Our Holiday Gift Guide continues with a variety of videogame-related gifts selected by our editors to fit a variety of budgets and interests. Look for our other gift guides for more gift ideas related to Television, Movies (coming Nov. 22) and Music (Nov. 23).
Gifts for all gamers
Before we dig in to our platform-specific suggestions, here are a few items appropriate for any once or future gamer.
Consoles ... or something similar
Since the Nintendo 3DS won't arrive until next spring, there aren't any new gaming consoles -- handheld or otherwise -- to recommend this year. Or are there? Though it isn't marketed specifically as a gaming device, the Apple iPad ($499 and up, Apple) is actually the best new game platform to come along all year. The crystal clear screen and touch-screen display makes for fun (if simplified) gaming, while the ever-growing roster of game apps (including some designed specifically for the iPad's larger screen rather than the iPhone) means you won't run out of games anytime soon. And, of course, this oversize iPhone can do anything its baby brother can do (except make phone calls, but when's the last time you actually used a phone?), and doubles as one of the better e-book readers on the market.
Of course, there are times when newer isn't always better. The triple-threat clone console Retron 3 Gaming System ($59.99, Amazon) has three sets of cartridge slots, allowing you to play your old NES, SNES or Genesis games on the same machine. Though the console comes with two wireless multi-purpose controllers, it also has two controller inputs for each of the three platforms, meaning that, if you can find them in your attic, you can use your old controllers in addition to your old games.
An even cheaper way to go retro is the USB Classic Joystick ($24.99, ThinkGeek, pictured at right), a replica of the iconic Atari 2600 controller. Use it as you would any other USB controller to play your favorite PC game, or download a free Commodore 64 or Atari 2600 emulator (like the excellent Stella emulator) to play PC versions of your 1980s favorites, or -- um -- Halo 2600.
Of course, if you admire the shape of the Atari controller, but would prefer it were filled with gum than actually able to control anything, consider the Atari Joystick Gum ($6, fredflare) route instead. As its name suggests, it is a pack of fruit-flavored gum inside of a rubber container shaped like an Atari joystick. Thanks, science!
That Atari joystick shows up again on the front of the Zen T-Shirt ($19.95, Glennz Tees, far left), which reimagines the controller as a Japanese sand garden. Games and gardens come together again in the Cherry Topiary T-Shirt ($19.95, Glennz Tees, near left), though this time the theme is Pac-Man.
Speaking of shirts that evoke classic games, other online stores also offer some wearable retro gaming fun. ThinkGeek's Lunch Box FTW T-Shirt ($15.99 - $17.99, ThinkGeek, pictured at far right) alludes to well-known videogames of past and present (from Pac-Man to Fallout) and is perfect for anyone who wants to secretly show off their gaming knowledge, while their Galaga T-Shirt ($19.99-$20.99, ThinkGeek, pictured at near right), featuring the very rock 'n' roll logo from the game of the same name, is as snazzy as you'd think it would be.
Another retro-gaming shirt comes from the folks at Glarkware. Their TV/Game Switch T-Shirt ($15-$22, Glarkware, detailed at left) celebrates that most humble -- but essential -- of relics from late 1970s/early 1980s gaming gadgetry. Meanwhile, Despairwear's Enter the Dragon T-Shirt ($15.95, Despair.com) offers an even more esoteric image: a dragon from the Atari 2600 game Adventure.
The best gaming shirts to come out this year (and, technically, they haven't come out yet, though they should in time for Christmas) come from Triumvir. Their Street Fighter ALPHA III Collection ($36 each, Triumvir) is the latest in a series of arty shirts based on characters from the long-running Capcom series. Choose from 12 different tees, each displaying a different Street Fighter character, including the "Evil" version of Ryu (pictured at right).
If you are tired of the gamer in your life constantly sitting in the dark, give him or her a light that even they will use. The Pac-Man-inspired Ghost Lamps ($69.99 each, ThinkGeek) are desk lamps modeled after the gaming world's most famous apparitions. Choose from four colors (white, blue, yellow, and red), and remember to supply your own candelabra bulb(s).
