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 

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  • darkghost513 - December 24, 2008 6:30 p.m.

    haha tim allen is so fat
  • babo_u_da - December 24, 2008 6:38 p.m.

    zombie santa is the best merry christmas people
  • Montag - December 24, 2008 7:06 p.m.

    ZX Spectrum.... console... heretic Home computer and my 2nd computer Yes Sir Clive is Jesus's lovechild
  • skyguy343 - December 24, 2008 8:30 p.m.

    what about the evil snowball chucking one from Gex?
  • Whogivsachit - December 24, 2008 11:32 p.m.

    Ice Station Santa is the best!
  • Top_Hat - December 25, 2008 2:17 p.m.

    Happy Ho-ho-holidays everyone.
  • jakens88 - December 25, 2008 3:57 p.m.

    They forgot mortal kombats santa
  • misfit119 - December 25, 2008 11:33 p.m.

    Aww, you forgot the best santa ever. The one from Hunter the Reckoning: Redeemer for the Xbox. That was one demented St. Nick right there.
  • EiGrOn - December 26, 2008 4:07 a.m.

    Wow nice zombie Santa haha.... Jack the Skeleton rules xD Merry Christmas to all
  • DeadGirls - December 26, 2008 8:46 a.m.

    To top it all off: Teachers aren't supposed to teach 'opposing sides' -- they are supposed to educate students about accepted scientific theories. While opposing scientific theories might be taught, the "opposing side" to global warming is neither scientific nor theoretical. It's a bag of bullshitted, disconnected doubt implemented by knuckleheads to impede upon progressive actions and solutions.
  • 435 - December 28, 2008 12:46 a.m.

    Santa Funk from ToeJam and Earl. Best Santa Ever.
  • musashi1596 - December 31, 2008 7:09 p.m.

    Ah, Santa Claus Saves the Earth. That was at it's best when it was on the business end of OPM's Justice section.
  • darkghost513 - December 24, 2008 6:31 p.m.

    a bit scary to haha
  • PrinceNicy - December 24, 2008 8:14 p.m.

    You guys forgot Monkey Santa from Ape Escape 2.
  • evildevil2 - December 24, 2008 9:37 p.m.

    what about the lego santa costume from lego star wars 2?
  • SamaSume - December 24, 2008 9:52 p.m.

    my how santa's grown
  • 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?
  • georgeguy - December 24, 2008 10:22 p.m.

    nice artical GR happy holidays
  • 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).
  • 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

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