Gift Giving to strangers in the Internet Age

I haven’t been posting much this month, and for that I have to apologize.  There’s been a glut of health problems within my family, myself included.  It’s been distracting and blogging just hasn’t been on the front burner for me.  I’m going to try to get in front of that and and metaphorically, step out on the good foot.

So, let’s talk about modern gift giving via the Internet.  I’ve done (and posted on) the BGG Secret Santa tradition before.  You probably are acquainted with the classic Christmas party game that happens at most office parties you’ll attend this season (or have attended).  Everyone brings a small gift worth X amount of dollars, puts them under a tree.. and the referee marks them with numbers.. calls the numbers and people come forward one by one.  They can either take a gift off the table or steal anyone’s gift up to 3 times.  That’s the gist of it.

Boardgame Geek Christmas Secret Santa "Badges".  One for every year of its existence, since 2006, plus Wargaming Secret Santa since 2012.

My Boardgame Geek Christmas Secret Santa “Badges”. One for every year of its existence, since 2006, plus Wargaming Secret Santa since 2012.  Plus the Christmas Gift Card Exchange, last two years.

With the internet as all pervasive as is is, it’s no wonder that a variant of Secret Santa (minus the *stealing problem, which would be difficult to implement anonymously via the internet) was going to happen sooner or later. has been particularly generous in this regard– they’ve run a Secret Santa program for almost a decade now, and I’ve participated enthusiastically since its inception– there are now several spin-off Secret Santa programs on BGG, including the Wargame Secret Santa (Santa Grognard) and even a Christmas Card exchange, which I’ve also participated in for the last two years running.   I was bowled over this year — my regular Secret Santa gave me the Battle of Five Armies (FFG/Nexus Version) as well as Ted Alspach’s  One Night Ultimate Werewolf. My Wargame Secret Santa gave me GMT’s new Berg/Herman design Hoplite, the newish game about the cult comic Corto,  and a game I’ve been drooling over for years, the re-themed version of mathematician Robert Abbot’s (formerly paper) game, Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War.   I was speechless when these arrived– that’s an amazingly generous present– I felt like a piker buying a single game for MY Secret Santa targets– but that’s what I could afford.

Reddit Gifts exchange 2014.  This tradition is a spin-off of the main site, and has been ongoing for the last 6 years.

Reddit Gifts exchange 2014. This tradition is a spin-off of the main site, and has been ongoing for the last 6 years.

I tried something new in 2014– the Reddit Gift Exchange.  This is a spin-off of sorts from the popular overarching internet commentary site (the so-called front door to the Internet).  Functionally, it runs very similar to BGG Secret Santa exchanges, up to and including posting proof you shipped something (which I did) and some form of response about the gift you received in return (which I haven’t.. it hasn’t showed up yet).  I liked the idea of maybe reaching out to a broader set of people than the gaming geeks I normally hang out with, and it is a challenge to read the likes and dislikes of a real, honest to goodness stranger who likely doesn’t like the same stuff you do.   Here’s a sample of the profile my target/assigned target filled in, from which I need to get clues from about what to get her:

Likes or Dislikes: I’m into outdoor sports, art, sex, fashion….sometimes. I’m a smart, athletic, successful woman that can geek out or smoke out.

HobbiesI run, paint, watch comedy, dance at shows, bike, hike, and hammock

Favorite Books/Authors: literature regarding psychosis and things like body language or birth order.

This is definitely a woman whom I’m going to have a little difficulty finding a common dialogue with!  Where does one find books about psychosis or birth order that she hasn’t read already?  I’m not going to have much luck with the “smoke out”, sex, athletic, dance at shows, bike, hike, or hammock clues, either.  I suspect she gets pot easier than I can (as she lives in CO), and unless I gifted her a sex toy, new biking shoes or a new hammock, I don’t think I’m going to ring any of the other bells either.  In the end, I jumped on this clue like a drowning man grasping at straws:

If you could learn one skill, what would you learn?

I’d like to learn how to play the harmonica

So I sent her a harmonica, the Idiot’s guide to playing the Harmonica, and some beef sausages (cuz she says she likes meat).  She hasn’t posted about receiving my present (though I know it was delivered), so the jury is still out about whether she liked it.

The jury is still out on Redditgifts.  The site seems geared to sell you stuff to send to your targets more than managing exchanges– which is okay I guess, that part is easily ignored.  It’s a lot more confusing than the BGG exchange, and I didn’t figure out how to communicate with my target anonymously at all– that’s a fun part of the BGG exchange.

Aside from a rather rushed Gift Card exchange (which I really do enjoy), that’s been about it for my experience exchanging presents with strangers in 2014.   Why do I like being involved in this tradition?    Honestly it really has very little to do with getting keen new stuff.  I have always loved the idea of sending a little something to a total stranger with no danger of him or her ever figuring out who I was.  If you’ll indulge me a scriptural reference from Matthew 6:1 (my favorite):

1 “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in  heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give gifts, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give gifts, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your gifts may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received  their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward  you.

“Sure,” you’re saying.. don’t trumpet your gift-giving, but here you are blogging about it“.  It’s not really about the give and take and I really don’t need the approval of anonymous blog readers about sending people presents.  After all, I’m getting one (sometimes many!) in return.  I just like the idea that the recipient will receive something nice from a total and complete stranger (me) and never know who sent it to him/her.   Maybe it’s some form of karma balance.. who am I to say.

So if I don’t see you until after the Holidays, MERRY CHRISTMAS and a safe, healthy and prosperous New Year!

* Stealing.. hmm.. how hard WOULD this be to implement on the internet?  You’d have to maintain a database that would represent “the Tree”, where the gifts are kept.  You’d have to “open” the gifts by posting them to a public forum.  The current player would have the choice of “Going to the Tree” (database) to reveal a NEW present, or making a STEAL ATTEMPT on a present already claimed (this could be done up to N times, then the gift is safe).   It strikes me that you could work this up as a pretty fun little internet pasttime with the right web code and database back end.   The problem would be in scaling it– the vast numbers of people participating in the Reddit Secret Santa would make an internet-based stealing game a practical impossibility.  It would take far too long.  However, a smaller pod of players, say less than 60, might be able to get an internet game done in about 3 days.  Something to think about.  

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