Unwrapping our favorite holiday gaming memories

The holidays can be a special (or stressful) time. In a best-case scenario, it means getting to spend some time with loved ones and soaking in some warm vibes at the end of a hectic year. Holidays like Christmas are about more than gift-giving; they’re the rare moments in any given year where it feels like peace on Earth could be possible.

But, of course, the presents don’t hurt. Memorable gifts can create formative memories for kids and adults alike. That’s the entire premise of the classic A Christmas Story, which builds a coming-of-age story around a coveted Red Ryder Range 200 Shot BB gun. Some presents take on a symbolic quality, whether they get kids interested in something that will one day become part of their career or bring them closer to their family.

This Christmas, I’ve asked the Digital Trends gaming team to share some reflections on the most memorable video game gifts they’ve ever received. The following anecdotes aren’t just humblebrags about cool presents; there’s meaning behind each gift. Some would allow them to finally see themselves represented in gaming, while others would inadvertently lead them to a career in it. In the end, it really is the thought that counts.

Giovanni Colantonio, Section Lead

A Nintendo GameCube sits on a table with Luigi's Mansion.

When I was a wee child, I was something of a Nintendo fanboy. I got caught up in the console wars of my age and was on the frontlines when the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox went head to head in 2001. During that naïve time, I had made Xbox my nemesis for no apparent reason. My father, always the jokester, would twist the knife on Christmas morning in 2001 when he’d wrap a console-sized box and place a printed-out Xbox logo on top of it. Considering that I was waiting to unwrap a GameCube that morning, I was furious. Thankfully, I’d get one at the end of the morning, along with Pikmin and Super Smash Bros. Melee. It’s a cherished day I still remember as I stared at my old living room TV in wonder all day.

That memory sticks with me today as heated console wars continue to rage on. I’m more mature now and know not to be a “fan” of any company. I own every system and have no emotional attachment to any; they’re just devices that run games. Still, I remember what it was like to be in that headspace and how my father effectively pranked me about such a ridiculous allegiance as a kid. So this Christmas, I send out warm wishes to all the “Sony Ponies” and “Xbots.” I wish you well on your own coming-of-age journey as you learn to separate yourself from the brands and corporations vying to define your personality.

And if you’re a grown adult who still believes in the console wars, wait until I tell you about this Santa Claus guy.

Tomas Franzese, Staff Writer

The original Xbox sits on a table.

I owe my love of gaming almost entirely to Christmas gifts I’ve received in my lifetime. While I don’t remember exactly when I got my Game Boy Advance or Nintendo DS growing up, I still remember getting an Xbox bundled with NCAA Football 2005 and Top Spin for Christmas one year. Chosen by my dad because he read that it was the most powerful of the game consoles currently on the market, this was my first true exposure to console gaming. The next year, I got the original Lego Star Wars and Star Wars Battlefront II, the latter of which is still my favorite game of all time.

These gifts cemented my love of gaming at an early age, and even though my parents did not know it at the time — I think my mom was actually against my brother and me getting an Xbox — it began the domino effect that would result in me writing about the video game industry as my career (I’ll take that printed-out Xbox logo now, Giovanni).

Jacob Roach, Senior Computing Staff Writer

The Nintendo Wii stands tall.

I learned at an early age that asking for games for Christmas was a quick way to end up with a stack of shovelware from Kohl’s. There was one year I knew exactly what I wanted, though: the Nintendo Wii. Any unfortunate soul looking for the console around the holidays in 2006 knows how difficult it was to find one in stock. The Wii was dynamite, and they couldn’t stay in stock.

I asked anyway, pooling together gift budgets from a handful of family members but never expecting it actually to show up. Then, a few days before Christmas, I walked into my living room to my mom setting the console up before school. It turns out my mom had a friend who worked on a truck doing deliveries to a local Best Buy, and she was able to get an inside track into picking up one of the consoles before they ever hit the shelf.

Over the holiday break, I was hooked to Wii Sports, without a concern about any other game available on the platform (it was slim pickings around launch). I eventually moved on, picking Twilight Princess, Super Mario Galaxy, Brawl, and even a lot of AA releases (shoutout to The Conduit). The Wii was so impactful on me that I even started writing mock reviews of games, hoping one day to land a job doing just that. And here I am. So, thanks, mom.

