Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gifts for Geeks: "Safe" Gifts for Befuddled Buyers

Shopping for the perfect geek gift is kinda like launching an assault against the Death Star--you're almost guaranteed to fail unless you have a solid plan and the ghostly voice of an old man telling you what to do.

If the little (or terrifyingly big) fanboy/fangirl on your list is a challenge to shop for, this guide is for you. If you have no idea what I was referencing just a moment ago, then this post is expecially for you.

Alex put forth an outstanding guide to buying comics gifts yesterday, and I'd like to follow that up with a non-fandom-specific shopping guide. I guarantee nothing, but following this guide will at least put you on the right path to buying that perfect gift for the geek(s) in your life:

Find out as you can about the gift recipient before you even consider buying anything. Try to answer as many of these questions as possible:

Stargate action figure- What genres do they enjoy? (Horror, fantasy, comedy, etc.)

- What fandoms do they like? (Stargate, Discworld, Twilight, etc.) (Yes, Twilight.)

- What kinds of gifts do they want? (Practical stuff, stuff to put on display, disposable stuff, etc.)

- What, specifically, do they have? (Daredevil #1, a glut of Castlevania games, pirated copies of the entire Ranma 1/2 anime series)

This last question is key. If the geek in your life is clearly collecting something, whether it's PEZ dispensers or Wheel of Time books, make sure you have a list of what they actually own, and be sure to let an expert check out your list before buying anything--when you're dealing with variant covers, special editions, items that may not have been released yet, and the like, it's quite easy to embark on a shopping trip and discover that you really have no idea what you're looking for.

Star Trek: Nemesis posterAsk other people for help. In the case of geeks who have sprawling collections and gifts hidden all over the place, it is okay to ask the geek for a help, or at least a very specific wish list. The element of surprise is meaningless if the result is, "Surprise! A sixth copy of Star Trek: Nemesis!" Duplicate geek gifts are unlikely to be useful (except in circumstances which I'll outline later), and there might be a good reason someone's collection is strangely incomplete.

Another idea is to talk about geeky stuff with the person you're buying for. Ask them to tell you a little bit about a fandom you don't understand. Share a link to a geek news article on Facebook and ask them what they think about it. Tell them about something interesting you heard or saw recently and see how they respond.

Don't be overbearing, of course, but take any opportunity to find out exactly who this person is you're buying for. Heck, if you bring up something that makes them start screaming and bouncing up and down in excitement, then you know precisely what to get them. Namely, some Ritalin.

Another thing to consider is how in-touch your geek is with obscure and unconventional geek stuff. If you're shopping for a diehard music lover who has every CD known to man of all his or her favorite artists, putting some of their names into Pandora to see what other artists come up; maybe you'll find a similar artist your gift recipient has never heard of.

Video Games Live logoIf you're buying for a diehard gamer who only likes video games and who owns every video game ever created (yes, even Cheetahmen II), take a chance on a Mega Man energy drink or a Nintendo wall calendar or a ticket to Video Games Live--something that involves video games but isn't actually a video game. As long as the type of gift isn't too far removed from the person's normal interests--for example, a History Channel DVD about trains for a person who loves model trains and hates watching TV--your gift will almost certainly be at least somewhat appreciated.

If nothing else, they might get a good laugh out of how terrible the product is.

For inspiration, go to the websites of the fandoms they love. Are they big on webcomics? Almost every webcomics site is selling t-shirts nowadays. Are they into Dungeons & Dragons? D&D merchandise is plentiful. Also keep an eye out for websites that specialize in a broad range of geek swag--ThinkGeek is but one of many such places you could look.

Even if you're shopping for somebody who enjoys poker, motorcycles, knitting, or any other hobby where they already have all the equipment they need (or where the equipment is far pricier than what you're willing to spend), you can still buy things that compliment what they already have.

Motorcycle helmet monster stickerStockpile a stash of expensive snacks for the next several poker games. Buy an awesome motorcycle helmet sticker, pictured to the left. (Make sure the recipient would think it's awesome; not just you. You are never as good a judge of awesome as you think you are.) Have children so there are more people to knit for. Be creative.

