Gamers, especially PC gamers, like to buy a lot of gear. It's hard to shop for them, because they usually buy every cool, new thing for themselves right away anyway (I may or may not be speaking from personal experience).
These gadgets and accessories are all interesting, unusual and maybe just a little indulgent. But there's very little chance your gift recipient will be receiving more than one of any of these, and isn't that really the most important thing?
Razer Mamba Hyperflux, $249
Sure, anyone can get a gaming laptop or desktop that lights up, with glowing logos, multicolored keyboards and even the occasional backlit touchpad. But if you really want to go over the top, this pricey mouse and mousepad combo from Razer has the company's highly programmable Chroma lights built in, and you can sync it with a Razer laptop, Razer speakers or other gear. Also cool, the mouse has no battery -- it draws power from the plugged-in mouse pad instead.
I'm not going to lie. This unusual gadget was the subject of much chuckling and more than a few arguments around the CNET PC Labs. I'd call it an external environmental effects unit for PC gaming, which means it's a medium-size black box that plugs into a PC's USB port and blows hot or cool air on you, depending on what's happening onscreen in your PC game. Seriously, that's a real thing. There's some custom software that analyzes what's happening on screen and responds accordingly (lots of red and yellow in a certain pattern, and it's probably fire, so the Vortx cranks up the heat). It's fun as well as a good conversation piece, but also on the loud side and smells a bit like an old space heater. But, it's definitely something the PC gamer in your life probably doesn't already have.
HP Omen Mindframe, $199
Does your computer get hot while gaming? Of course it does, that's why it has all sorts of fans and liquid cooling systems. Do your ears get hot and sweaty while gaming? Wait, don't tell me -- that's kind of a TMI situation. But, just in case that does happen, the HP Mindframe is the only gaming headset I know of with aluminum thermoelectric cooling plates built into the ear cups. Plug it in via USB (it offers 7.1 virtual surround sound) and heat is pulled away from the ear cups, leaving the metal plates inside extremely cold to the touch. Interestingly, that heat has to go somewhere, so the outer panels in turn get pretty hot. It's serviceable, but not especially outstanding for audio, but if you know someone with sweaty ears, well, your holiday shopping is done.
AmazonBasics XXL Gaming Mouse Pad, $11.99
There's one item that will change any PC gamer's life for the better, and it's also incredibly inexpensive. I'm talking about a giant mouse pad. Everyone who has tried the handful of different models we have at the CNET PC Lab immediately wants one. Name-brand versions can cost $50 or more, but this AmazonBasics one, which measures 17.8 by 15.5 inches, is just $11.99. It's the one I've used almost every day for the past six months, and so far it's holding up great.
Mansions of Madness, $89
Some people play video games, some people play tabletop games. I'm sure there are many who play both. But, an interesting new trend I'm seeing is tabletop games with an integrated video game component. The best example is the amazing Mansions of Madness. It's a sprawling, Lovecraft-inspired cooperative haunted house game for one to five players that comes in a huge box with dozen of figures, floor tiles and even creepy dice. But the well-reviewed second edition of the game works hand-in-hand with a required game app, available on Steam (for Windows of MacOS), iOS and Android, which acts as an AI game master while also providing spooky sound effects as well as narrative color and keeping track of the mansion's layout and monsters.
Yes, this is a nearly $100 board game/video game hybrid, but it's a fantastic experience, especially when played with friends around a big table.