John Biggs' Holiday Gift Guide: Bringing it all back home


Come back with me to a simpler time. It was twenty years ago, I was about 12, and the coolest stuff I owned was a huge set of G.I. Joe figures and, as I recall, an NES. I was late to the video game party mostly because I used my Atari 800XL a lot at the time and I recall getting the Bridgelayer vehicle and, that year, a few NES games. I could spend hours setting up my guys in battle formation and blowing into my NES cartridges. Those were holidays when I rarely got out of my pajamas — I’d wake up early, hit some Super Mario Brothers, watch TV, play with G.I. Joe, rinse, repeat. That, my friends, was living.

Nothing to date has given me as much joy as those toys. Those were formative, slothful years and, as a new father, I’ll be curious to see how my son will recreate them in his own time. But nothing has made me as excited about play and technology as Snake Eyes and Mario, the real and the digital.

Where am I going with this? I’m going to take you on a tour of items that gave me a glimmer of that same feeling this year and what I would recommend if you, like me, miss simpler times.

First, the games. Half-Life 2 sucked me in early and now I can’t even put down the Orange Box. It’s the kind of game — set of games, actually — that you have to finish. Half-Life does approximately everything right: it has a compelling story-line, cool weapons, and cinematic environments. Like Gears of War, which is a also a 2007 fave. No RPGs sucked me in this year. Neither Assassin’s Creed or Mass Effect were quite my kind of game, but that doesn’t mean I won’t return to them later.

Dispite my problems with the Wii, I did enjoy Super Mario Galaxy this year. My aging, alcohol-soaked synapses have been ruining platformers for me recently, but this “spherer” is quite addictive.

On the hardware site, I can recommend the iPod Nano and the Creative Zen which I was really impressed by if you’re looking for something on the PC side. For Dad I’d recommend a cheap PC or laptop — if could even be a gPC — with Ubuntu or some other flavor of Linux. If pop needs something a little more high end, give him a MacBook or Mac Mini and if he knows what he’s doing, feel free to send him an Asus eee or an Dell XPS 1730. However, if your Dad is into WoW, he doesn’t need your help picking hardware. Get him a Hohner Echo harp and watch his eyes light up.
For cameras I’d suggest the Rebel XTi but if you want to stay point-and-shoot go for the Kodak EasyShare V1253. It actually puts its 12-megapixels to good use by taking great quality video.

Some of the greatest stuff I’ve used this year hasn’t been electronic. Sure, I’d love a Pleo or a PS3 but neither of those can supplant an evening of jolly inhebriation with friends. That’s why I’d also suggest a Mr.Beer Premium kit or Wine Starter Kit from Northern Brewer. With a little patience, you can make great beer — order now and you’ll have homemade beer for New Year’s Eve — and wine and actually make something rather than just push bits around.


I’ve seen a lot of great watches this year, but I still love my Omega Seamaster. You can buy five hundred Timex Ironmans for as much as it costs, but it will be the last watch you own.

Then there’s also turning off the computer over the holiday weekend and playing around with cool new toys and games. Crack open a bottle of your fresh homebrew and put out Carcassonne or Settlers of Catan and relax. Maybe that’s what I’m missing — the sense that no matter what is happening in the world, nothing is as pressing as play.