Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Unopened Gift

Most of the internet this week is on holiday vacation, including PopMatters. Scott and I are taking it slow as well, filling our hot chocolate mugs so full of tiny marshmallows that it becomes a single gelatinous glob of sugary goodness. Yet I feel it would be a missed opportunity to ignore the holiday season. While I wish all our readers a happy agnostic/non-denominational wintry season, I am going to talk a bit about Christmas.

I did not grow up in a particularly festive or cheery home environment, even during the holidays. I do not reflect on past holidays as the most wonderful times of the year. Yet I do recall looking forward to opening presents, hoping to receive a videogame. My family was fairly low income for a good segment of my adolescence, so my gaming habits mostly required access to used videogames. I also thrived off of game magazines and the demos they used to include in the packaging, which I admittedly stole on numerous occasions. Getting my hands on a new game was a rare and glorious experience reserved primarily for Christmas.

The idea of a new game, wrapped in tacky Christmas paper lying on the floor, was infinitely exciting. It represented unbridled potential. Even unwrapped, a game could be anything, take me anywhere. A single disc could consume my world for weeks. I could escape my often tumultuous family situation by becoming another person or creature, inhabiting a whole other world. The videogame Christmas present was the ultimate gateway, promising untold opportunities.

My siblings knew this more than anyone. One particular Christmas’s come to mind. Once, my older brother took me and my sister into Best Buy and stole a copy of some Marvel videogame featuring Iron Man and a few other superheroes. He let us pick which game we wanted before he broke the protective plastic, took off the magnetic tape, and hid the game under his coat. I see now that it was probably a bad lesson, but it was well meant. At this time, my family was poor. My brother was not committing thievery to spoil his younger brother. He was offering a moment of possibility, in which doors were not closed, but open, in which any game world was reachable. He fueled my escapism because he could little else. That single act of heroism is still far more impressive than any the X-men accomplished in that easily forgotten game of the 90s.

This Christmas, I will open up a Christmas present that will include a board game or a videogame. I’ll even buy some for myself during one of Steam’s holiday sales. They might be good, even amazing. Yet especially during the Christmas season, the very idea of a game holds so much meaning for me. They represent the many worlds in which I have safely hidden and happily explored. Until Saturday, the unopened gift, the box that just might be a game of any sort, is a nostalgic symbol of opportunity, basked in the reassuring glow of ornaments and tree lights.

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