To that end, I consulted numerous sources on the Internet, on television and in magazines, as well as actual people in the know. This guide represents the perfect synthesis of all that information.
Let's start with video games.
I sauntered into my neighborhood Best Buy to see what's hot. In order to get an unvarnished opinion, I told an employee named Drew that I was shopping for my little brother.
Drew gave me a quizzical look: "What kinds of games does he play? Does he like action, sports, driving, music games ... violence?"
"Violence, yes," I said, smirking. "Definitely violence."
Drew took me over to their Resistance 2 (Sony Computer Entertainment, Rated M) display. This sci-fi shooter for the PlayStation 3 is a gory romp through a United States that has been invaded by an alien race known as the Chimera. Jeff Haynes, a reviewer for gaming Web site IGN, wrote that its "sheer scale and scope ... is nothing short of epic." Sounds tight; $59.99.
Also sizzling in the realm of sci-fi: Gears of War 2 (Microsoft Game Studios, Rated M), an exclusive shooter for the Xbox 360. Subterranean aliens want to destroy the human race, and not even the Orkin man can stop them. New weapons, environments and multiplayer modes build upon the superior play mechanics of the first Gears of War. Gamespot.com reviewer Guy Cocker called the single-player campaign "rambunctiously entertaining"; $59.99.
As it turns out, an expert friend of mine who spends his days playing video games (and smoking grass) also mentioned Gears of War 2.
"Yeah, man, it's a cool game," he said. It was the most effusive endorsement I have ever heard from him.
He also suggested people check out Fallout 3 (Bethesda Softworks, Rated M), an open-ended role-playing title that's received near-universal praise from reviewers. The game paints a dystopian picture of the future and features the triple-threat of violence, sex and drugs--as well as a macabre sense of humor. Check it out on the PC, Xbox 360 or PS3; $59.99.
The players in my big, gay World of Warcraft guild were debating the pros and cons of the new expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King (Blizzard Entertainment, Rated T), months before its release. The latest update adds a new continent to explore, a new profession, a new hero class and tons of other tweaks and changes. Give the gift of Warcrack addiction, available for the PC and Mac; $39.99.
If you're purchasing for a creative type, look into LittleBigPlanet (Sony Computer Entertainment, Rated E) for the PlayStation 3. It's the type of game that defies easy classification, but I like to think of it as a highly customizable puzzle-platformer that lets you create worlds and share them with other players. 1UP.com reviewer Nick Suttner wrote that it allows "the beautiful brains of everyone involved to spill out in a two-way conduit of creativity"; $59.99.
Speaking of customizable video games, Animal Crossing: City Folk (Nintendo, Rated E) is the latest installment in the strangely addictive series. (I once took my Nintendo GameCube, a plug-in power generator and a portable TV with me on a road trip to Northern Arizona so I could play the original in the car.) You create a character, move into a house, make money and horde possessions, all the while socializing with quirky characters inhabiting your town. City Folk will be the first game to use Nintendo's Wii Speak peripheral, allowing players to converse over the Internet through a TV-mounted microphone; $49.99.
Here are a few more games to look for:
• Need for Speed: Undercover (Electronic Arts, Rated T) is an action-oriented installment in the classic car-racing series, available on every major gaming system; $29.99 to $59.99.
• Fable II (Lionhead/Microsoft Game Studios, Rated M) picks up 500 years after the original. The plot is paper-thin, but your giftee will enjoy the game's atmosphere, as well as the ability to mold your hero into either a paragon of virtue or a selfish brute; $59.99.
• Madden NFL 09 (Electronic Arts, Rated E) is the latest cross-platform installment in a series of games that's been around for 20 years. It's perfect for sports fans or people who are too lazy to actually toss around a pigskin; $29.99 to $69.99.
Now let's take a look at a few gadgets.
If you're shopping for that special breed of Luddite technophile, then I have a gift idea for you. The Peek is an attractive device that looks a lot like a BlackBerry, but all it can do is send and receive e-mail. No Web browsing, no text messages, no telephone--just e-mail. Buy the Peek online for $79.95. It's also available at Target.
Nero's LiquidTV lets you turn your PC into a TiVo. It has all the features of your garden-variety DVR, along with the ability to burn recorded programming to DVDs or port them to portable devices, such as the PSP or iPod; $100 to $200.
It's amazing the gift ideas you can get from stoners. Solopipe is a "tobacco" pipe with built-in butane lighter, solidly constructed from stainless steel. It supposedly allows users to smoke with one hand, making it useful for multitasking while playing an MMORPG; $69.99.
Your giftee might be hungry after using the Solopipe, so why not also give a device to make grocery-shopping easy? The SmartShopper is a voice-activated shopping-list maker. Press a button; tell the doohickey what you want; print out a list when you're done. Who needs low-tech pens and paper, anyway? It's even magnetized, so it sticks to your refrigerator; $99.99.
The wilderness can be intimidating for technophiles. No TV. No computers. Frequently, no cell-phone service. But with The Most Versatile U.S. Military Tactical Flashlight from Hammacher Schlemmer in tow, your technology-lover will at least have a flashlight with a ridiculous number of bells and whistles. It comes with multi-colored LEDs, various light-intensity levels and even a strobe setting. It's sure to impress survivalist friends with its military design aesthetic; $79.95.
In closing, I want to pay tribute to the simple alarm clock that served me well for at least 15 years. It died a few months ago when one of the buttons for setting the alarm stopped working. After a respectable mourning period, I set my sights on the Logitech Pure-Fi Anytime. It comes with an iPod dock, dual alarms and a sleek design. What it lacks in bass, it makes up for with its unique snooze function: Wave your hand over the top of the clock, and the alarm shuts up; $99.99.
Now that my alarm clock has been properly eulogized, it's time for me to wrap up this gift guide (no pun intended). Good hunting.