When it comes down to the holiday-gift-buying wire, you might lament our consumer culture - or your own bad planning. Either way, it's time to start making excuses - or get to the mall.
Fortunately, if you have gamers left on your holiday list, they make an easy shopping target. Here's a quick run-down on gifts that won't disappoint:
Xbox 360 - Can't produce a PlayStation 3? Wonder where to find a Wii? Don't forget that Microsoft's machine remains available at most gaming outlets ($299 for the core system, $399 for the version with a hard drive).
DS Lite - Mocked as a dual-screen gimmick when it was released two years ago, the DS has grown into the most compelling game platform on the market. Although titles such as "Brain Age," "Elite Beat Agents" and "Club House Games" might lack big-budget appeal, they won't fail to wrap up your attention for days of portable pleasure (DS Lite, $129.99; "Brain Age," $19.95; "Elite Beat Agents," $29.99; "Club House Games," $29.99).
"Gears of War" - Some people think that video games are too violent. The people who make "Gears" think of violence as an art form. Refining the run-and-gun pleasures of other shooter games, this Xbox 360 title lets you save the world in the most challenging and exciting ways imaginable ($59.99, Xbox 360).
"Viva Pinata" - As if to prove the point that games can contain more than bombs and bullets, imagine a game where players cultivate a fantastic farm of living pinatas. A strange take on the sim genre, this Xbox 360 title offers something to gamers of all ages ($49.99, Xbox 360).
"Guitar Hero II"- Pretend to be a six-string virtuoso on a PlayStation controller that looks like a guitar, and say goodbye to your air-guitar days. For that matter, say goodbye to your free time as well, once you pick up this addictive title (Game and controller bundle, $79.99, PS2).
"Karaoke Revolution" or "SingStar Rocks" - Not a guitar player? "Karaoke Revolution" for the Xbox and PS2 or "SingStar Rocks" for the PS2 lets you warble along with the hits ("Karaoke Revolution," editions range from $19.99-$49.99, Xbox and PS2; "SingStar Rocks," $49.99, PS2).
"Sid Meier's Civilization Chronicles" - With four complete versions of the venerated classic in your possession, you might not need another PC game for the rest of the year. And when conquering the world grows tiresome, try monopolizing the rails with "Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon" ("Civilization Chronicles," $69.99; "Railroad Tycoon," $39.99, PC).
Pelican Nerf Pad - Take a wireless PlayStation 2 controller, wrap it up in Nerf foam, and what do you get? A comfortable game pad that will bounce, rather than shatter, when your enthusiasm overcomes your sense, and the controller goes sailing across the room ($29.99).
"Desperate Housewives" - While the community of gamers and the community of people who watch this show don't overlap, that might change. Fans of the show will appreciate this salacious "Sims" knockoff, even if it is a game ($19.99, PC).
"Books by You" - No kid likely will care about the celebrity tie-in between this product and actor John Lithgow. But the ability to easily create, and even print, a custom story in book form will please budding authors ($19.99, Mac and PC).
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