With gaming's growing popularity has come greater scrutiny of gaming culture and the gaming business by authors and researchers, and several books on the subject released this year are worthy of attention. The rigorously researched Replay: The History of Video Games (Yellow Ant Media, $19.99, Amazon), by British journalist Tristan Donovan, is a 500-page chronicle of the origins and growth of the videogame industry, from the mid-20th century to the present day.
Another British journalist offers a slightly different assessment of the gaming industry in Fun Inc.: Why Gaming Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century (Pegasus, $27.95, Amazon). While author Tom Chatfield also provides a history of the industry, much of his focus is on present trends and future prospects, and he explores the artistry of games as well as their cultural impact, suggesting that the industry's critics are missing out on an important medium.
Oregon author Tom Bissell mounts another spirited defense of gaming in Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter (Pantheon, $22.95, Amazon), A cross between memoir and criticism, the well-reviewed book examines the highs and lows of gaming today, profiles some of the top videogame creators, and chronicles Bissell’s own obsessive journey through Grand Theft Auto IV.
Finally, one of the newest installments in the burgeoning 1,001 things series is the hardcover 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die (Universe, $36.95, Amazon), which, at 960 pages, is more of a coffee table book than a casual bedtime read. And, while we're not suggesting that anyone devote their next few months to playing all 1,001 games, the titles -- selected and described by an assortment of game critics and supplemented by screenshots and other images -- span the past four decades, and will certainly give you some options if you have any free time coming up.
Faster, louder, better, comfier
Shout! Factory's new Video Games Live: Level 2 Bundle ($49.99, Shout! Factory) includes the just-released second Video Games Live concert on Blu-ray, DVD, and CD in a single package. Like the first Video Games Live concert, Level 2 consists of orchestral performances of classic videogame scores, from The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. to Final Fantasy and Halo.
But why just listen when you can play along? The just-released Rock Band 3 offers something that previous versions of the game did not: a chance to learn how to play real instruments thanks to the game's pro mode. To do that, however, you'll need to purchase a more realistic Rock Band 3-compatible guitar. Unfortunately, what looks to be the best option -- the Rock Band 3 Fender Squier Stratocaster -- will not be released until March. That leaves Mad Catz's Wireless Fender Mustang PRO-Guitar Controller ($149.99; Amazon has versions for the 360, PS3 and Wii) as the best option if you have a Rock Band 3 owner on your list who is dying to learn the guitar over winter break. Not quite a real guitar but far from the normal Rock Band guitar controller, the Mad Catz Fender Mustang (in stores next week) combines a real string box in its lower half with a neck that uses 102 individual buttons to simulate 17 frets. It also functions as a MIDI guitar controller for use in general rocking out purposes.
Hardcore gamers can enhance their performance in addition to their acoustics. While professional athletes have steroids and HGH, gamers can turn to non-chemical means to get an edge on their competition. KontrolFreek's ultra-ergonomic grips fit both PS3 and 360 analog joysticks, allowing extremely precise control of the on-screen action. The catch is that you'll need to know the type of games favored by your gift recipient to get the best results; basketball addicts, for example, would prefer Hoops Freek ($9.99, KontrolFreek, pictured), while Madden junkies could use TD Freek ($9.99, KontrolFreek). To be safe, the Gamer Pack ($18.99, KontrolFreek) has two sets of attachments designed to support first-person shooters and driving games. (Presumably, if you have a Kinect, you can just wear them on your thumbs.)
While enhancing a standard controller for racing games does help, a more specialized approach shifts racing simulators into the next gear. Compatible with PCs and the PlayStation 2 and 3, the Logitech G27 Racing Wheel (Logitech, $299.99, Amazon, pictured) includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters and indicator lights, a separate 6-speed shifter, and three foot pedals. Pair it with Gran Turismo 5 or Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, and you'll make someone happy. Add the Playseat World Rally Championship Gaming Seat (Playseat, $599.99, Amazon), an upholstered seat to which you can mount the G27, and you'll be the gift giver of the year.
More game gift ideas...
Continue to the next page for additional gift ideas for owners (or potential owners) of each individual game platform.