In case you’ve completely ignored all the Christmas ads and decorations that have been up since, I don’t know, March or something, you’ll be aware that the festive season is upon us. And that means that you’re going to be getting a whole lot of Christmas-themed video game articles. The Ten Best Snow Levels, Our Favourite Video Game Reindeer, Six Cosy Fireplaces You Never Stop to Sit By in Games, that sort of thing.
To which I say: bollocks. The closest thing I’ve come to a “traditional” Christmas is drawing crude snowmen on my windscreen before scraping off the frost in the morning. So I’m going to be highlighting a couple of games that you can play to get into the festive spirit in true South African style.
Every year, Joburgers feel an ancestral call in their blood; it uproots them from their staid and grey lives in the City of Gold and drives them in an arduous trek to the sea, bringing their bizarre “traffic jam” ritual to the rest of the nation. Because why should we be the only ones who are miserable, right? Desert Bus captures perfectly the tedium of the trip. In many ways, it’s actually an improvement, as there’s no toll gates, squealing siblings/spawn, or other drivers. Just you, the road, a busted steering wheel and eight real-world hours of in-game driving.
For greater immersion, load up your Michael Bolton MP3 collection and listen to it non-stop, since it’s the only CD your folks brought along.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a vacation if you weren’t burdened by the fear that every worldly possession you own will be whisked away while you partake in a little sun and surf. Burglaries are a festive specialty in South Africa, and we understandably get a little paranoid about how well our homes are secured (answer: never enough). But what if you could go further – Macaulay Culkin further?
The Castle Doctrine, by Jason Rohrer, perfectly captures the act of trying to fortify your home on a shoestring budget and inevitably failing. Alternatively, for some catharsis, why not delve deeper in Dungeon Keeper, dressing a dungeon full of demons and deathtraps to decide the demise (don’t fret, dear reader: as a semi-qualified writer, I’m highly trained at wanton alliteration) of any interlopers foolish enough to try for your riches.
Alternatively, you can come at it from the burglar’s angle: there was a new Thief Gold HD mod released, so it’s a great way to get reacquainted with the Thief series. Alternatively, you could dig into the past and play one of my favourites from back in the day: the burglary simulation, The Clue!
The Clue!, however, doesn’t model distributing key-chains with trackers given unsuspecting house owners, or leaving empty cooldrink bottles to inform your accomplices, because the developers were a) making a simulation and as such, tried to model real life as closely as possible and b) know a stupid story when they read one.
Coca-Cola Christmas vans
In what no doubt carbon dates me by a billion years, nothing says South African Christmas like a Coca-Cola Christmas van driven by a bedraggled Santa. They were a constant delight among the other young dinosaurs in my neighbourhood, with their free Cokes and tinny carol jingles, and free Cokes and flashy lights, and those Coke yo-yos Father Christmas would hand out to get us to push off and, of course, the free Cokes.
Anyway, through the wonders of archaeology and modern modding, you can now experience the joy of driving a Christmas van in this glorious GTA IV mod.
Drunken swerving and incoherent mumbling about how you used to be somebody, with variations of “bugg’rit” and “gerrof you little-” are optional. Speaking of which, we come to that other South African Christmas custom…
There’s a reason that South Africans call December their silly season: end-of-year work functions, family get-togethers, vacations and cheap booze all fuel a proclivity for merriment. Or you could be extra classy, like these guys. Regardless, if you want a more refined air, games come to your rescue. Pretend you’re a rich nob with access to the most exclusive clubs in Poker Night at the Inventory 2, where you may participate in high stakes gambling among gentlemen, gentledogs and gentlerobots. GLaDOS may look on disapprovingly as you sip away but don’t worry, it’s not because you’re drinking – it’s because you’re you.
However, it wouldn’t be complete without our other quaint national pastime: driving under the influence, which is shared by nearly 50% of South African drivers who find themselves in fatal car accidents during Christmas. So you ask yourself: “Is Rick really going there?” to which I reply, “oh yes”. Yes I am. Carmageddon seems apt given the level of destruction most drunk drivers leave in their wake. It has just the right balance of, “No consequences to myself”, “Blatant disregard for other people’s lives” and the macho, “Look at all the funny faces I’m pulling, bru. Like, I don’t even know how I got home, bru. Pass me another brew, bru.”
As you probably gathered, I hold drinking and driving in particular contempt. Pro tip: if you do so, you’re the worst human being.
Finally, what South African Christmas would be complete without your parents or significant other – loving but clueless in the Way of the Game – dropping subtle hints that perhaps that console you had your eye on was on Santa’s delivery list, only to learn that Santa is dyslexic?
Yes, the number of Christmas mornings ruined by a PolyStation 3, GameStation or PVP handheld (which you can pretty much find at any flea-market nowadays), brings a tear of mirth to my eye. South Africa is no stranger to console clones – in fact, arguably one of the most popular, the Golden China, defined most South African’s formative gaming experience in the ’90s – and they’ve only increased in number. In fact, we have the dubious honour of having the most extensive Wikipedia entry on Nintendo hardware clones.
Anyway, that’s that. Wishing you an Amiable Celebratory Time or whatever the politically-correct term is these days.