For some, they are the Ultimate Holiday Present, opening up a world of possibility and, quite possibly, getting you closer and closer to that Daredevil, issue one, that's been sitting in the glass case of your favorite comic shop for three years now.
For others, gift cards are the Bane of All Existence, and the symbol of someone who has given up on the entire point of the holidays.
Today, your friendly neighborhood Exfanders debate (not really) the issue of giving and receiving gift cards for the holidays. It'll be like one of those political talk shows, with points and counterpoints. Except, it won't be as funny.
Since I'm a gentleman (not really), I'll allow Nathaniel to go first.
So, what do you think of giving and/or receiving gift cards for a holiday gift?
Nathaniel: I think Alex is totally asking for it.
I actually have gift cards on my standing wish list. I've got no problem giving gift cards, either; as with most things in life, it's not what I do so much as why or how I do it. A Starbucks gift card wrapped up in clever handmade packaging says so much more than, "I heard you like coffee." Handing over a Wii Points card to a gamer isn't a cop-out if you know they've been frequenting the Wii Shop channel to fulfill their Gradius cravings.
While a glow-in-the-dark Rubik's Cube or Tetris pillowcase might satisfy a specifically named need, a gift card covers an unnamed need, giving the recipient the freedom to browse, or the freedom to choose exactly what he or she wants (but can't or won't articulate). Sometimes it's easier for everyone involved to give a gift certificate to the local comics shop than to track down the Zaphod Beeblebrox action figure with the most satisfactory paint apps yourself.
Another benefit to giving a gift card is that you're effectively giving two or more gifts in one. With most presents, there's the initial excitement of opening the gift, followed by an integration of that gift into one's collection (or stomach, if edible). No matter how perfect, practical, and reusable a gift may be, I'd wager that the vast majority of gifts lose that "new gift smell" almost immediately.
Gift cards also yield that initial excitement, and then get tucked away into a drawer, purse, or wallet. Eventually--hours, days, weeks, or even months later--the recipient pulls out the gift card to make a purchase, and whatever he or she buys makes it feel like [insert name of gift-giving occasion] all over again. Especially if there's enough money on that card for multiple purchases (say, a $20 card that's only ever tapped to cover the occasional chocolate-covered donut).
I love gift cards, so long as they're practical and convenient to use--no $50 certificates for a burger chain that doesn't exist in the tri-state area; no Best Buy gift cards that you know I'll use to purchase the two items I specifically requested from Best Buy. Given in the right amounts to the right people for the right places, gift certificates can be every bit as desirable as all but the best surprise gifts...and heck, there's nothing saying that gift certificates can't be a surprise.
Alex: Annnnd I've been completely thrown for a loop. Thanks, Flashman. Never did I think that Nathaniel would make an argument for gift cards. He's all about the personal, well-thought-out gift.
I should know--he's bought me enough of them over the past few years. (Including a Batman bag that I still use pretty much every day.)
But I totally agree with his points above (which kind of obliterates that whole debate I had planned) that a gift card can actually be a personal present for someone.
Before last week, I had no idea that there were things like Playstation Network gift cards (my brother asked for one...also, stop judging me), but to me that makes sense as a really cool gift.
My long-standing belief about Christmas presents is that they should be things that the person wants, rather than needs, and they should be something that he or she probably wouldn't buy on their own.
Either because he needs to save that money for things he needs, or simply because, as much as he might want that Karnak mini-bust, he just can't bring himself to ask for it in a store. You know, with other people watching and all.
And let's face it--there are some people on all of our lists that are just plain hard to shop for. In those cases, gift carding is absolutely acceptable.
But let me throw on a quick caveat to that.
I guess as long as the gift card is something specific or focused, it's okay. Like an Amazon or Barnes & Noble card for a big reader, or a gift certificate to Apple for the techie or to Applebee's, even, for the foodie.
What I'm not big on, though, is giving one of those generic American Express (or whatever) gift cards that can be used anywhere. Getting one of those? Great. But giving one? I haven't been able to do that yet.
That, I think, is just too impersonal.
[Editor's note: Unlike our giveaway of four $15 gift cards for Amazon.com, which is completely different and not at all impersonal, mind you.]
So, to wrap up this "debate" (where Nathaniel and I did nothing but agree with and, in my case at least, compliment, each other for 800 words or so), I'll leave you with two things.
First, don't buy that Karnak mini-bust as a gift. Trust me. (Also, don't buy it for yourself.) And second, if you're really stumped when it comes to finding a present, don't be afraid to go the gift card route.
It's Exfanding approved, so you really can't go wrong.*
*Editor's Note: It could very well go wrong, and if it does, Alex and Nathaniel are not liable. For, um. Anything. Especially if you give a gift certificate to a comics shop and your buddy buys a Karnak mini-bust, re-gifts it one year later when he realizes his horrible mistake, and it ends up on your mantel. Especially then. (Thanks, again, Dave.)