The lights, the music, the snow—there’s something truly enchanting about the holidays. Here at Couch Bandits, this is one of our favorite times of the year, and we’re always looking for ways to celebrate and observe this joyous season. Whether it be through our holiday Game-a-Thons, or putting on a playlist of our favorite Christmas music, we love to partake in the season’s festivities.
There’s plenty of holiday movies out there for you to watch, and an abundance of holiday songs to choose from—but when it comes to video games, the options seem much more few and far between. In order to help find a solution to this travesty, I’ve decided to contribute a short list of video games that always put me in the holiday spirit. In no specific order, here’s what I’d recommend if you’re looking for a video game to give you a Yuletide fix:
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I know, I know—it’s not a holiday game at all, but The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim still somehow manages to capture a comparable mood and magic to the holiday season. If you don’t believe me, try taking an evening stroll through the city of Whiterun at night. Gaze upon the fire-lit stone buildings as the snow falls gently around you. Feast your eyes upon the distant Northern lights twinkling in the sky—then go settle yourself by the warm, roaring fire at The Bannered Mare, and fill your festive gut with hot food and mead. Something about the frosty atmosphere of Skyrim is just enough to qualify this timeless classic as a game to play during the holidays.
It also helps that the game was originally released in November—and if you’re anything like me, you tend to tie art to the time period in which you first experienced it. Most of us gamers bought the game as soon as it was released, and some of us even had it on our gift lists for that holiday season. It makes complete sense that in turn, Skyrim would evoke a certain wintery nostalgia for those of us who first played it at this time of the year. With its stunning snow-covered forests and landscapes, Skyrim will undoubtedly work its festive magic on you this holiday season.
Throughout most of the year, Overwatch is a vibrant and fun team-based competitive shooter. It’s known for its diverse and exciting cast of characters, and in its own right, the game contains plenty of life and identity. There’s nothing particularly festive about it, until the holiday season rolls around and the game is transformed by a seasonal event.
Each year at this time, Overwatch overhauls its character skins, maps, and special game modes for a holiday-themed limited event. This year’s “Winter Wonderland 2018” event is no exception, with the game’s aesthetic being packed with as much holiday cheer as you can handle. All the skins from previous holiday events return, alongside fresh new ones—and fun new minigames/game modes are made available for a limited time while the event is in effect. The core game largely remains the same, but something about rampaging through the newly snow-covered maps will put a smile on your face and holiday cheer in your heart.
This isn’t the only online multiplayer game on this list, and that’s for a good reason. Online games have an extended lifespan that has to grow and evolve as time passes in order to stay fresh and relevant. The best online multiplayer games do holiday-themed events such as this and keep players coming back for new material and content. No game has quite done this better or more consistently than Overwatch—and if you jump online to take part in the Winter Wonderland, you’re guaranteed to have a jolly old time.
3. Animal Crossing
If you’ve ever played an Animal Crossing title, you’ll know the game reflects our real-world passage of time. You watch as your town goes through each season, and the environment around you changes accordingly. The franchise also works to coincide with major holidays, and when the Yuletide season comes around, Animal Crossing has always done a masterful job at observing it in such a loving and heartfelt way.
The Animal Crossing series has quickly become a personal favorite of mine to load up during the holidays because it feels so wholesome and cozy. Your town is covered in a fresh blanket of snow, while colored lights adorn the white-capped pines. You can decorate your home with holiday-themed furniture/knick-knacks, and you can even dress up as Santa and help Jingle deliver presents to all your residents.
The franchise’s community even gets in on the holiday fun, with custom-designed Christmas sweater QR codes, alongside other festive outfits. Whether you’re playing New Leaf like me, or partaking in the recently released Pocket Camp holiday events, Animal Crossing is the perfect series to be playing at this time of year. The sleigh-bell-driven soundtrack will melt your heart as you warm your bones in The Roost Cafe, slowly sipping a hot cup of Brewster’s finest.
Yet another multiplayer game that gets the holiday season right is RuneScape. A ground-breaking MMORPG that changed the face of online gaming forever, RuneScape has been around for a staggering 17 years now and has seen a wide variety of updates and changes throughout its history. The developers at Jagex have always offered their loyal players fun holiday experiences, and the winter season is no exception. From dedicated holiday-themed quests to in-game charity events, RuneScape represents the season arguably better than any other video game.
This year’s seasonal event is taking place on Old School RuneScape and involves players dressing up as a Christmas tree and handing out gifts to the good people of Lumbridge. It’s a fun and charming mini-quest that captures the game’s classic wit and aesthetic.
For those who’d rather play the regular, current iteration of the game, there’s still some holiday fun to be had. Players are treated to an Advent calendar, which grants daily gifts of skill items and bonus experience leading up to Christmas Eve. The Grand Exchange has also been beautifully overhauled for the holidays—covered in glistening white snow, with healthy helpings of Christmas decorations to make the market seem jolly and bright. This is a game I constantly find myself returning to around the holidays, and I can’t recommend it enough.
5. Batman: Arkham Origins
Batman: Arkham Origins is less a Christmas game and more a game that happens to take place during Christmas. That said, it’s basically a Christmas game, and technically the only true holiday game through-and-through on this list.
There’s something about Gotham at Christmastime that’s so inexplicably charming. With the snow falling on the city, and the Christmas decorations garnishing the Gothic buildings—the imagery hearkens back to Tim Burton’s masterpiece Batman Returns, which is unquestionably one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made. Burton saw the potential in putting the Dark Knight against the backdrop of the most festive time of year, much in the same way WB Games Montreal did when developing Arkham Origins. It’s something that shouldn’t work but totally does. It also dares to prominently feature one of the Caped Crusader’s lesser-known rivals, Black Mask.
In spite of all it had going for it, Arkham Origins remains the black sheep of the franchise—maybe because it’s the only game in the series to not be developed by Rocksteady. I fell in love with the game from the first time I tried it, if only because I absolutely love the concept and imagery of Batman making his rounds on Christmas Eve. The contrast of dark and light, brooding and joyous, just simply cannot be beat. As you roam the dark, snowy streets you’ll hear faint Christmas music in the distance. Gotham just looks especially stunning when highlighted by the vivid, sparkling decorations of the season.
In my opinion, the game was immensely overlooked and underappreciated at the time of its release and deserves to be recognized as one of the standout entries in the franchise. Arkham Origins dared to have an identity of its own, and although it rehashed and reused a lot of elements from previous titles in the series, it utilized the magic of the holiday season to make it shine as bright as a Christmas tree topper.
So, there you have it! My list of holiday video game favorites. Do you have games that you like to play this time of year to put you in a festive mood? Let me know in the comments, I’m sure there are plenty I’ve missed!
Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays!