, all whilst attempting frantically to conceal their faces, lest their pals from the local Conservative Club get any strange ideas. Retail games, therefore, are currently riding a wave of financial gain that will see them through to the new year with more brandy and egg nog than they can poison a visiting Jehovah’s Witness with, and it’s hardly surprising, given the ever-widening scope of the gaming industry’s appeal in the mainstream.
How about sparing a penny or two for a few indie-related gaming goodness for those special ones in your life, though? Why not spread a little seasonal goodwill, courtesy of those wonderful little upstart studios that get overshadowed by their big-time counterparts? Without further ado, let me present to you the Indie Game Christmas Gift Guide 2011.
For the long-suffering partner/spouse – SHATTER
Simple to dive into and devilishly tricky to put away, Shatter is the perfect way to help your better half empathise with the gaming addictions that have plagued your life ever since that life-changing first foray into the zany world of interactive computer entertainment. Watch as her scepticism transforms into long-term enslavement at the hands of this brick-breaking bag of fun, and rejoice in the knowledge that she’ll never again emerge from her four surrounding walls, never to meet a better romantic suitor.
For the maniacal, sociopathic brother – ZOMBIE DRIVER
What’s not to love about mowing down wave after wave of zombies in an urban setting, especially if you’re one of those sanguinary ruffians amused only by the sickening crunch of organic bone and tissue beneath the suspension of your pimped-up motor vehicle. Nothing; that’s what, and that’s precisely why Zombie Driver is the ideal distraction from your wayward sibling’s inevitable descent into real life ram-raiding and happy slapping. And video games are supposed to encourage violence? No, they merely delay it.
For the pensive, methodical sister embarking on a career of academic study – SPACECHEM
For the laterally-minded do-gooders of society, SpaceChem is a veritable adventure playground. Packing a sizable challenge but boasting a relaxing, inoffensive ambience, it’s just the thing for the meticulous student who prefers to avoid the fast-paced, megalomaniacal anarchy of the action genre. Its raft of astonishing community-created content is also in a state of constant growth, ensuring that the challenge never dissipates and that the game’s status as a value-for-money extravaganza never wanes.
For the father content to enjoy the traditional televised films – LIMBO
This one’s a peach, as you might well know. OK, maybe Limbo doesn’t seem like the first choice for a Christmas present, but hear (read) me out. It’s short, artistic, memorable and devoid of grating sound-effects and ear-sodomising musical scores. Basically, it’s a nice fit for a weary old soul with limited leisure time, and it offers a couple of evenings’ worth of father-son/daughter bonding as you share a truly unique gaming experience.
For the self-conscious grandmother desperately trying to master the rigours of modern technology – THE CLOCKWORK MAN: THE HIDDEN WORLD
Sod the controllers and the rapid keyboard-mouse co-ordination; point-and-click based hidden object games are what the oldies like. Not only is The Clockwork Man welcoming and intuitive for beginners, but it’s also backed up with an engaging story, a set of likeable characters and an endearing artistic style, and that’s no small feat for a game ostensibly built around a concept comparable to Where’s Wally (or Waldo if you’re American).
For your Uncle Jerry, the shifty-eyed menace who beat you up in public – SUPER MEAT BOY
Uncle Jerry’s a jerk, but why let that get in the way of the season of goodwill amongst men? This is a time to wipe the slate clean, to let bygones be bygones.
Wait, who am I fooling? Uncle Jerry needs punishing, and a ball-breakingly difficult game like Super Meat Boy’s the perfect poison. Bellow with mirthful laughter and schadenfreude as his little red avatar is splattered to death for the umpteenth time in succession, and then shield your eyes as his vengeful fist collides solidly with the monitor screen. How does that feel, Uncle Jerry? I bet you won’t put that branding iron anywhere near my anal region any time soon, will you?
While it’s true that the potential aversion to digital distribution, particularly at a time when tangible gifts are considered more or less mandatory, is a likely pitfall to this shopping scheme, there’s a very real chance that some people out there could be introduced to independent gaming magic in late December. They may laugh at you and they may disown you for your lack of forethought, but the more open-minded of your loved, or hated, ones might just win the day and bring a new face into the gaming community. It’s a long shot, but a shot all the same.
Do you have any gaming-related plans for the holidays, or is Christmas a time of self-imposed exile from the gaming medium? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments section below and, above all else, stay safe in the bleak, wintry weather. Or, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, have fun in the blazing sunshine and, from the bottom of my heart, I envy and hate you all.