A few people have asked me what gifts I think gamers might want. That's pretty hard to answer, but I'll try. First, gamers want Sirlin.net merchandise (also here) like T-shirts, mouse pads, or a Yomi tie.
Once that's out of the way, pretty much everyone likes Xbox Live Arcade so a gift card with Microsoft points is a good bet (assuming they have an Xbox 360 to begin with). A gift card will let them buy amazing games like Street Fighter HD Remix, the masterpiece Rez HD, or that new Civilization game. I haven't tried it but I bet it's good.
If anyone is playing Street Fighter HD Remix with a pad, they'd do well to stop doing that and get a joystick. I used these Hori sticks throughout all of Street Fighter's development, and I used one to reach #1 on the ranked leaderboards. I hear some people complain that this stick isn't good enough, but apparently it is! I've also heard people complain that the buttons break, but I've never had a problem with any of my hori ex2 sticks, so maybe I'm just extremely luckly. You could always hold out for this higher quality real arcade pro hori stick, but it won't be a holiday gift anymore.
Everyone seems to like these shooting games, and this RPG. But don't forget about Wii games. For actual gamers, Mario Galaxy and Resident Evil 4 are still as awesome as ever. I haven't played the new Lego Indiana Jones, but I loved the first Lego Star Wars and people tell me this one is even better. It can really bridge the gap between gamers and non-gamers (hint, play with your girlfriend). And things like Wii Music and Endless Ocean will also get non-gamers involved. [Edit: Wii Music is probably best for kids, while something like Guitar Hero is probably better to rope in adults.] There's also Wii Fit of course, but it's really hard to get right now.
As some general life advice, I recommend not using Microsoft Windows anymore. The most amazing material good that I have ever owned in my life is a Macbook Pro. It's a magical wonderland. No viruses exist for Mac, so there's no need to muck around with anti-virus software. The OS isn't DRM crazy like Vista, so it doesn't check all my hardware components 30 times per second to see if I have connected a device that might try copy DRM video. Above all else, it really does "just work" and have so many nuances of software design that are wonderful. It's also amusing that I can't even figure out how to network my two old PCs, yet my Mac can automatically see both of them and transfer files between them. So yeah, try out those new Macbook Pros that are even better than mine (get 4 GB of RAM so you can have 50 things open at once like me). They make them out of a single piece of carved aluminum these days, so even construction-wise they're pretty amazing. And you can run Windows on them too, in case you're developing a game with some bad person who keeps making a Windows-only version.
The 13" Macbook is even cheaper, and also worth every penny.
Books can change the way people think. Last year, I gave Flow and Blink as gifts to several people. Blink is a little more entertaining, but Flow is a little more important. Flow describes an important psychological state that we feel when we are challenged and it's tied to the process of achieving mastery AND plays in to people's overal, general happiness, if you can believe that. Blink shows the tip of the iceberg of the idea that we make decisions by only consciously knowing about tips of icebergs, yet those decisions are often very good. These books are important enough that it scares me that these subjects aren't regularly taught in school.
Gladwell (author of Blink) also has a new book called Outliers that I haven't read yet. Gladwell takes in a lot of info from boring research journals and puts them together into an interesting package that anyone can understand. I like doing that to, and I'm annoyed that Gladwell has even done this on a subject that I was about to do that for. He even used the same boring research papers and me for his sources. I hate being beaten, but I bet Ouliers is good.
I have that whole long list of recommended books, but I'll tell you here that the Geography of Bliss is a real gem. On writing quality and wit alone, I have to recommend it, not to mention the very interesting subject matter. The author is perfect for his subject: he's a grumpy guy (perfect to write about other people's happiness) who's a journalist (a real writer). He took a break from covering the most unhappy places on Earth to visit the most happy places on Earth. They aren't what you'd expect, and they aren't happy for the reasons you'd expect them to be. The Geography of Bliss is a safe gift for pretty much anyone.
I don't know the first thing about this Arcade Mania book. It's about Japanese arcades and has a picture of Ryu on the cover. What I do know is that surprisingly many people who visit my site have bought this book.
