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Season’s Gaming

Every holiday season, TV is inundated with classic programming. There are the unsettling stop motion shorts of Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. There’s Charlie Brown’s endless quest to pull every heartstring in America and Macy’s annual clogging of Manhattan and the frustrating of every resident therein. If you say there’s nothing to watch on TV during the Fall, then you probably don’t know what a TV is. I’m not saying it’s all good, but it does exist.

Even movies have classics. TBS now shows 24 hours of non-stop Ralphie pining for a Red Ryder BB Gun when it isn’t airing back-to-back showings of Will Ferrell saving Zooey Deschanel from being a blonde. Horror and sci-fi channels make their livings off of Halloween by broadcasting every Nightmare on Elm Street, Ghostbuster, and Scream film out there. Even non-softies can watch Die Hard on Christmas.

Museums and art galleries find the most grotesque imagery possible for the night of ghoulish shenanigans. Radios churn through Trans-Siberian Orchestra like butter during Christmas. Basically what I’m saying is that every entertainment medium out there has ways of celebrating and showcasing themselves during the holidays.

Every medium except video games.

For Thanksgiving and Christmas, the reason is simple: there are none. Assassin’s Creed III may be the only colonial-era game worth noting and Christmas games are merely reskinned shells like Christmas Nights and Christmas Lemmings. I guess Max Payne is a bit like Die Hard in that way—only tangentially related—but even then, it’s not something even a handful of people out in the world would count as part of the holiday parlance.

Given that there is a horror genre in games, Halloween is more promising when in search of a Friday the 13th-equivalent—promising, but not fruitful. People may have personal rituals, but there’s nothing definitive to look towards each season of incessant festivities. You can decide to play through Resident Evil or Silent Hill while kids try to kick in your door for candy, but is that the gaming ambassador to the holiday? When people think about Halloween for gamers, do they think about the T-virus and Pyramid Head?

Maybe. But it’s nothing like how images of Freddy and Jason have become synonymous with the late-October Celtic/Christian/pagan menagerie. Even among the gaming literate there is disproportionate reverence between George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Capcom’s Dead Rising. What we get instead are seasonal releases that come and go through the zeitgeist like water over the falls. Last year we had Costume Quest and Undead Nightmare for Red Dead Redemption, both of which are excellent and went onto my list of favorite games of the year. Both were must-plays. Both are now mostly forgotten. So how do you expect the upcoming and sole Halloween gaming release Nightmare in North Point for Sleeping Dogs to fare?

So if it’s not a question of quality, then perhaps it is timeliness that is the issue. Maybe not enough time has passed for Classic status to be strewn about to the appropriate recipients. Maybe that’s why John Marston’s turn into the shambling occult isn’t the official Halloween video game.

But then how far back is far enough? How much time is required to make it so? Surely enough time has passed to make a judgement call the likes of Fatal Frame and Condemned, on Luigi’s Mansion and Doom 3.

But then again, maybe time is the problem. Maybe time is the crucial factor that atrophies appreciation faster in games than in other mediums. There was, after all, Hellnight for the original PlayStation, but that was over 10 years ago. Sweet Home for the NES was released over 20 years ago. And since then, game design has changed, as have console capabilities. The scares that developers were able to implement in 1998 and 1989 are vastly different (and, in most cases, inferior) to what they can do now. Just look at Amnesia: The Dark Descent! Even Slender: The Eight Pages, an indie title developed by just one man, is vastly superior to those decades-old full-scale productions.

A perfectly valid counter would be System Shock 2, a seminal title that is still scary and still great. At 13 years old, that is more than enough time for the vanguards of pop culture to recognize a classic. So why isn’t this at least—a game that is almost universally praised and referred to in most cases as a landmark title—not recognized within its own genre-specific holiday as a classic?

Because games move too fast. Because September through December is a deluge of new titles. Because the thoughtful, mindful discussions are too far removed from the brutish sort centered around Madden roster updates and deciding who or what is and isn’t a journalist. When daily news surrounds major events like studios closing or huge controversies like Doritos and Mountain Dew, when is there time to appreciate the new games? And then when you get to play the new games, when is there time to revisit the old? And when less than half of the entire gaming population of the world gives a damn, what does it matter that there aren’t any seasonal games to play? It’s a vicious cycle of cascading indifference and misdirected anger that holds our enjoyment of Great Pumpkins and Christmas Stories. Compare a 20-minute Charlie Brown special or a 2-hour horror movie to a 12-hour Quantic Dream adventure game and it’s easy to see why the gaming industry’s lack of mobility and flexibility has yielded such small seasonal harvests.

I know it’s strange to take something as inconsequential as themed video games and bring it around to talk about the faults of the industry, but it’s important (plus I figured you all were tired about reading Halo 4 leaks and Eurogamer libel suits). Everything moves at such a breakneck pace that Ferris Bueller would be anything but happy with us. Maybe we all just need to take it easy and remember that sure, games can move us and change us and affect us in the most profound ways, but they are also there to entertain us and remind us that sometimes it’s okay just to have fun.

So someone get out there and make me a Thanksgiving game.

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