As we move further into the calendar year, we find ourselves getting nearer and nearer to that ever so lovely and joyous time we know as the Holiday Season. In a wondrous mixture of merriment and stress, the holidays fill our calendars. This time of year gives us a chance to spend some quality time with loved ones, embrace the merriment of one another, reflect on the year in passing, and most importantly, catch up on the copious amounts of games both new and old on our to-do list. But this break towards the end of the year from our chaotic day-to-days is not only a time to play, but has impacted the medium from time to time itself. Traces of holiday cheer and the stress of the season can be found sprinkled all over the history of gaming.
BACK TO THE HOLIDAY BASICS
Like everything in the history of at home gaming entertainment, it can be traced back to the original Commodore 64 and Atari systems. Special Delivery: Santa’s Christmas Chaos is one of the oldest and earliest examples of holiday games. Released in 1984, this 8-bit side-scroller tells a story as old as the modern St. Nicolas legend itself; Santa is running a little late. After a long night and over sleeping, you take the reigns of that magical sled with 5 hours to deliver presents to every home around the world.
A couple years later in 1988, we received the second game from world acclaimed Hideo Kojima, Snatcher. This menu controlled visual novel takes place in a dystopian world in which humans hide from robot-hunters called snatchers. The relation is that this was one of the first games to use Christmas time as a setting without making it a central theme of the game. It does not hurt that one of your assistants and informants goes as far as to disguise himself as old Saint Nick himself.
FINALLY IN THREE DIMENSIONS
Thus was the tradition of any and all holiday themed digital adventures; two dimensions with either text or side scrolling to move the story along. That was, until 1997. Following the success of other titles in the series, Duke: Nuclear Winter gave a holiday twist to a kind of, sort of, not fully put together three dimensional plane. Our good pal Duke also used the existence of the seasonal stories while breaking from the traditional tales. In this game Santa is brainwashed by aliens and Duke has to stop him. For the first time, the holiday characters we know and love where plucked from their happy go lucky north pole settings and woven into the less cheerful side of gaming.
In a first attempt at fully rendered 3D, 2002 brought the release of Santa Clause Saves the World to the original PlayStation. Finally brining season cheer and winter themes to a complete 3D landscape, Santa is pit again an evil fairy, Nilam, and hordes of various enemies; cowboys, cavemen, and minotaurs included. It took almost twenty years for the gaming masses to get a clear, three dimensional slice of winter festivities, but Santa Clause Saves the World brought it about with as much craziness and joy one would find in newer games.
MODERN GRIT AND FOLLY
In recent years, video games have seen the two different ends of the joyous seasonal spectrum implemented. From the setting as a plot tool to the classic characters refreshed in modern madness, the holidays still play a role in today’s gaming. Some of the biggest hits of the last few years have felt the impact of holiday cheer.
The gritty, street level world of the Arkham games franchise found the power of the season in the 2013 prequel. Arkham Origins made use of the holiday setting by placing the Dark Knight against a gallery of foes on Christmas Eve. All throughout Gotham’s underworld festive lights and the occasional Santa Clause get-up can be found contrasting against the dark surrounding.
On the flipside of this subtle juxtaposition sits a member of gaming absurdity royalty: Saints Row IV. One of the DLC packages for the most recent tale of the Saints and their antics, How the Saints Saved Christmas, uses all of the traditional holiday pieces to tell a story of craziness. There is a monstrous Santa, machine gun totting Nutcrackers, and even a little caroling; all of the basics for a Christmas classic.
The winter season brings about a flood of holiday cheer and various celebrations across the world. After deep digging, little can be found for holidays outside of Christmas woven into the gaming fabric; Thanksgiving, Hanukah, New Years, and everything else seem to be lacking. Maybe here is where we find the next chapter in video game celebrations. Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night.