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Electronic Amusements May Outpace Traditional Gifts This Holiday Season


For the first time in any holiday season in U.S. history, electronic amusements may outpace clothing and some other traditional items as the most popular gifts. As always, young people make up an eager market for the hottest computer games and high tech gear. Even Michael Marriott, a technology reporter for the New York Times, finds it hard to contain his enthusiasm for this year's offerings. "If these games were movies," he says, "this would be blockbuster after blockbuster after blockbuster. People have been waiting in line to get some of these games."

Looking over the selections at the Virgin Mega-Store on Times Square, the reporter identifies Halo II by Microsoft and Bungee as probably the game to buy this holiday season. "It's a futuristic first person 'shooter' set somewhere in the 26th century [where] you're battling bug-like aliens...but they are very, very clever," says Mr. Marriott, who reports that 1.5 million units of Halo II were sold even before it was officially for sale.

The high resolution in the newest games makes the fanciful characters and locales seem realistic. "It's very much like being in a movie," says the New York Times journalist. "It's incredibly cinematic. You really want to sit back and just have some popcorn and not just pick up your game pad. But then you get an opportunity to really go inside this game and play it. It has great subtlety, great action - even a great sound track! You almost begin to believe that your opponents have real intelligence. It's just really really engaging."

Most of the games are geared to boys and young men. But Mr. Marriott says there are electronic attractions for the female consumer, as well. For example, a new Sims game called Urbz [short for urban] crosses the gender line well. "Sims are a simulation of life," he says. "You build houses [and] households. Now the individuals that you control actually go from birth to death. They age! You can have children. You can see the sort of result of the two characters together, and the third characters look somewhat like they could be related to them."

It is the control a player exerts over these simulated lives that may account for the game's appeal. But Mr. Marriott says the new Sims game is not the only product this year that gives the user god-like powers within a created world. "There is another game like that called Fable," he notes. "This game is all about the implications of what you do. If you are a young player in the game and you scar yourself early in life, later in life that scar would be very prominent and maybe affect the way that character reacts socially in the game. So you are 'playing God!'"

According to Mr. Marriott, many other kinds of new hardware products for sale this holiday season have been designed with young users in mind. The New York Times journalist was especially impressed with the Hippee. "It's a personal computer that was designed for young people by young people," he says. "So it looks like a computer, but it's made to work with your cell phone, it's made to download movies instantly, download music."

When asked why young people need their own sort of computer, Mr. Marriott could only roll his eyes. "They tend to be more interested in entertainment than productivity," he says. "You don't see a whole lot of young people who want to sit down and run spreadsheets. They want to see films. They want to connect with friends. They want to instant message. They want to videoconference. And all this stuff is built in right out of the box."

Mr. Marriott adds that the Hippee is also designed as a modular unit. "So the speakers come off and you put a strap on them and then all of a sudden you're walking around with a boom box," he says. "You take the cell phone out and use it independently. It has a camera they've made independently. And you put all things together, and you have a computer. It's just super-configured for young people."

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