Northeastern holiday gift guide 2022: Level up with the latest in gaming

northeastern student wearing vr headset
Northeastern experts say the Meta Quest virtual reality headset is a introduction to VR. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

It’s an understatement to say this year was a big one in the world of video games. From big budget masterpieces to indie breakthroughs, there is no shortage of great games from 2022, which can make it tricky when it comes to shopping for the gamer in your life.

Fortunately, News@Northeastern spoke with a collection of Northeastern University’s gaming experts to give you some help in leveling up your gift-giving game. You won’t find 2022’s big AAA games like “Elden Ring” or “God of War Ragnarök” in this gift guide––there are plenty of publications that can vouch for them. But if you’re looking for more under-the-radar games, fun tabletop offerings or the best in gaming gear, Northeastern faculty have you covered.

Games, games and more games

The world of video games, like movies, includes everything under the sun, from blockbuster titles to small indie experiences.

“Citizen Sleeper,” developed by Gareth Damian Martin, has been recognized as one of the year’s best games––big or small––and was high on Northeastern professor of art and design Chris Martens’ end-of-the-year list. Martens calls “Citizen Sleeper “a narrative-focused cyberpunk game about survival as a social outcast on a space station.” It has light roleplaying and resource management and hefty ideas and emotions buoyed by “incredibly evocative writing and thought-provoking character arcs.” 

Martens also recommends the isometric, Zelda-inspired, mystery-filled adventure “Tunic” and “Harvestella,” a combination Japanese roleplaying game and farming simulator, for those who want to look beyond the traditional AAA gaming experiences.

When it comes to indie games, there’s no one better to offer recommendations than Celia Pearce, a professor of game design at Northeastern and chair of the IndieCade festival. Known as the Sundance of the video game industry, IndieCade is an annual spotlight of the best that indie games have to offer, and this year was no different.

“The same thing happens every year,” Pearce says. “I just go, ‘How are people making such fantastic games?’ And they keep doing it.”

Pearce says that any of the games that appeared at this year’s festival would make a great gift this holiday season, but she gave specific shoutouts to several games.

Jury Prix award winner “Unpacking,” developed by Witch Beam, is a “zen puzzle game” that follows the story of a woman through puzzles based around unpacking her possessions. Each time she reaches a new milestone in her life–moving into a college dorm for the first time or moving into her partner’s apartment–the player has to unpack and find room for familiar, mundane items. It’s an idea that makes for simple but engaging puzzles and a surprisingly emotional story told entirely through the simple act of unpacking.

For those who like “NPR-type games,” Pearce suggests IndieCade Grand Jury Award winner “Svoboda 1945: Liberation,” developed by Charles Games. “Svoboda” is a choice-driven narrative game where players investigate an old feud in a village on the Czech-German border. Featuring conversations with live action actors, the game delves into the chaotic aftermath of World War II and how people reconcile with the dark tendrils of history.

The holidays are best shared with family, and games are no different, which is why Pearce recommends “Babble Royale” from Everybody House Games. Created by a family development team, Pearce calls it a “battle royale word game” that is perfect for bringing together the youngest and oldest members of your family.

And if you’re not sure what game to buy–or you know a picky gamer–Martens says to not be afraid of buying gift cards for their favorite platform, whether it’s Steam or a Nintendo, PlayStation or Xbox console.

Active games

Gaming doesn’t have to be stationary, says Amy Lu, a Northeastern associate professor of communication studies.

For a good but still fun workout, she recommends the virtual reality rhythm game “Beat Saber,” “FitXR,” a VR workout game, and “The Thrill of the Fight,” a heart pumping VR boxing experience. Or if you’re more into a mindfulness session, Lu says “Tripp,” “Nature Treks” and “Maloka” are good choices that also take advantage of CR technology.

Gaming gear

For many gamers, it’s not just about what games they’re playing but how they’re playing, what peripherals they’re using and what accessories they have. 

If you’re looking to get someone into the world of VR, Lu and Mark Sivak, an associate teaching professor of art and design at Northeastern, says the Meta Quest 2 is the best place to start.

“Despite it [being] released a while ago, this is still the best affordable standalone VR headset with a good game library,” Lu says.

Meta’s VR headset not only doesn’t require a computer to run but its tracking and display technology are vastly improved over the original iteration of the technology, Sivak says.

Tabletop games

Looking to bring the whole family together? There’s nothing better than a good tabletop game.

Sivak recommends quick, easy-to-play games that can work for kids and adults, like “Skull King,” a trick-taking game that “is easy to play and has great strategic depth.” “Sushi Go,” a sushi themed set collecting game, is also a big hit in Sivak’s house, he says. 

“This game is simple to play, even with my kids who are 8 and 6, and plays quickly, plus it is cute and comes in a very portal tin,” Sivak says.

If you’re drawing blanks on good tabletop gaming gifts, Martens recommends using Shut Up & Sit Down’s game picker. Enter information about how many players you want, how complex the rule set should be and the play style, and this handy tool will spit out hand curated picks from the site’s board game reviewers.

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