The holiday season is upon us. To all gamers of all backgrounds, I warmly wish you a happy Christmakwanzakkah– and Thanksgiving! This is the time to celebrate all of the things that matter most– gathering with family, friends, loved ones. It is the time to appreciate and be thankful for our lives, our good fortune, our good health, the clothes on our backs, the food on our table, the wonderful people at our side…

And games.

Yes! Games!

In my case, it is a particular game-themed event. You see, every year, I participate in a little shindig called the “Annual Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Portugal Independence, Japanese Emperor’s birthday, Boxing Day, Thank GOD the semester’s almost over, Winter Festival, Oh Boy it’s COLD party!” For short, it is known as my gamer group’s holiday party.

I play/have played with a few different groups, but this group will always truly be my gamer family. When I was a wee undergrad, this was the group that took me under their gamerly guidance and molded me into the type of gamer I am today. This is the group that hosts the annual winter convention at SUNY Geneseo called Running GAGG, and it a group that stays connected. The alumni play a vital role with the school’s gaming group by playing games with students new and old and offering help or advice, especially during Running GAGG and mini con seasons. People cross state lines just to attend the con and the holiday party. This is indeed gamer family.

A gamer family which, of course, turns a party into a game. You may have heard of white elephant parties.

It all starts simply enough for a party. People make food. People bring food. People bring stuff for the local food pantry. Some of us bring children (yes, our group is already working on the next generation of little gamers). AND! People bring a handmade gift for the gift exchange.

That’s the game.

Those attending must bring a gift which they have made themselves. It’s what I like to call “nerdcraft.” Not all the gifts are necessarily gamer-themed, but a lot of them are. The idea is to show off our creativity and talent, and everyone wants to go in there hoping they made something that will knock the socks off of somebody. Some people create homebrew board games or card games. One year, somebody modified a PS2. Sometimes, there are customized figurines/miniatures. A few years ago, I scored my favorite hat. Looks a little somethin’ like this:

It's a pretty cunning hat, but when I walk down the street in it... well, the effect isn't quite the same for a tiny blonde girl.

It’s a pretty cunning hat, but when I walk down the street in it… well, the effect isn’t quite the same for a tiny blonde girl.

The way it works is pretty simple. We come in. We say hello and catch up. The gifts go under the tree. After some time, everybody draws a number out of a hat. Person who draws number 1 gets to select a gift from under the tree. They also get a candy cane which is used as a “break” in the game; that is what happens whenever a person opts to pick a gift out from the tree…until we run out of candy canes, at least.

So person 1 get the gift, and when they open said gift–whenever anyone ever opens a gift– the rest of the party will say, “Oooh” and “Ahhh.” Once we’ve enjoyed the reveal of gift 1, the person who drew number 2 gets to go. They can either take a new gift from under the tree (and get a candy cane), or they can take a gift that has already been opened. So if you are number 2, and you are really digging 1’s gift… well, that means their gift is your gift now.

For now.

That’s the beauty of it. Because the cycle just goes on and on. Person 3 could take from the opened gift selection or take a gift from the tree. If someone steals from you, you can’t directly steal from the person who has just stolen from you. It gets really interesting when small groups tease out how to trade and steal gifts amongst themselves, but if the same three or four or so people are continuously rotating the same gifts around… THAT is when you can use your candy cane break. In the most basic terms, it is a combo breaker.

The game usually lasts a couple of hours, and it ends when everybody has a gift.

It sounds like it could have the potential for disaster, but everyone coming into it has a very positive, fun-loving attitude. Little rivalries arise in-game in the name of good sport. There’s uproarious laughter all night, and it is an incredibly good time.

I’ve always left the party happier than when I arrived, and that is why it continues to be my favorite holiday tradition.

So what about you readers out there? What are your holiday gaming traditions? Please comment and share your stories too!