College is a special time in the life of any young man or woman. You're finally free from your parents, ready to meet new people, attend interesting classes, and probably drink with those people and during those classes. While the first year of college can be a very busy time, there's always space for some gaming. A great video game can be a big attraction in a dorm room, and can function as a great way to meet new people. Sexy new people, if you know what I'm saying.
But what gift to get for the college freshman in your life? It can be tricky. Now that he or she has headed off to college, everything has changed. A person's social life becomes an entirely new, much more complicated thing. Some games aren't that compatible with an intense college lifestyle, while others are perfectly suited to it. Here are a few gifts that would be great for any young matriculator.
One of the most fun things about arriving at college is sharing music with new friends. But it can also feel a little bit intimidating—what are you bringing to the table? Do you have anything new or interesting that your friends will like? Both Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and Bastion have superb soundtracks that not only make for great conversation starters, they're soothing and great to study with. Both were released in a limited run of physical CDs or Records, but both have sold out, so digital is your only option. Fortunately, they're both inexpensive! (Update! The folks at Supergiant have just done another pressing of physical Bastion soundtracks, so you can order a hard copy for $14.99 here.)
$10 for Bastion, $7.99 for Sword & Sworcery
THQ's resurrection of this Jellyvision classic is a good thing for dorm-room gamers. This is an inexpensive, fun game to toss into a stocking. It'll sit, unplayed, near a gaming console for a month or so, until a snowy day brings everyone inside with nothing to do. And then, it will reveal itself to be a riot of a dorm room game.
($19.99 at Amazon.com)
Believe it or not, Dungeons and Dragons has gotten cool again. (Not that it ever wasn't cool! You know what I'm saying.) The embers of passionate late-night dice-rolling never truly extinguished, and at any college there's likely to be a group of RPG enthusiasts to join. The secret is: These are actually the coolest people in the school.
This may sound crazy, but hanging out with people who like D&D is the best thing a first-time college student could do. Rather than attempt to get some sort of all-encompassing set of books, start with the Player's Handbook. It'll be all anyone would need to get interested in the game and find a group of players, and they'll have the rest of the books anyway.
This seems like a low-key entry, but it could be the most useful one. Of course, you'll want to check if your intended gift-receiver already has several controllers. But it's often the case that a student will head to college with one or maybe two controllers, only to find that four-player games are ruling the day. But those controllers are so expensive! An extra one can be a very useful gift.
($45 from Amazon, available for cheaper used. Be sure to get an official Microsoft or Sony controller. There are a lot of knock-offs out there, and they are kind of… off.)
Dorm life and single-player gaming don't mix all that well. There are so many people around all the time, and most of the fun comes from meeting them, getting to know them, and drunkenly fooling around with them and then being awkward about it the next day. Fighting games are a natural fit for this kind of scenario, and for laid-back social gaming, Mortal Kombat is the king. It's not the most balanced or well-designed game—it's no Street Fighter IV—but it is brutally fun, easy to pick up and play, and hilariously cheesy and violent. Best of all, it allows for 4-player tag-team gaming, and it's gory enough that it's fun to just hang out and watch people play.
($45-55 New Online for either Xbox 360 or PS3. Cheaper Used at Half.com)
But not all college gaming needs to be social; sometimes you just want to get away from everyone. The Astro A40 headset is great for that—the big headphones block out outside noise and create a deep well of sound, which is powered by the A40 small, ingenious dolby headphone mixer. And when it is time to play online with others, the A40's integrated headset and volume controls work flawlessly.
If your gift-reciever has already got a good pair of headphones, you can go with the mixamp alone, which generates dolby headphone surround and works with any pair of commercial headphones.
($249 online from Astro, $139 for Mixamp alone)