Carli Velocci, Gaming Contributor

A Wii Fit box sits on a blank background.

As an adult who writes about video games for a living, my childhood experiences with them were too sporadic to be impactful in the way they are for many writers. Video games weren’t for me or my sister as much as they were for the family or my father (whose love of video games extended only to his PC driving simulator, which lasted for around a year). That didn’t change in 2007 when we were surprised with a Wii for the Christmas holiday.

I grew up in a household that was very focused on weight, and we didn’t always take the healthiest approaches. My mom bought me Dance Dance Revolution for the PS2 along with a squishy mat, not so I could have fun but because the news told her it was good exercise. And if you remember, 2007 and 2008 was the year of Wii Fit, specifically Wii Sports. Sure, my house now had a Wii, but it was mostly so we could play virtual bowling and do some easy yoga with the Wii Fit Trainer. My relationship with these movement-based video games wasn’t the healthiest for a while. I would come home after school and play 45 minutes of Wii Fit. It’s a solid habit, but it was done for the wrong reasons.

Thankfully, that did change, and quickly. Because, as it turns out, Wii Sports and Wii Fit are not only good video games, but they’re kind in their approach to fitness. Wii Sports caught on among children and in nursing homes because it had broad appeal (everybody loves fake sports!) and wasn’t prohibitively challenging. That meant me or my sister could play it, but so could my mom, who dealt with chronic pain. During a time when we did a few activities as a family, it offered something we could all do.

Wii Fit is similar in that it didn’t throw you into intense workouts off the bat, but the game was also never about losing weight or doing the toughest moves for bragging rights. The Wii Fit Trainer is a soft presence that congratulates you for even the most basic moves. No matter how many minutes you do, they’ll tell you that you did a good job. This is an ethos I’ve not only taken into adulthood during my fitness journey, but it showed that video games could offer experiences I never expected.

So in 2007, way later than some of my peers, I learned that games were kind of cool, actually. And I somehow dedicated my life to covering them as a result.

Cristina Alexander, Gaming Contributor

Sora, Mickey, Goofy, and more in Kingdom Hearts 2.
Square Enix

In 2006, my first year of middle school, I was hip-deep into anime and wanted Kingdom Hearts for Christmas. I was eager to dip my toes into the series, as I loved the idea of anime characters (in this case, Final Fantasy characters) interacting with my favorite Disney icons. My brother Mikey, a freshman in high school at the time, highly recommended Kingdom Hearts 2 because it’s better than the first game, going by the testimony of his classmates.

Come Christmas Day, I unwrapped my rectangular present to find a copy of Kingdom Hearts 2, its iridescent cover glistening underneath the South Florida sunlight beaming through the living room window. I couldn’t wait to start playing it on my PS2, but since my family and I were flying to New York immediately, I had to wait another week.

Once I got home after New Year’s, I popped the Kingdom Hearts 2 disc into the PS2, turned up Sanctuary by Hikaru Utada (who had become my favorite J-Pop artist well before then) as the opening cutscene gave the recap of the first game and Chain of Memories. I quickly sank into the game’s story, from Roxas discovering he’s the Nobody of Sora trapped in a virtual simulation of Twilight Town to Sora awakening from his year-long slumber along with Donald and Goofy in the real Twilight Town after merging with Roxas and going off on a journey to find Riku and Kairi once more, new wardrobe and all.

Kingdom Hearts 2 was the most impactful gaming Christmas gift for me because it taught me that sometimes it’s better to start a game series with a sequel than with the original game. A decade later, when I played Kingdom Hearts Final Mix in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5+2.5 Remix in college, I came to appreciate my brother doing me a favor by having me start the series with the second game than the first one, as the controls and gameplay in the sequel are more user-friendly. Thanks, Mikey.

Jesse Lennox, Gaming Contributor

Characters fight in DragonballZ Budokai 2.