Movies and TV About Not Following The Rules
It's interestng that games are, at their core, systems of rules and yet games produce communities of people who are highly skeptical of rules. That is why I suggest these stories that are about breaking rules.
House. (Season 1,2,3,4, or entire collection.) House's personality type is INTP, the same as mine. He and I are very similar, it's just that he's an exaggeration--a caricature--and an overly mean-spirited one at that. But consider what he does: look for the truth and do what's necessary to save his patient. The human body is complicated and figuring out what's wrong with something complicated is complicated. The same is true of diagnosing software. I even use the same phrase he uses he uses all the time: "This explains everything!" when looking for theories that might explain what's going on.
Why is it that during Street Fighter's development a certain combo worked when the frame stats said it couldn't? Why did the beta test rewind gameplay further back in time than should have been possible? Why did Sagat's sound effect for "tiger" not work on the 2p side, when every other sound effect in the game worked fine? How is it possible that when I made a change in Vega's file to make his Wall Dive not knock down--but did not check that file into version control--that a programmer who got the latest files HAD my change? Also, how is possible that on neither of our machines did the Wall Dive actually knock down? Were these two baffling problems related, or coincidence? (Note that all these problems were solved, so don't freak out over SF HD Remix.)
I think you get the idea. It's about finding the truth and fixing the patient, even if you have to break some eggs along the way. House is practically about game development.
V for Vendetta. V demonstrates that in a world where the goverment is so corrupt as to take people's rights away, that a terrorist is actually the good guy. Or least he's close enough to being a good guy that it makes you think about the nature of laws, and when is it ok to go outside them and when is it not. I thought it was the most overlooked film of the year it came out, and your anarchist gaming friends will probably still like it. (I bet Dr. House would, too.)
And if you don't mind spoilers, here is probably 2006's best scene (only for people's who's heart's aren't black and dead.) It's about when "different became dangerous."
Pan's Labyrinth. Fairy tales often try to scare kids into respecting (aka blindly following?) authority. Not Pan's Labyrinth. If I could sum it up in a sentence, I would say "It is wrong to do nothing while injustice is being done, especially if that injustice is cloaked in authority." The heroes of the story are those who fight against wrong, even when wrong has become the status quo and even when they have little chance of success. They do this regardless of (dire) consequences. Those who fall in line and let wrong continue die forgettable deaths. So there's a lesson for you, kids. Also, the film is visually amazing, creative, and beautiful.
Hellboy 2. What, Hellboy 2, really? Yes, really. I think it was the most visually stunning film of the year, for starters. Many of the monsters are similar in style to what we saw in Pan's Labyrinth, but the production values are even higher this time. That's not the point at all though. Hellboy 2 has similar themes to Pan's Labyrinth. In each, there's a shadowy other world of demons, just on the periphery of our world. In Hellboy 2, one of those demons believes that humanity has squandered its civilization. Closed-minded thinking, fear of beings who are different, reckless destruction of the environment, and petty wars. He's got us pegged on that, and his alien perspective helps us see how truly terrible we are.
That said, the opposite theme of mercy is also there. The Golden Army (Hellboy 2's subtitle) is a military force so powerful and unstoppable that even its creator felt it should not be used. Perhaps no one should have that kind of military force, if you know what I mean. And even though the demon who would judge humanity unworthy and who would unleash the Golden Army has some solid points, those who feel that is wrong cannot stand by and let what they perceive as injustice be done. Action is required, no matter the consequence.
The Dark Knight. How about at least one gift idea that appears on everyone else's list too? The Dark Knight has a lot going for it. The always-excellent Christian Bale remains always excellent. But we all know that it's Heath Ledger who, against all odds, knocked it way, way out of the park. If someone said to an actor, "Play a part that Jack Nicholson played, but somehow do a much better job than him," I'd think that would be a near-impossible challenge. But The Dark Knight's Joker is a memorable anarchist indeed. He's not like House or V or the heroes of Del Toro's films. He doesn't break the rules because doing so is necessary for some higher good. Instead, he breaks the rules because he thinks it's damn fun and we can't help but have fun along with him.
Happy Holidays to everyone.