Everyone knows Christmas is literally just about drinking spiked eggnog and sullenly disagreeing with your parents. And that, at some point, your mom will start an argument about something in the 1985 edition of Trivial Pursuit, while your brother will find the patterns in the tablecloth really interesting, before regurgitating some turkey and cranberry sauce back up into his lap.
This is a given. It is tradition and it is dependable. But there are alternatives. This is the future; now, at 7 PM on Christmas day, when you're too drunk for polite conversation, you're no longer forced to resort to that musty old Monopoly board. Instead, you can start your arguments with a new medium of entertainment called the "video game."
And the best thing you can do to kick-start the process is in invest in Spaceteam.
The Spaceteam trailer
Spaceteam is a "cooperative shouting game for phones and tablets," as its makers put it, and it's available for iOS and Android devices. You need two of these devices at least to make it work, but ideally every member of your argument party will need a device with the game on to play.
The idea is that you're all on the bridge of a spaceship hurtling through space, and each player has a number of buttons on a panel in front of you to help fly it as far as you can. Instructions appear at the top of the screen, but you haven't got all the buttons: The instructions need to be delegated to be completed. So you have to shout them out Star Trek-style to each other: "Discharge the Clip-Jawed Fluxtrunions!" "Discharged! Decrease Chemical Quartz to 2!"
It gets ever more furious as the instructions get faster, your buttons start to shake and warp on screen, and slime (inexplicably) starts to ooze from the panel. It's just like pretending to be on the USS Enterprise, if the ship was populated by people who consistently bicker about who should have to be Scottie, and god, WHY won't you just vent the HYPERSPANNERS?
Another recent discovery of mine has been the game Friendstrap. It's the lesser-known release of developers Game Oven, who made Fingle, a game that's a bit like Twister for fingers set to porny music. Fingle is great, but I don't know if I'd want to play something with porn overtones with any member of my family. It would also lead to my dad making inexcusable jokes that might lead to my sitting with my head over the toilet for the rest of the night.
The trailer for Friendstrap
Anyway, Friendstrap is great: on both iOS and Android, it's a game that requires you and a partner of your choice to put a thumb on the screen and hold it, where it will show a conversation topic. Your job is to talk about the topic for as long as the timer goes for. When the device vibrates, time is up and you release your fingers, then touch again for another subject. The idea is to go for as long as you can, bound together by the device. It's fantastic for getting to know someone, creating strange lines of conversation, breaking the ice at parties and for liquor-induced after-dinner garbles. Plus, it's simple enough for your grandma to get the hang of it after a couple of turns.
The trailer for Sportsfriends
Sportsfriends is a bundle of four extraordinarily well-crafted, award-winning games intended for people to play together in one room on the PS3 or PS4.
These "local multiplayer" games have been tried and tested in a number of stringent ways by me, such as when I was drunk at a Wild Rumpus event, when I was on antibiotics at Gamecity, and when I beat chair of the International Game Festival Brandon Boyer at Super Pole Riders fair and square. While three out of the four games utilize renowned Old People Obstacle, the PlayStation controller, the game Johann Sebastian Joust uses PlayStation Move controllers, which are slightly easier for Olds to understand, in the same way they usually understand you can aim a TV remote control at a screen and it's supposed to make something happen.
The trailer for Johann Sebastian Joust
You can play this physical party game with up to eight people all at once, and the idea is you stand in a circle (you don't even have to look at a screen to play this game), hold your Move controller upright and try to be the last person with their controller lit up. When the game plays JS Bach's "Brandenburg Concertos" in slow-motion, the controllers are sensitive to movement, but when the music speeds up they're not so sensitive—and if you move your controller too much you're out.
House rules are great fun to institute here, too: You can have an all-seated round, or lie down, or you could introduce the rule that everyone should be holding a piece of pie in their other hand. A lot of dancing, shuffling, and elbow nudging ensues, and the younger you are the more boisterous you get. But I must remind you of the old Scottish adage: You cannae shove yer grannie, for she's yer mammy's mammy.
The other Sportsfriends games are more like straight-up video games, but Hokra is a particular favorite of mine because it's so easy to grasp: t's just a kind of video game ice hockey seen from the top down.
Singstar, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band are other failsafe favorites that might already be in your cupboard. Having loud pop tracks blaring out of the TV means your family can't possibly start a conversation about when you're going to get a boyfriend, when you're going to get a driving license, when you're going to get mortgage, when you're going to get that actually quite worrying mole removed, etc, etc, etc, when you're screaming the Cure and attempting to destroy the drum pads with the vigor of someone who only has to do this once a year. If you're less lucky, your father will claim he can sing and choose to massacre your favorite Bowie track.
I did a straw poll on Twitter of all your favorite games to play when you go home, and I got many touching stories. A person mentioned, in a warm and fuzzy fashion, that she often plays Super Mario Bros. with her mom at Christmas. Another mentioned going home to play Halo with his brothers. This year, the new Mario Kart and Smash Bros entries seem to be the things you want to take home with you to play.
The trailer for Flower
At the end of the poll, my friend Sanatana Mishra suggested that he liked playing a game like Flower on this holiday—a game it's possible to enjoy passively when people are busy. He said his mom loved watching it. I gently realized he was talking in the past tense, and I thought to myself: yes. Video games are a fire, and we sit around them. Whether we're shouting at each other, or appreciating each other, we at least have some kindling around.
Sportsfriends is available on Steam from tomorrow.
Follow Cara Ellison on Twitter.