When I think of GOAT Christmas gifts, the three Ms come instantly to mind: Mario, Mickey Mouse.
In the early 1990s, Santa brought a Super Nintendo Entertainment System down the chimney (or perhaps green warp pipe). The console bundle included the seminal classic Super Mario World, and I also received (the wildly underrated) The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse as a secondary gift from my parents.
I remember rushing downstairs to hook up the system in our basement to set up the console on a TV so small that Gen-Z kids would think it was a comedic prop. But for me it was pure low-def, 16-bit gaming bliss. It turns out the SNES would amass one of the greatest libraries in video gaming history, and it was a joy to grow up smashing goombas with Mario, mountain climbing with Mickey, beating up Foot Soldiers in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, exploring the epic RPG worlds of Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Super Mario RPG, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, powering up in Mega Man X games, smashing barrels in the Donkey Kong Country franchise, or even just swatting flies in the Mario Paint minigames.
That cold December morning, this wonderful gift opened the world of video gaming to me.
Growing up, the stereotypes about video games were often isolationist. Gaming was for shut-ins who didn't go outside, a solitary aspect that stunted social interaction and development. But I never found that to be the case, even in the age before online multiplayer gaming was the norm.
Loads of cherished memories revolve around social video gaming: grinding away entering roster names in NCAA Football games (pre-Name, Image, Likeness) so that we could spend even more hours building schools into digital powerhouses, wildly celebrating finally defeating IG-88 in Shadows of the Empire with "Eve of Destruction" blaring on the stereo after hours of failure in a friend's bedroom, dorm room Super Smash Brothers fracases, etc.
Even last year, there was a sense of communal peace among some friends despite the anxious pandemic world swirling around us because we were able to escape to our digital islands in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I also got to spend time hanging out in Animal Crossing land with celebrities like Blink-182's Mark Hoppus, Alison Wonderland, Xavier Woods and T-Pain as part of a story series for Launcher. It helped me stay sane in insane times.
All of those things grew from the seed of the SNES that showed up one Christmas morning. It was the gift that keeps on giving (and gaming). ♦