Five Gold Rings
Christmas gets its sticky, red beak into everything.
It begins with the painfully slow encroach of dreadful Christmas TV adverts that start months in advance before we suddenly find ourselves awash with monotonous Christmas songs from yesteryear, replayed once again for our aural pleasure. But fear not: at least one of these choice numbers will be re-imagined for the 21st century by some eager-beaver actors who’ve signed themselves up for yet another banal Christmas rom-com that your partner’s hell bent on dragging you to. Twice. And as the festive climax approaches, we’ll be treated to an endless stream of nauseating, shoehorned Christmas TV specials in every format imaginable from the painful, downtrodden misery of drama through to the pompous, self-righteous quips of politics. This will all be set to the merry backdrop of a steady stream of emotionless Christmas cards covered in everything from granny-friendly artwork to supposedly streetwise comic strips. And to put the icing on this wonderful Christmas cake of entertainment joy, you’ll be expected to buy at least one needy, overindulged child a horribly clichéd storybook and, if you’re really lucky, you’ll have the pleasure of taking them to see some sugar-coated Christmas pantomime starring somebody that was once upon a time famous.
Everything is saturated by bloody Christmas; everything except for … games?
Granted, there’s a range of terrible festive Apps around but I’m talking about full-fat home console games here, which there’s an undisputable lack of. But why has gaming been left so unscathed by the festive juggernaut? Particularly so in this console generation, despite it being the one that’s seen the medium’s popularity explode across new platforms and demographics. Even when we look back, aside from the rather mediocre Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie’s Revenge in 2005 on Xbox and GBA and 1991’s rather superb James Pond 2 on Atari ST and Amiga, you’re hard pushed to find a) any Christmas games or b) ones that are not based on Christmas films.
It seems somewhat bizarre that a medium so famed for its creativity (and its desire to print cash) would be so averse to delving into a creative honey pot that’s guaranteed to capture global attention. Even this season’s paltry Xbox’s Live festive promotion has struggled to muster up anything truly festive other than some rather lame avatar clothing.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m quite thankful that we’re not lowering ourselves to the average standard of our cultural brethren by pumping out unnecessary bilge each year but I’m also more than a little disappointed by the fact that we haven’t stepped up to the plate to create something truly worthy of this magical and captivating time of year. Whatever your feelings on the big, red festive season are, you can’t deny that it’s a deeply rich playground of source material with just enough parameters to keep the design process focused but more than enough scope to afford developers the freedom to be as creative and original as they’d like to be.
Direct comparisons between creative mediums are always difficult ones to make but whilst the cost of recording a song may be relatively low, a film represents a comparative level of investment to a game, so why haven’t any of the major players rolled their sleeves up? Perhaps it’s because games are notoriously difficult to deliver on time and, well, if you’re late for Christmas, you may as well not bother until next year. There’s also the strong argument that a multi-million pound AAA production may well fall foul of gamer’s cynicism and end up being a rather embarrassing financial black hole. A Travellers Tales’ Lego Christmas game might work but other than that, I feel it would have to be something rather more original and leftfield if it were to succeed.
Which leads us to the indie and digital download scene. Surely they could create something original with fewer financial risks involved? The precedent has been set: 2010’s genre mashing Costume Quest. A charming little game that I’ve devoted many an hour to with my sons, Double Fine’s download only RPG / Adventure / Platform hybrid bundle of joy is themed around another event with equal amount of promise and pitfall: Halloween. And basing itself so carefully and lovingly on an equally compelling festive period did nothing to hamper the developer’s sense of freedom or creativity. In fact if anything, the multi-faceted folklore surrounding Halloween seems to have positively encouraged them to be as creative and ingenious as possible.
So the real question is: if Double Fine can turn Halloween into an original, contemporary gaming masterpiece, why can’t someone else do it for Christmas?
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Husband. Parent. Gamer. Go figure.