I like getting gifts. Sure, I like giving gifts but I really like getting them. Some of the best gifts I’ve gotten in my life include my NES at age 4, a G1 Star Scream somewhere around 5, and my Howard the Duck Funko. I know Funko’s are kind of played out, but Howard the Duck is life. Why are these gifts so good? They all were things clearly representative of my personality from people close to me who understood who I am. When I was in high school, my girlfriend got me an original SNES with a few games. That was a great gift. A few years ago my mom got me Batman 181, the first appearance of Poison Ivy. That was a fantastic gift.
See, the thing about great gifts is doing something unusual but obvious; fun but touching; and memorable without being useless. They are items we love, cherish, and use (or abuse). If you’re out there trying to find the perfect gift for the nerd, geek, Trekkie, Whovian, comic book guy, or LARPer in your life, start here. I promise you that if you buy me anything on this list, I won’t be disappointed! Oh, wait… I mean if you buy someone you care about a thing on this list, they won’t be disappointed. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t buy Kurt anything. He only deserves coal.)
BUILD A FANTASY TERRARIUM
Have a friend or loved one who is big into fantasy? Maybe a Lord of the Rings junkie or a Game of Thrones addict? Why not take that world of fantasy and make them a little, fun terrarium? Using live plants, some miniatures or small toys, and an old aquarium you could make an amazing fantasy world for a desk or windowsill. It’s a little bit different, it’ll last a long time, and it’s fun. As they go, they could even add to it. Maybe start with a couple of Hobbits and a Smaug. Then they could add an Ent or a Ring Wraith. The possibilities are only limited by space, money, and what plants you can find at your local garden shop.
A REALLY AWFUL VIDEO GAME
Most of us in the nerd community are gamers to some extent. I really consider myself more of a retro gamer, relishing in a hard fought game of Super C, but some of you are playing those doodads online with the headsets and the tea bagging or whatever. I can’t keep up with your Call of Watchdogs or Overwatch Theft Auto. I don’t know what the kids play. But what I do know is that bad games are universally hilarious.
Good games are great experiences. When you pick up Earthbound or Metal Gear Solid for the first time, you find a great blend of gameplay, storytelling, and art. Fantastic. Still, though, a truly awful game can be just as memorable and a ton of fun to play with friends. Pick someone up a copy of Superman on N64, Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing on PC, or one of those crappy plug-and-play games from clearance section of Wal-Mart. Most bad games are cheap, so why not buy a few and make a night of it? Laugh, snack, and see who can play the longest without through the controller out the window because the hit detection is off beyond comprehension.
MAKE CHRISTMAS 1988 AGAIN
Everyone has fond memories of a toy or game they had as a kid. Some of us weirdos kept a few, or bought back our favorites, and proudly display them in cabinets. Some of us even bought toys we never had but always wanted, like my Shogun Warriors Godzilla. That thing is freaking awesome and I didn’t get it until I was in my late teens! Find out from your friend or family member what their favorite toy they had, or the one they never had, was. Buy that toy.
Sure, a lot of vintage toys can be worth quite a bit of money or are exceedingly rare. Want a MOC Boba Fett? Good luck. Want the G.I. Joe USS Flagg? Just give up now. Luckily many of the best toys can be found at a great price or if you are willing to find out of box, well-loved, or that off version of something. I’m sure the gift receiver will still be happy they got a cheesy Rock & Roll version of Raphael or a loose Power Ranger Zord. They will still look fantastic on a shelf or desk.
HIRe A PHOTOGRAPHER
Have a friend who is a cosplayer? Maybe they are just starting out, maybe they want to try, or maybe they’ve been cosplaying since we just called it “being the weird guy dressed as Black Adam at Chicago Comic Con.” Whatever their level, why not get them a photoshoot with a professional photographer? Heck, maybe they don’t cosplay but have some other interest that a photographer can be involved in… cataloging their collection, showing off their rare items, or just making a geeky Christmas card.
A good, quality piece of original art is something that can be loved and handed down in families. When I was finally making a few dollars after grad school, I bought my mom a Roy Lichtenstein original signed print. My mom likes pop art and comics, and she’s the type of woman to rarely buy something for herself unless it’s “useful”. She loved the print. Find out what the person you are buying to truly loves and see if you can get some art related to it. I highly recommend seeking out original pieces from the original artists whenever possible, like some hand painted animation cells – some of which can be found for a low, low price – or an original comic book page.
Another great option is to seek out the artist themselves, like at a convention or on Google. Many can customize drawings for the right price or will at least sign an existing piece with a personal message. And don’t be afraid to get a smaller piece or something more minimal if your budget can’t afford an original full-size Jack Kirby hand drawing. When it comes to original art, it’s really the thought and the look of the piece more than the size or cost.
A MUSEUM PASS
Many of us nerds are interesting in science, history, art, or a myriad of other areas. Most of these areas of interest have associated museums of other institutions. A lot of these places allow visitors and a pass for a loved one to a museum, zoo, park, or event is a great idea. Research shows that experiences make us happier in the long run than owning stuff. If you don’t believe me, ask someone like Dr. Thomas Gilvich at Cornell. Some of his research shows that money can sort of buy happiness, if spent on experiences. Lots of science comes to the same conclusion.
And, hey, an even better idea is to be selfish and take someone with you to a museum they might enjoy. If you’re buying them the pass to the MOBA (Museum of Bad Art in Massachusetts) or the Museum of Death here in sunny SoCal, get one for yourself. That way you can increase both of your happiness meters and level up.
MAKE A DAY OF GIVING
Why not do something for others instead of each other this year? Put on your favorite cosplay and go volunteer. Many organizations are happy to take some help, whether it’s dropping off food for the elderly or collecting toys for kids. If you are part of an organization, round up the other Stormtroopers and get moving. Every Jedi knows that helping others is the best path to enlightenment. Have a group wear matching Superman shirts and go play with shelter dogs. Throw on your best Stark doublet, add a random British accent, and go caroling. The best part about having a group of friends going around to help people isn’t just that it feels good, but it’s also probably free. That means you can not only help some folks in need but you’ll still have money left over to buy your significant other that Spider-Man watch they wanted.
Now that, my friends, is a memorable holiday.