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A Cartridge under the Christmas Tree

It’s the night before Christmas. You’ve been an angel all year-long. You’ve kept your room tidy. You’ve taken out the trash. You’ve even been nice to your little sister. You lie in bed waiting for the morning to come. What could go wrong?



It’s the night before Christmas. You’ve been an angel all year long. You’ve kept your room tidy. You’ve taken out the trash. You’ve even been nice to your little sister. You lie in bed waiting for the morning to come. What could go wrong?

When it comes to video games and Christmas, quite a bit.

The festive period can be a defining moment in the life of a young gamer. It’s that make or break time when a new console arrives or a long-awaited game is finally in your clutches.


These days, I can buy any game I like. I tend I purchase more than I can ever hope to play. But when I was young it was different. New games were a rare purchase and they had to be chosen carefully. Decisions were informed by months studying game magazines, soaking up screen-shots and reading reviews.

I always knew what games I wanted. And I always made sure that Santa received very specific instructions. It was my parents or family members that could sometimes be the problem.

One year I was convinced that I was getting the Sega Master System I so desperately wanted. When Christmas morning came, I’m sure my face said it all when I instead unwrapped a deluxe edition of the Japanese board game, Go.

Go is a wonderful game, make no mistake but I’m sure you can understand the disappointment of a 10 year old. It’s pretty hard to convince your mates that playing something with a wooden board and two tubs of counters is just as fun as having Out Run in your bedroom.


In fact, it appears that my folks never wanted me to be a Sega fan boy. A few years later I yearned for a Game Gear. During a sneaky trip to the back of a cupboard I discovered a wrapped box that I was certain contained Sega’s wonderful new handheld. Again, when Christmas morning came, I was a little downhearted to find out that it was a Game Boy. Luckily that initial disappointment quickly gave way to a long standing love affair with Nintendo’s handhelds.


At the end of the century I also recall giving my dad details of the N64 Expansion Pak. He was utterly baffled as to why this lump of plastic would be important to me. Of course, he had no idea about the importance of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. In any event, I received an N64 Rumble Pak by mistake.

I don’t rely on Santa quite so much these days but I still get that sense of anticipation at this time of year. I still throw a game or two on my Christmas list in the hope that he’ll surprise me. And it still goes wrong.

In 2010 I popped Rock Band 3 on my wish list and ended up with Band Hero. Close but not quite the band I’d hoped to join.

Despite these occasional disappointments I always remind myself that it was at Christmas when games first entered my life and became an enduring fascination.


In 1982 my wonderful grandma bought me a ZX Spectrum 48K with collection of ten games, including the classic, Horace goes Skiing.


Unfortunately she had no idea that the ZX Spectrum also needed a cassette player to load the games, so all I could do was turn the machine on and play with the menu. Nonetheless, I was fascinated by it. I stared at the game covers for hours, dreaming of the delights they held. When I finally got things up and running two weeks later, I wasn’t disappointed. And I’ve never looked back.

So thank you, Nan. That was a life changing gift. It nurtured my interest in technology and exposed me to a vibrant new art form. Since then my appreciation of games has given me hundreds of wonderful experiences. It’s also taken me around the world and introduced me to people who have become dear friends. Not a bad legacy for a computer with rubber keys.

Happy Christmas, Nan.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

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Thumbsticks editor and connoisseur of Belgian buns. Currently playing: Triangle Strategy, Kirby and the Forgotten Lands, and Into the Breach.