It's an interesting question, make no mistake. Most of us have played a game at one time or another in which a special holiday event or holiday-related memorabilia has come up. But do these things make our games better? Or do they just fill space and empty holiday hours?
The answer to that question is, as ever, it really depends on the event. Some games will take the holiday event concept to terrific levels. For instance, recently, “Saints Row 4” recently unveiled its own spin on the holiday season in the form of “How the Saints Save Christmas,” a complete downloadable content (DLC)
storyline that added the Saints Row brand of humor to the holiday, complete with snowmen and a chunk of new plot. That's pretty exciting. Meanwhile, the folks at Rockstar cranked up “GTA Online” with the unexpected, a white Christmas for Los Santos and Blaine County. This unexpected combination brings with it not only new scenery—some of the winter shots of Los Santos are oddly beautiful, a combination you really don't expect with “Grand Theft Auto
,” but also adding in a new dynamic of trying to drive on snowy roads, which as most anyone who's ever driven on snowy roads will tell you, is a much more difficult prospect than dry roads.
Even here, though, we also get a look at some of the lesser points of holiday gaming events. “GTA Online” is throwing in new camera features, as well as discounts on weapons and vehicles and a few new costume options, like a Santa mask for those vaguely nauseating holiday robberies. Seriously, who robs a bank dressed like Santa Claus? Oh, wait, some people actually do.
It's hard to deny the fun of a game that uses Christmas elements in storylines. Even just an unexpected white Christmas can be fun. Though it's worth noting that there are other holidays that happen around this time; why not a Hanukkah-themed event? Even “Futurama” did a fine job pulling off a multi-holiday event with “Going to War” from“Bender's Big Score.” Granted, Robot Santa, Kwanzaa-bot and the Hanukkah Zombie
aren't exactly recognized figures of the season, but it's still a sound enough proposition.
The basic idea here is that, like any DLC, holiday-themed content can be a great idea or a terrible one. It can be a joy, with new storylines, exciting new ideas, fun new gameplay elements that make it worth dropping the extra five or six bucks for a new slice of a game that we'd thought already beaten and played out. But holiday-themed DLC can also be pointless new costumes and assorted new scenery bits that look nice but really don't add that much to the action. Some may be just fine with a few pretty things added on, but others, not so much.
Essentially—and this is a message more for the game developers than anything else—if you're going to do holiday-themed DLC, or otherwise add a holiday-themed event to a game, do it right. Make sure the gamers get something new and useful, new gameplay elements, new storylines, whatever, really, along with their something pretty to look at. The best holiday content does that, and emulating the best is seldom a bad move.