The evolution of Santa Claus

If you examine the history of console gaming, from its nascent years on low-end computers to the present, you’ll find one strange constant: Santa Claus. Much more than just another holiday mascot who gets rolled out once a year to irritate us with awful ads and horrible dancing toys, Santa is a beloved-enough icon to have appeared in seemingly dozens of videogames (not to mention books and movies) that persist long after Christmas is over. Not that it’s too surprising, though; a grandfather-like figure who brings free toys is, by default, going to be a hell of a lot more popular than Cupid or some dumb rabbit with a fetish for chocolate eggs.

Above: A rare fluke 

Seeing as Christmas is (as of this writing) tomorrow, it’s as good a time as any to take a look back at Santa’s career and chart the ways in which his digital self has evolved alongside our favorite hobby. More importantly, though, it’s an excellent chance to make fun of all the bizarre, misguided and occasionally horrifying ways developers have tried to shoehorn the old man into their games over the years, for God knows what stupid reason.

Twenty-four years ago, primitive bands of humans crouched around fires deep within their inhospitable caves, telling each other wondrous stories of a man who would bring parcels of warm hides and delicious treebark to children who could avoid being accidentally eaten by their parents. These myths and legends gave birth to Special Delivery: Santa’s Christmas Chaos, a Commodore 64 game that stars what appears to be a long-haired woman who’s mounted a reindeer’s severed head on the prow of her speedboat:


Records from those prehistoric days are sketchy, so it’s difficult to be sure (or to care) whether this is the first appearance of Santa Claus in a videogame. But one thing is certain: it is easily the fugliest.

Five years later, Commodore 64 programmers (British ones, anyway) had developed a firm enough grasp on the hardware to produce a creature that was somewhat recognizable as Santa. It was also recognizable as a pile of bricks, but the key features were there, so the developers called their game The Official Father Christmas and sat back, content to fade into obscurity.


They also produced this somewhat less flashy (but cleaner-looking) version for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, a computer that - for older European gamers - is roughly analogous to Jesus:

Santa’s next notable appearance was in another Commodore 64 game (people were still using C64s in 1990? Seriously?), Santa’s Xmas Caper. This Santa represents an amalgam of the Cave Painting Santa (note the more easily decipherable flying sled, this time with an entire reindeer) and Father Christmas, with his red stocking cap and white beard clearly visible. The point of the game was apparently to fly around and collect presents, which seems like a viable concept for a computer game until you consider that 1990 was also the year Super Mario World came out in Japan.


Also, like The Official Father Christmas, Santa’s Xmas Caper was also ported over to the Spectrum, apparently with less effort than goes into making your average pancake.

Above: Someone please explain to us why this is worth waiting for a program to load from a cassette tape, of all things 

We Recommend By ZergNet


  • CaptainSalmon - December 25, 2010 9:43 a.m.

    Some of these look ho-ho-horrible. Thank you, I'm here all night.
  • ventanger - December 25, 2010 5:51 a.m.

    Oh crap I'm replying to year old posts. I'll be in a corner with my dunce cap on if you need me.
  • evilmonkeyturds - December 25, 2010 5:17 a.m.

    @jimsondanet, I read the giant block of text XP
  • ventanger - December 24, 2010 10:46 p.m.

    Ohhh snap uneccessarily veering off topic hold on tight whoooaaAAAAaaaa. Yes, CO2 is released from burning fossil fuels... so? Is the majority of CO2 created by humans? No. Will the increase in CO2 lead to global catastrophe? No. Will government-imposed strangling the means of production in order to reduce CO2 emissions based on this outright lie hinder advancement and by definition be REGRESSIVE, not progressive? DING DING DING! Yes. Read "The Skeptical Environmentalist" by Bjorn Lomborg, the perfect cure for any deeply disturbed zeolite of the global warming religion. Merry Christmas!
  • tareq - December 24, 2010 10:44 p.m.

    Heh Nostalgia Trip
  • FanofSaiyan - December 26, 2009 10:01 p.m.

    As if Santa doesn't do enough for us, we want him to save the world! Give the guy a break. I loved the KH2 Santa, one of my favorite levels in the game. :)
  • Eo1spy - December 28, 2008 1:48 p.m.

