They mean well, they really do
If you're lucky enough to have grandparents or other non-gaming relatives who buy you video games, and you are part of a family unit that celebrates one of your Earth year-end gift-giving holidays (Australian Christmas, Hogswatchnight, Space Hanukkah, PCs-are-better-than-consoles Eve), it's brace-yourself time. Those well-meaning old folks aren't always quite hep to what the kids are playing. Here are some of the quality old-person-picked games you can look forward to finding underneath the Festivus Pole or orbiting the Joy Sphere in your living room this Simulated Cheer Season.
Editorial note: Feel free to replace all references to "grandparents" with "non-gaming relations" as necessary; you shouldnt get left out just because you dont have current, living grandparents.
Dragon Naturally Speaking
"Honey, I was at Best Buy and I remembered you liked that dragon game a few years ago. I saw this on the clearance rack. I think it's a sequel. Just imagine. A game where you talk to dragons! And the salesman said it was excellent."
In your hypothetical grandparent's defense, Dragon Naturally Speaking does get high reviews, and it does have the word Dragon right in the title. Unfortunately for gamers, it's voice dictation software. Tremendously helpful for people with physical disabilities or who prefer to interact with their computer by talking rather than typing. Less helpful for people who want to give Alduin a good JOOR ZAH FRUL.
Angry Birds Trilogy
Why pay two dollars for a soul-eroding, time-sucking styrofoam simulacrum of fun that you can take with you on your smartphone? After all, for just $40, your relative can gift you with an all-star collection of three soul-eroding etceteras for the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3! With motion control!
Angry Birds Trilogy collects all the mind-numbing fun of Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons, and shameless movie tie-in Angry Birds Rio into an expensive, neverending slog of the same game three times. Only now, they're not portable and they prevent anyone else from using the TV for something more fun, like watching QVC. But hey, it's compatible with Kinect or PlayStation Move!
Wii Fit Plus
Wii Fit is borderline depressing when you buy it for yourself. Sure, it's a good way to go from couch potato to slightly active couch potato, but man. It means well, but it just never stops judging. Just like grandma!
Buying someone Wii Fit Plus is a master stroke of passive aggression. It's a video game that says I know you love your video games, dear. It'll help you get healthier, because it promotes physical activity. And it's an almost perfect way to say, "Honey, nobody will ever love you unless you lose a few pounds" with just enough plausible deniability so that nobody can call you on it. Thanks, grandma.
When you were a kid, you loved Lego. You had Lego sets all over your bedroom, and Lego bricks all over the floor. Remember the time grandpa stepped on one and said words he hadn't said since the war? Good times. Grandpa remembers. That's why he got you Lego Universe. It's an MMO that combines the fun and wonder of playing Lego with your friends and the convenience of existing solely online where grandpa can't step on it.
Well, it had those things. Lego Universe went free-to-play in the most boneheaded way possible back in August 2011, and then shut down entirely in January 2012, joining Tabula Rasa, Asheron's Call II, Star Wars Galaxies, and City of Heroes in the deeply depressing category of MMOs that you can still occasionally find in stores but are completely unplayable.
Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games
Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games is the result of a long-ago committee meeting of people who hate Mario, Sonic, the Olympics, and fun. Take three properties everyone recognizes and feels a vague sense of cultural attachment to, and jam them together into a series of minigames, they said. Yes, another faceless suit added, and let's do it every two years!
So they crammed Mario and Sonic and their friends, rivals, and, err, mounts into a series of Olympics-inspired minigames. It's slightly more exciting than that description implies, with the bonus that the 2012 Games, excitement for which is really the only reason to buy this game, are long over. But not for grandpa! He knows that his grandkid loves that Mario fella, and though he doesnt know one Mario from another he sure as hell knows that all the kids love the Olympics!
Granddad gets his holiday shopping done early. He knows you've been waiting for that new Halo game for a long time. So this summer he went to the video games store and grabbed the one with the biggest number on it.
Halo 3 is a fantastic game. It's just that you already played it. When it came out. Five years ago. Which, in granddad's defense, isn't as long ago as you seem to think it was. Cut him some slack. Jeez. He probably changed your diapers. Probably recently. HEYOOOOO.
