Christmas-themed video games are scarce for a reason

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Illustration by Evan McGrady

Jonah Schuhart, Contributing Writer

Even though so much of the world’s media and merchandise are saturated by Christmas propaganda with Santa acting as the poster boy, you’d be pressed to find a video game entirely dedicated to Christmas.

Santa has been slapped on everything from movies and TV to Coca-Cola bottles. The big man is so popular that during the holidays, you’d be hard-pressed to find an American mall without a half-drunk Saint Nick making empty promises to small children. 

 Now that’s not to say that there is a complete lack of holiday games. A quick internet search reveals pretty quickly that there are a few notable examples. 

The most recent game that comes to mind is Dead Rising 4, which took a more humorous spin on the series’ original mall setting by having it take place during the holidays. 

The game’s launch trailer even parodies “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” with a voiceover from the game’s protagonist. Going back a bit further in time, there was an official game based on the Tim Burton movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas” called Oogie’s Revenge for the Playstation 2 and Xbox. 

This game is exceptionally notable for being a triple-whammy of surprise. Not only is it a 3D brawler like God of War (for some reason), but all the boss fights are also musical numbers.

It also joins the “Home Alone” games for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) as a rare example of a licensed holiday movie game, and is probably the only one that combines elements from both Halloween and Christmas.

“Christmas is all well and good, but that much holiday cheer can only be taken seriously for so long before it becomes ridiculous.” – Jonah Schuhart

Less rare than true blue holiday games are Christmas-themed expansion packs, also known as downloadable content (DLC), for existing games. The most classic example of this is Duke: Nuclear Winter, the 1997 festive expansion to Duke Nukem 3D.

This expansion put a league of angry elves called the Feminist Elven Militia and snowmen in front of Duke’s barrel. In a similarly campy manner, Saints Row 4 also released their own Christmas-themed DLC pack, How the Saints Saved Christmas, furthering the absurdity the series is known for.

Plenty of modern multiplayer games also hold Christmas-themed events. Every Christmas season, Overwatch holds their yearly “Winter Wonderland” event. During this limited time, the whole game gets a bit of a holiday re-hash, competitive balance changes are made and new cooperative game modes are made available. 

Of course, an Overwatch event wouldn’t be complete without a plethora of new character skins. Between mid-December and January, the whole game looks like somebody set off a bomb made in Santa’s workshop. Overwatch isn’t the only game that follows this model either. Street Fighter 5 and Grand Theft Auto have released holiday packs for their multiplayer modes. 

But that still doesn’t answer the question of why there are so few holiday-themed games compared to movies. Most of the examples listed above are either previously licensed properties, intentional parodies of Christmas tropes or DLC. And it’s not as if the holiday season isn’t important for gaming. 

Plenty of each year’s most anticipated releases come out between Halloween and Christmas, so why not try and cash in on it with a full-on Christmas-themed game? 

It’s possible that it’s because video games have a much longer lifespan than a movie does. It may be easy enough for viewers to enjoy 90 minutes of corporate Christmas cheer in the movie theaters or on TV, but it seems like a stretch for a 12-hour game entirely dedicated to Christmas to be equally as enjoyable. 

Christmas is all well and good, but that much holiday cheer can only be taken seriously for so long before it becomes ridiculous.

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