    @ DeadGirls Please provide irrefutable proof that global warming is real, that average global temperatures have increased only since the Industrial Revolution and never when humans weren't releasing CO2. How come there were ice ages? The Earth cooled. How did these ice ages stop? The Earth warmed. How is now any different? P.S Sorry to be off-topic.
  • MP5-PRO333 - December 27, 2008 9:15 p.m.

    where is pain santa
  • DeadGirls - December 26, 2008 8:43 a.m.

    Nice article. I almost forgot about Toe Jam & Earl. It was one of the 1st "co-op" games that was really fun. @derringer83: Yeah, I was kinda expecting the drunk Santa from Blood Money also. @nadrewod99: Everyting MikelReparaz said + Global warming is not a myth or 'religion', its actually pretty simple. 1. Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas. The more CO2 in the atmosphere, the warmer the atmosphere gets. This fact can be tested in any lab. 2. Fossil fuels such as coal and oil are full of carbon -- carbon that was completely removed from the carbon cycle until we pumped or dug it out of the ground. 3. The burning of fossil fuels releases oxidized carbon into the atmosphere. This is carbon dioxide. CO2.
  • Dinkymod - December 26, 2008 3:18 a.m.

    Should have added this in:
  • derringer83 - December 26, 2008 1:35 a.m.

    Man I was pumped about this article. And it was pretty good, won't lie... but what about the drunk Santa from Hitman: Blood Money? That guy was awesome.
  • GamesRadarMikelReparaz - December 25, 2008 7:37 a.m.

    @Montag & Mola13: Yes, yes, you're both right. Fixed and fixed. @nadrewod999: Games about Santa suck. It's no use trying to free-associate your way to a good Santa game, because there's no such thing as a good Santa game and there NEVER WILL BE. If they were any good in the first place, they wouldn't NEED to be about Santa.
  • oreomonkey - December 25, 2008 7:36 a.m.

    Funny how they chose all the gross killing savage disgusting violent Santas as the best and nice, cool, clean Santas as the worst, wow...
  • Ban - December 25, 2008 6:28 a.m.

    Now I need a PSP to play Infected
  • jimsondanet - December 25, 2008 2:20 a.m.

    no not at all like paople double posting comments, more like double tapping ctrl-v whilst copy pasting from word. and thank you for that massive block of text i will be genuinly surprised if someone actually read the entire thing
  • nadrewod999 - December 25, 2008 2:01 a.m.

    to Mola123: Yes, they double-pasted the paragraph just like some people double-post their comments to everyone: I totally agree with everything, although I think that the only good game Santa is... not here yet, but all they need to do is give a game featuring Santa (not as the main character or the main person in the game you deal with) better graphics than Fallout 3 and give us the ability to do whatever we want to him (example: instead of cutting the blue Santa in SoM down to size, either leave him alone or take control of him to use as your pet to help with the later bosses would be possible choices in a good Santa game), although I HATE side-scrollers that are movie-spinoffs and I HATE most Santa games anyway since the only people who really believe in Santa are most often too young to play any good games because their parents only give them educational games. Even so, I would really like a game featuring Santa if it showed how global warming was affecting him (and possibly have the game end by showing it was all fake) since global warming, while it might be a threat, shouldn't be taken so literally, especially when the preacher of the "Global Warming" religion doesn't even think about going anywhere by a very envirmentally-friendly way because he only goes places in his own private jet, plus I personally know a teacher at my neighborhood school who almost got fired when he, after teaching the REQUIRED course about global warming and Al Gore's movie, tried to teach the opposing side as well, so that he wouldn't be like most news stations (if you don't think "Global Warming" is a religion, compare the case of this teacher to the famous "monkey" trial back in around the mid-1920s).
  • georgeguy - December 24, 2008 10:22 p.m.

    nice artical GR happy holidays
  • Mola123 - December 24, 2008 10:09 p.m. it just me or in the second santa claus example does it have the same paragaph twice?
  • SamaSume - December 24, 2008 9:52 p.m.

    my how santa's grown
  • evildevil2 - December 24, 2008 9:37 p.m.

    what about the lego santa costume from lego star wars 2?

Showing 1-20 of 34 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000


Connect with Facebook

Log in using Facebook to share comments, games, status update and other activity easily with your Facebook feed.