The Beatles: Rock Band
It's safe to say the heyday of the plastic instrument rhythm game, much like rock music, has passed. Our enthusiasm has been worn down by years of uninspired sequels, spin-offs, and rip-offs. Grandma remembers that you liked Rock Band, and she likes the Beatles better than that noise all the kids seem to be listening to these days. So here you go, champ! It's The Beatles: Rock Band. All the Yellow Submarine you and your bowl-cut friends can handle, with no music from the past 42 years to get in the way of your three-part harmonies.
Bonus points if you got the Limited Edition Premium bundle, which costs $250 and comes with yet another plastic drumset, microphone, and a controller shaped like Paul's bass, meaning that your total number of plastic guitar-shaped controllers now exceeds your number of friends.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter
Well, you finally got that realistic, first-person modern military shooter you've been asking for. The bad news is you got Medal of Honor: Warfighter. You were hoping for Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Or Battlefield 3. Even Bad Company 2! Instead, you get the RC Cola of modern military shooter franchises.
It's not that Medal of Honor: Warfighter is a bad game. It's just profoundly mediocre, even compared to the other modmilshoofranches. Let's not go into the stupidity of the word "warfighter." That's not MOH's fault. At least it's not another WWII shooter.
Did we say Wii Fit Plus was passive-aggressive? Getting Dark Souls as a gift is the equivalent of your dad making you smoke an entire pack of cigarettes in a row because he caught you lighting up behind the house. By the time you're done with Dark Souls you'll never want to play video games again. And then maybe you'll go outside, like kids did back in my day. Maybe with an onion on your belt, which was the style at the time.
Joke's on granddad, though. Dark Souls is both the best and the toughest game on this list, and as granddad's been trying to tell you for years, adversity builds character. By the end of Dark Souls you'll have more character than Eddie Murphy in one of those Eddie Murphy movies where everybody is played by Eddie Murphy.
Play-a-Long Kids Plug-N-Play Guitar
In this world there are many types of video game consoles. You've got your Xboxen and PlayStations, your Wiis and Wii Us, and your older systems, from the GameCube and Sega Saturn back down to the original Sega and NES and further back, into the Atari- and Commodore-laden dawn of time. This is a proud and noble lineage.
And then there are the kind of console you get for $40 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond (they're in the Beyond section, FYI). They usually consist of a controller that plugs directly into the TV (analog-only, of course) and has anywhere from zero to 10,000 awful "games" preloaded. Like the Play-a-Long Kids Plug-N-Play guitar. It's a cruel facsimile of a Guitar Hero or Rock Band controller that ships with ten (count 'em, TEN) classic rock songs on board. If the measure of a game's value is play time divided by cost, we figure this comes out to about $120 an hour. We take back what we said about The Beatles: Rock Band earlier
A yard sale/auction console
You can't believe your eyes when you rip the Enforced Privacy Opaque Gift Shielding Material from your latest present. Inside is (gasp!) a gently used current-generation game console. Sure, it's seen better days (and what's with the creepy faceplate?) and it doesn't have any of the cables, but it's an actual modern-day console. Huge victory.
A quick trip to Fry's later, you have a power brick, the video/audio cables, a working controller, and a game or two. You plug everything in. You turn it on.
Red Ring of Death. Of course. Thanks, old people.
A Gamestop gift card in a console-shaped tin
This one's just cute. Gamestop sells little tins, shaped like current-gen consoles, that you can put gift cards in. They're adorable mini-consoles full of money! Well, a money-equivalent that you can only spend in one place. Later you can put mints or business cards in them. Maybe some Pokemon cards. These little tins are classier than a standard envelope and less gauche than just giving you an unwrapped gift card. This gift says "I know you like video games, but I don't know anything about them, and I admit that. Go buy your own."
Unless, of course, you get an empty tin with no gift card inside. That means the person who bought it for you thought that it was the console. How cute... and depressing.
Don't sass your elders
Your grandparents (or again, grandparent-equivalents) love you very much, and the fact that they're buying you video games for Please Can Winter Be Over Yet Festival is something you should not take for granted.
They have better things to do than immerse themselves in researching the best video games of 2012 on GamesRadar dot com. Unless they're part of the growing contingent of Greatest Generation gamers, in which case they know exactly what they're doing. We applaud you, troll grandparents.
Finally, and we can't stress this enough, don't be a dick to people who are doing nice things for you. If you get a video game you don't want, thank them sincerely, and later trade it in for something you do want. Of course, the best way to get what you want for [Error: Seasonal Holiday Not Found] is to tell people exactly what you want. Or just ask for cash. And hey, call your grandparents. They probably want to hear from you.