Gaming, Gift-giving, and Going Ham

by Alison Xin

It was the autumn of my 8th grade year, and I was about to jump face-first into the most intense social responsibility known to awkward tweens – selecting the perfect birthday gift for my friend, Timothy.

I expect that for normal, well-adjusted people, this was not the Herculean task I was making it out to be. Timothy was not a particularly hard person to shop for. He’s not picky, or snobbish, or ungrateful. He’s a nerd, which opens up the door to a wide variety of gifts, as well. He also likes video games.

I mean, he really likes video games.

You can name any popular game, and I guarantee he’s either played it or tried to pirate it. Anything from Portal to DOTA 2 to Call of Duty is no match for his might. He’ll spring random video game slang like n00b, gg, and git rekt during casual conversation. On Halloween, he dressed up as Link from Legend of Zelda, and he can play Super Smash Bros. Brawl like nobody’s business. One time, at a Science Olympiad tournament (if you don’t know what that is, it’s basically a competition to see which school can effectively out-nerd each other), there was a Smash Brothers tournament for anybody from 6th to 12th grade as a way to pass the time before the awards ceremony started. As a measly 6th grader, Timothy was able to crush the competition and win his section. (Keep in mind that Science Olympiad is basically 100% mega-geeks.)

So now I was faced with a predicament. I was absolutely certain that a video game themed gift would be perfect: personalized and useful. However, I was absolutely, positively, completely certain that everyone else going to the party knew this too. And therefore, I was absolutely, positively, completely, one hundred percent, totally, unanimously, entirely, wholly certain that everyone else was going to give him a video game, too.

That would be disastrous.

What kind of message would it send to Timothy if everyone gave him the same type of present? I had a feeling he would be slightly disappointed in all of us: he had all these friends, and the only thing we could think of was video games. Additionally, it would be even worse if I accidentally mimicked a gift because I just knew that Timothy would become passive-aggressive towards me for being “that kid” who lacked the originality and empathy to figure out how to give him a proper present. But if I tried to opt out of the entire fiasco and just give him money, it would be immediately apparent that I didn’t care about friendship as much I cared about the cake at the party. (Which isn’t true, I swear.)

It was at this moment that I became slightly obsessive. Desperate to find the perfect balance of personalized and unique, I cannonballed directly into the jungle of For weeks, I trained my Google-fu in the Chrome temple, repeatedly searching, tagging, and filtering millions of results. I even dared to venture into more exotic territory like “Dude I Want That!” and thisiswhyi’ After cutting down swaths of possible ideas I finally settled on a gift: a simple remote control helicopter.

It was perfect in its own, awkward, way. It was small and unobtrusive, but still constructed with grace and style. Its polished aluminum frame intersected with stylish blue plastic to complete a slim and defined form. Directed by a handset reminiscent of old game console controllers, the helicopter had the quality of a video game with a twist. I wrapped it in green and blue striped wrapping paper and tied the package with a shiny silver ribbon. To finish off the gift, I wrote a personalized card with a hand-drawn cartoon of Timothy as Toon Link shouting “FOR POODIS,” while charging victoriously into battle. Basically, it was, as Timothy would say, utter pwnage. Victorious, I stowed my gift away safely until the day of the party.

It wasn’t long before the date rolled by. At that point, my anticipation had grown to the point where, instead of just feeling like exploding, I had formed a class G star of excitement on the Hertzburg- Russel Diagram that had shed its outer layers in a planetary nebula and was now a white dwarf, siphoning off the mass of a larger star until reaching the Chandrasekhar limit to explode into a Class IA Supernova. I carefully guarded my package during the car ride to Timothy’s house. At that point, I had depended so much upon the gift that I might have even sacrificed my own life in an auto accident if it meant getting Timothy’s present out unscathed. When I finally arrived at the destination (thankfully, without any flashy heroic sacrifice with a slightly embarrassing obituary), I hoisted the covered helicopter above my head like the Ark of the Covenant and marched up the driveway. By the time I made it to the front door, Timothy’s smiling mother had already spotted my grandiose arrival and opened the door, gesturing me inside.

Entering my Final Destination, I scanned my surroundings to deduce the location where I would deploy my supplies. I quickly spotted a gift basket, filled with confetti and stuffed with multi-colored envelopes. Envelopes. It took a moment to process this, and when my mind had caught up, I was horrified. Envelopes could only contain two things: gift cards or money.

I was absolutely disgusted. Did these people have no shame? Timothy was their friend, someone they’d known for years. How could they have possibly messed this up? Out of almost a dozen people, was I the only one that braved the social terrors of gift-giving to obtain anything significant? Indignantly, I set the package on the table, a monument to friendship among a barren landscape of materialism. As it stood there, a lone monolith among fragile scraps of paper and plastic, I briefly wondered who was actually right.

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