Also be creative about where you find your gift. Other countries are notorious for carrying random merchandise your country doesn't, especially cool board games and random knickknacks. Flea markets and tag sales can be treasure troves for the right kind of gift-getter. Road trips often lead to specialty and novelty stores that sell things your geek didn't realize existed. Even stores like Wal-Mart and FYE carry geeky posters and keychains that are easily overlooked. And don't disqualify toy stores if you're shopping for an adult--some of us are still quite content to fly our little Star Trek ships around our heads, you know.

If you still feel like you're out of your league, or if you already know the person well enough and still have no idea what to get them, don't fret just yet. If you know what genres and fandoms they enjoy, and if you know what type of gift they're likely to appreciate, if you know that they've got too much of one thing and not enough of another thing, then you're in good shape.

8-bit tieWhen all else fails, go for something they already use. Does your geek wear clothes? Find clothes with a fandom's logo on it. Even if you manage to buy them something they already own, clothes do wear out over time, and it's nice to have a backup of your favorite Mario sweatband. The same can be said for tools, kitchenware, writing implements, controllers, Christmas ornaments, playing cards, wallets, ties, or anything else that may be used frequently and wear out over a period of a few months or a few years. The recipient might not appreciate your gift as much in the immediate future, but if your gift is a solid one, it'll come in handy eventually.

Case in point: A looooong time ago I wanted a second controller for my Super Nintendo and I received a third-party controller that was not exactly what I'd had in mind. Compared to the official SNES controller, the cord was a bit shorter, there were a few extra buttons I didn't need, and the controller looked kinda funny and wasn't as comfortable to hold. Now, several years after the fact, I'm incredibly glad I have it--one of those extra buttons was a Turbo button that has allowed me to get through one or two parts of Chrono Trigger that I would otherwise fail, and that controller is currently the only one out of the four I own to have a functional Start button, as all of the official Nintendo controllers' Start buttons apparently aren't as hearty.

Twig Blight D&D miniatureGifts such as roleplaying miniatures, Magic: The Gathering cards (not to be confused with a deck of "magic" cards used by a magician, which I did get one year by accident), LEGOs, army men, and anything else that can beef up an existing collection are almost always a safe bet. Getting duplicates of these is seldom a letdown, and even if your box of D&D minis contains nothing but doofy Twig Blights and those stupidly common Blood of Vol Cultists, rember that you bought an excellent gift and the box messed up.

Also be on the lookout for gifts that smash two or more fandoms/hobbies together--f'rinstance, I've got a piece of artwork that has characters from The Simpsons dressed up as Star Wars characters, and I've seen a Mario-themed chess set and Lord of the Rings-themed dice. If you can find anything that combines two fandoms your geek loves, it almost doesn't matter what the thing actually is.

Even if the geek experts you've consulted have been completely unhelpful in giving you gift ideas, they're excellent sounding boards to make sure that the gift you picked out yourself is suitable for the geek in question. You can tell pretty much instantly how well you did based on the experts' reactions to the item you've decided to buy. If you're at least met with indifference, that's a good sign that your gift might possibly actually go to use some day, perhaps as kindling when the zombie apocalypse knocks out our power plants.

Wicked posterThere is no tried-and-true formula to buy gifts for geeks. In fact, you don't even need to limit yourself by buying gifts--making gifts is often the best way to come up with something great that your geek doesn't already have. Moreover, you don't necessarily need to give material gifts at all; volunteering to see a production of Wicked or play a game of Call of Cthulhu with your geek can be far more meaningful than any last-ditch-effort bargain bin purchase.

Hopefully this guide has given you some gifted inspiration, or at least kept your mind off of worrying about what to get for a little while longer. Finding the perfect gift for a geek can be a daunting task... the first step is to find a decent gift and work your way up from there.

You have the technology. Make it so.

1 comment:

Scott said...

I mentioned in a previous post that I had gotten my relatives to band together to get me a booster box for Christmas several times...

One time I was less successful because they noticed that a box of preconstructed decks was cheaper. Not only were they cheaper, but they were decks! I could use them! And not only that, but they were PRECONSTRUCTED, so I wouldn't have to go make my own!

It made perfect sense to them and kind of ruined my Christmas.