Sometimes people ask me for suggestions when they want to buy a game for a niece or a grandson or some other relative. The answer is, it depends, and the secret to finding the right game is to know what it depends on. Personally, I’m a great believer in having people email me a list of things they want and where they can be bought, but if you’re looking to make your gift a surprise, here are a few tips on finding the perfect present.
Find out what they play games on.
The first thing I ask someone when they want to buy a video game as a present is what game console or type of PC does the intended recipient have. Often the response is, “he has a Nintendo” or “she has the little one all her friends have.” This is not helpful. There are many game consoles, each of which requires games made specifically for that console. You need to know if you’re buying a game for the Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, DS or something else. If they play games on a computer, do they have Windows or a Mac? If you don't know, just buy them a t-shirt or something.
What kind of games do they like?
There are a lot of game genres – fighting games, racing games, first person shooters, third person shooters, role playing games, platformers and many more. People tend to pick a few genres they love and are loathe to play anything else. Find out what kind of games your intended recipient likes, either by asking what her/his favorite games are or by simply asking what kind of games he/she prefers. Of course, tastes change, and if you get them something outside of their normal preference that they like then you will have expanded their world, but more likely they will just leave it moldering in a corner.
Is the game age appropriate?
Games have age ratings, ranging from E for Everyone, which is appropriate for all ages, to Adults Only for those over 18. Just because a child says he really, really wants that game where people go to strip clubs and beat people to death with baseball bats does not mean you have to supply it. On the back of the game box you will find the rating with an explanation of what aspects might be considered objectionable, such as blood, partial nudity or crude humor).
Is the game any good?
Finding a game that is actually fun can be a tricky proposition. You can use game reviews as a guide, but we all have seen critics universally praise something terrible or slam something great. Still, it can be useful to go to a aggregate review sites like Game Rankings or Metacriticand see what’s popular. Movie-based games used to be a definite no-no, but they have improved, as have games based on cartoon series. As a general rule though, games based on live action TV series are still usually terrible.
Can they return it?
In spite of your best efforts, your present may still elicit a roll of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulders or an “I played this already.” Check the store’s return/exchange policy. And don’t feel bad; it’s the thought that counts.
What should you avoid buying?
There's an amusing and useful article on what video games to not buy kids at Crispy Gamer (i.e., don't buy games with "family" in the title or games that misspell any word with a "z" at the end). Be warned, Crispy Gamer uses non-family-friendly language in their article.Crispy Gamer's No B******t Rules Non-Gaming Parents Should Follow When Buying Videogames for Their Kids