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An illustration of a character sitting on a couch, holding up a controller. They are seated within a living room arrangement, surrounded by house plants, a dog, a rug, and a television. Illustration: Alex Smith for Polygon

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The best gifts for the stay-at-home gamer

The perfect additions to your entertainment center, bookshelf, or curio shelf

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It can be tough to think of clever gifts to buy for someone who really loves video games. Gamers are already among the toughest to shop for, and it ramps up in difficulty if you’re getting a gift for someone who tends to buy the newest accessories and games for themselves.

So, what do you get them other than a gift card? We dug deep to find some precious gems you can gift your recipient that they might not already own (or even know about yet). We’ve got some interesting controllers and accessories, books on gaming, and even an interactive gaming documentary. Some of these things can plug into consoles, but some of them are meant to be shown off on a coffee table or bookshelf.

The Making of Karateka

The Making of Karateka is a game about a game. It’s an interactive documentary made by Digital Eclipse about 1984’s Karateka. This relatively new type of game disseminates the history of this important title that slipped through the cracks over the decades, overshadowed by creator Jordan Mechner’s more popular series, Prince of Persia. With games preservation sitting rightfully at the top of many minds, this is a fabulous way to both preserve a title and craft an homage that goes beyond a mere remaster.

Steam Deck docking station

Valve’s official dock for the Steam Deck lets you connect it to the big screen, perhaps the one that the rest of your precious consoles are connected to. Beyond displaying Steam games on a TV or monitor, it serves as a hub that connects several USB accessories, like a wired gamepad, mouse and keyboard, arcade stick, and other options. Even though there are countless dock options available (and at cheaper prices, too), Valve’s is the best yet, thanks in part to firmware updates that have delivered more capabilities over time.

Legends of 16-Bit Game Development: A History of Treasure and the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis by John Harrison

Some of the best gaming books have a narrow, highly specialized focus. Fans of ’90s games should check out John Harrison’s Legends of 16-Bit Game Development: A History of Treasure and the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, which sets its sights on Treasure, a celebrated Japanese indie studio known for putting out classic, ambitious shooters, including Gunstar Heroes, Ikaruga, and Radiant Silvergun. The studio’s origin story and a celebration of its enduring game design makes for a very fun read.

Flip Grip

Modern TVs just aren’t made for the old-school arcade games that originally ran on tall, vertically oriented displays, which is sometimes referred to as “tate” mode. Sure, you can still play them today (heavily cropped versions, at least). Or if you’re ambitious, you can even turn some TVs on their side to morph their 16:9 aspect ratio into a 9:16 picture, but it’s not quite the same. That’s where the Flip Grip comes in. This accessory for the Nintendo Switch and Switch OLED holds either model of the console securely in a vertical orientation, leaving room for Joy-Cons to slide onto the grip. Then, boot up a game that supports vertical orientation, and get to all of your retro games.

Mad Catz T.E.3 Arcade Fight Stick

  • $300

Prices taken at time of publishing.

This arcade fight stick provides a Vewlix-style design with eight action buttons that provide extremely accurate performance. The enhanced internal storage space holds your extra gaming gear, repair tools, and gives you a hassle-free way to carry additional tool cases or bags. From Mad Catz. (From our sponsor.)

8BitDo arcade stick for Xbox and Windows

Finally, there’s an wireless fight stick just for Xbox Series X owners. 8BitDo makes some high-quality controllers, and its recent foray into fight sticks is what we’ve come to expect from the company. In addition to being great for fighting games, it has most of the buttons you’ll find on an Xbox controller, making it easy to navigate game menus or the system’s user interface. It also works just fine on Windows 10 and 11, and it includes a 3.5mm audio jack for wired listening. Best of all, this gadget is relatively affordable, costing around $112.

If you want to get your fight on with a Nintendo Switch or a Steam Deck, this particular model of 8BitDo’s arcade stick is what you want. It’s cheaper than the Xbox-specific version, plus it comes in a sharp, NES-inspired color scheme, which looks just as lovely in use as it does on a shelf.

GuliKit KingKong 2 Pro controller

Hall effect sensor joysticks are objectively the best. This kind of joystick, which resists drifting over time thanks to magnets, can be found in GuliKit’s KingKong 2 Pro, a versatile gamepad that can be used with multiple consoles. It natively supports the Nintendo Switch, but it can also be used wired with PC, or via Bluetooth on PC, Steam Deck, Android, iOS, and Mac. It’s a great controller that, thanks to having Hall effect joysticks, won’t suffer from drift like many of the available alternatives — even those made by major console manufacturers.

Hori Split Pad Compact

Are Nintendo’s Joy-Cons simply too small for your hands? If so, Hori’s Split Pad Compact is a cheaper, yet bulkier (in a good way) alternative that you can slide onto your Switch. They work exactly like Joy-Cons when they’re attached, and they’re easy to recommend if you use your Switch mostly in handheld mode. However, they are dead weight once removed; they don’t have batteries, nor do they support vibration, gyroscopic movement, or tapping amiibo via NFC while connected. If those are still too small, Hori makes the Split Pad Pro, which feels more akin to using an Xbox controller.

Doom Guy: Life in First Person by John Romero

John Romero was central to the development of two very important video games: Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. But there’s a whole lot about him you might not be aware of, and it’s all contained in his autobiography, Doom Guy: Life in First Person. He served as the link between id Software and Raven Software in their early days together, and he even coined the term “deathmatch” — all of that over just a few years’ time. Since then, there have been decades of experiences and stories to share, and Doom Guy is chock-full of them.

GuliKit Hall Sensor Joystick for Joy-Con

Yep, we’re back again to talk about Hall effect joysticks. This time, it’s about enriching your Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Cons with drift-resistant sticks, as opposed to buying all-new controllers. For those who’ve suffered from Joy-Con drift, which is when the sticks move in unexpected ways (usually working against the wishes of the player), GuliKit makes its own Hall effect joysticks that you can install yourself. If you’re confident (and willing to void their warranty), try installing these sticks to let your Joy-Cons lives to see another day.

Sega Genesis Mini 2

Sega dug even deeper into its back catalog of Genesis games for a sequel Mini system, the Genesis Mini 2. Despite only being available at MSRP from Amazon Japan, folks in the U.S. can buy it without paying a hefty import fee. Sega plucked even more interesting and fun games for this one, including an improved version of Phantasy Star 2 that makes the 34-year-old RPG easier for new players, as well as games that were never released on the original Genesis console, brand-new ports, and even Sega CD games. In case you were wondering, yes, Night Trap is one of them.

SG-1000 Works: Segaiden Vol. 1 by Jeremy Parish

If you want to learn about Sega’s earliest efforts to break into gaming, there’s no better resource than SG-1000 Works by Jeremy Parish, which covers every title released for Sega’s very first home console. The SG-1000 arrived on the scene before the Sega Master System (the console that predated the Genesis), and was barely around for a year before it was discontinued. It’s a part of Sega’s history the company itself has rarely revisited, but now you can chart this important era of gaming history courtesy of this fine book.

eBay gift card

Sometimes, there’s just no better gift than a gift card, especially if you’ve got a friend or family member who’s into picking up old-school video games. An eBay gift card can be used on anything, like a rare Nintendo 64 cartridge, a super rare Nintendo 64 DD attachment that never launched in the U.S., or just to offset the blow from importing pricey goods from around the world. I hope my family is reading this.