I can’t recall my exact age, but one key year occurred when I was still taking my Christmas list very seriously. This was one of just two or three times in a year where I could count on getting a new game, so I had to pick carefully. That year, the choice was easy: Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3. Like so many others, I was exposed to the anime through Toonami and instantly became enamored. I already owned the first game and, despite how basic it was, loved to be able to play as those larger-than-life characters finally. Perhaps in an effort to throw me off the trail, my mother mentioned that I shouldn’t be expecting “that Dragon Ball game” because it was too violent. That only made me more sure I would be seeing it under the tree.

When that fateful morning arrived, I instantly recognized the unmistakable shape of a PS2 box wrapped below the tree. I didn’t go straight for it, parsing out some other gifts first to build up to my “big” one. When it was finally time, and I pulled off the paper, and I could lay eyes on the box, my heart sank. What I held in my hand was none other than Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2. I don’t know if it was a misunderstanding of my list, a simple mistake at the store, or what, but I had very specifically not wanted 2. That entry was as antithetical to 3 as possible, trading in open-world exploration for a board game-style design. Sure, they were both fighters at the end of the day, but I wanted to fly around the Dragon Ball world!

I felt my heart and excitement sink, but also my mother’s eyes on me. I didn’t want to disappoint her by making her feel like she let me down, so I did my best to look excited and pretend it was the game I wanted. On some level, even as a somewhat young kid, I understood Christmas wasn’t really about getting exactly what you wanted, but feeling good making someone else happy and creating warm memories together. I’m sure it wouldn’t have ruined the day, but I still wanted to try and make my mom feel like she did right by me. Because, in so many ways, she did.

I played the game all morning and made sure never to sell it to this day. Thank you, mom, for Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2: a game I hate but a memory I cherish.

Deangelo Epps, Gaming Contributor

A Nintendo Wii U gamepad flat on a table.

I was around 15 or 16 during my last big Christmas, so I knew the days when I’d get an ocean of presents were nearly over for me. In 2012, I was ready to get my hopes up for one final great gift: the Nintendo Wii U. An ironic wish in hindsight, I know, but I’ve always loved and still love the Wii U now.

I remember waking up that morning and just waiting to see it. I opened present after present, slowly running out of faith that I’d see my Wii U. Were my dreams of playing it with my siblings on Christmas Day over? When my parents said, “Hey, I think there’s one more present in the closet we forgot,” I couldn’t believe my ears. I’m sure if you’ve seen A Christmas Story, you can guess what was in the closet waiting for me.

I rushed to open the door and saw my black Wii U. I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day. All I remember from then on was hours of playing Bayonetta 2 and Nintendo Land (the best Nintendo pack-in game ever) with my siblings. That memory always comes to mind when I think of Christmas, and I can’t help but love my family that much more whenever it or the Wii U comes up. I wish my Gamepad didn’t break a few years back so I could actually go down memory lane.

Jess Reyes, Gaming Contributor

A banner image advertises Pokémon Crystal.

Back in the early 2000s, I didn’t have the internet to regularly update me on my favorite gaming franchises, but I somehow found out about Pokémon Crystal. Christmas was an occasion to ask for something big, so I told my dad this was my choice for the year. Pokémon was the first gaming franchise I really enjoyed. I didn’t care to ask when Galaga 2 or the next Donkey Kong would come out, but Pokémon Yellow (along with the anime) had me thinking about those pocket monsters way longer than other games. My parents already gifted my sister and me Pokémon Silver and Gold, but she didn’t play them. I played both of them for the exclusives and traded between our two Game Boys.

My dad asked me what was so important about Pokémon Crystal. I explained that it had this girl (Crystal) as the main character instead of the usual dude that players control. I wasn’t thinking anything deep about women’s representation, but I felt excited about finally playing a Pokémon game as a girl. Just like me.

I don’t really remember how I sold him on that pitch. When you think about it, it’s really just the same game but with a girl and a few exclusive Pokémon. Still, I went downstairs on Christmas Day to unwrap a copy of Pokémon Crystal. I booted it up on my Game Boy, reset it until I got a female Totodile (you know, for Daycare reasons), and started my third journey through Johto.

Moral of the story: Women! They matter!

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Courtesy by: Digital Trends

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