As much as you're able to instantly recommend the best products to your fellow gamer, you might grope for advice when that older person, maybe a family member, suddenly expresses an interest in video games for the first time. What you're being asked to do is help someone develop or understand their actual taste in games, rather than find a gift that caters to it. So here are some suggestions to support that curiosity without condescending to it.
Facebook games are a great point of entry but it's hard to find one that is actually about playing, as opposed to acquiring crap and waiting. Woodland Heroes, a turn-based strategy game by RowShamBow, is a recommendable starter for anyone. Its Battleship-like combat is easily understood, even by someone who last picked up a controller in 1994. A $10 or $20 Facebook credit gift card and this suggestion would combine for a very long gaming experience on the cheap. Plus, it's built by guys who used to make Madden, so you can feel good about its core cred.
(Amounts begin at $10, available at major chain retailers.)
Does she want to play games herself, or does she really just want to enjoy them with grandpa? If the latter, the old-timer is almost certainly playing Wii bowling in the physical therapy room, and this peripheral will be a scream. Changing out the finger grips is a pain so it's best if it only has one user. But at this cost, buying two isn't much of an extravagance, either.
($16.54 via Amazon)
This is one of the highest-rated titles on the Wii (it released as a WiiWare download in 2008) and if she's not interested in it, her interest in a gaming console may have little to do with the games themselves. That can be an expensive lesson to learn. Start with World of Goo, which has versions on PC, Mac and iOS. Order directly through 2D Boy and select the gift option, it will create a customized download page for the recipient. A physical copy may also be ordered through Amazon.
($20, available through the developer)
Look, you know if you buy her a Wii, eventually you'll be asked if it plays Angry Birds. No, it doesn't. Angry Birds actually is a pretty damn antisocial game when you think about it, and our target recipient is usually the one organizing family activities. If she's in a household with children, consider this board game interpretation of Rovio's mobile hit.
($24.30 via Amazon)
Of course, the unspoken curiosity here may be in the Wii or some other console as exercise equipment. Any set of fitness DVDs—Zumba seems to be all the rage—will probably do the trick more cheaply, but more importantly, it'll get this person used to the idea of working out in front of a TV. If they don't dig it, getting exergaming titles for a Wii, or any console, won't help.
(Suggested range $15-$40 on Amazon)
Yes, this is actually the cost of a Wii. But perhaps what this person really wants on their ideal screen is not a video game but a reminder of a family that is together, maybe in the days before grandpa went into assisted living. Better still, she can put it in his room, hitch it to the wifi, and upload thousands of photos to its 1GB hard drive from home through the Web.
($149.99 on Amazon)
This is a tough call because there are hidden costs here, notably the Xbox Live annual subscription ($60) and any games after Kinect Adventures . But if someone's dead set on joining the console gaming community, they don't need to be doing it with a Wii, which is functionally obsolete and will be literally so come next year.
($299, but prices have varied)