The Gamer's Halloween Party Guide
Five tips for throwing the best bash in October
Halloween is great, but trick-or-treating doesn't suit most adults -- that's why Martha Stewart invented Halloween parties. Read on for GamePro's guide to a video game-themed Halloween party.
Pumpkins: The easiest decoration
[ See also: Ghoulish gadgets: cool Halloween tech ]
If it wasn't for these bad boys, the best Halloween parties would just be horror themed costume parties. So like any dedicated gamer, what you need to do is grab yourself a couple of good pumpkins, some newspaper, a paring knife, a good-sized spoon, and a good idea of what you want. JJ Games has a great consolidation of some fantastic gaming related pumpkins, but many of them are very complex and entail scraping away the surface of the pumpkin so the carving glows through a translucent skin of not-cut-out-pumpkin rind. That's advanced work, especially if you spent too much time with a controller in your hand, so you might want to check out one of the guides floating around the net. We recommend How2Heroes.
Pumpkin 1: Pac Man
Probably the best place to start with pumpkin carving is a classic, easily-recognizable gaming icon like Pac-Man. All you have to do is cut most of a circle and neglect a pie-shaped piece to form the mouth. If you have the time and resources, a couple of ghosts shouldn't be a problem on the opposite side of the pumpkin.
Pumpkin 2: Super Mario Bros.
If you're ready to step up on the design side, another option is just about anything Nintendo-related. From 1-up mushrooms to Triforces and every Metroid in between, there's enough here to carve dozens of pumpkins, and most of it is easy shape-and-silhouette work. Sure, you can make something like this, this, or this, but when it comes to getting things together for a party, the simpler the design, the better.
[ See also: The Gamer's Halloween Costume Guide ]
Pumpkin 3: Game Logos
If you really want a challenge, step up the difficulty with a carved and scraped representation of the Gears of War logo or the ghostly title of Alan Wake. Logos usually do require skilled spacing and sometimes advanced techniques like screening (that glow-through-the-skin thing we mentioned earlier), but the payoff is you can do just about any game title you want without having to worry about people recognizing the design. Just remember, some of the best gaming pumpkins are either referential or spooky, so double points if you can do both.
Themes: For the most dedicated gamer
Pumpkins are the easy way out when it comes to decoration. If you really want to take your gaming decor to the next level, set a video game as a theme for your party and pick up a set of common Halloween decorations to set the ambiance. Here are a few suggestions:
Theme 1: Dead Space
The creepy rooms of USG Ishimura would make for a gnarly sci-fi themed Halloween bash. Crib the look with cheap party store blacklights, blue diods, copper and aluminum sheets covered in fake blood and chicken wire. If you really want to go the extra mile, play the Dead Space soundtrack and scatter some fake severed arms on top of tables and couches.
Theme 2: Silent Hill
A Silent Hill party would be nothing without some fake fog. A fog machine or some dry ice in water should get you started. Burn up the corners of a map, some pictures, and lots of paper, and lay the charred paraphernalia all over the place. Creepy family pictures (if you have them), spider webbing, and maybe some shabby looking road sign should help things stay moody. Toss in some red lighting and some of Silent Hill 2's best tunes, and you'll be ready to creep out.
Theme 3: Resident Evil
Possibly the easiest theme to pull off, or the hardest -- if your friends haven't heard of the game series. See if you can find some plastic zombie corpses to leave around your place, and a couple of bloodied ravens, then run an older Resident Evil game on your PlayStation 2 (or original PlayStation if you've got it). Leave it on the title screen for excellent ambient music. Plastic syringes and some houseplants can also help the look, but will totally confuse non-gamers.
Drinks: For 21 and up, mostly
Drinks and snacks are crucial to a good party -- but it can be tough to work that gamer angle in without some serious culinary skill. Start off with one or two "signature" video game cocktails to serve at your party -- like the ones we experiment with on this episode of Culture Club -- and make sure you offer a non-alcoholic third drink for all the under-21s and on-the-wagon attendees.
These are super simple, they relate directly to a horror-themed game, they look great, and they call for candy. Keep in mind these are pretty strong (the T-virus calls for Everclear, which legal in some states, but not all), so don't down too many of these. You may want to offer them only at the beginning of the party to keep the party pace steady and your bathroom vomit-free.
Drink 2: The 1UP mushroom
Midori doesn't sit too well with everyone, but an easy-to-recognize green drink is too good to pass up. Shake things up with a cherry or cinnamon liqueur instead of Malibu to create a red mushroom drink, or go with Jagermeister or blackberry liqueur for a poison mushroom.
Drink 3: The Crimson Omen
This complicated cocktail is inspired by Gears of War. The good news is it's not nearly as strong as the previous shooters, so you can make it in batch form and then parcel it out as individual shots or blend it with about half a 2-liter of club soda to form a punch bowl of the stuff (adjust cheerwine proportions to taste).
Make use of these ice trays for actual ice, or use them as a mold to pair with a basic jello shot recipe.
ProTip: Don't drive drunk and don't let your friends drive drunk. If a party-goer seems drunk, take his or her keys and tell them they can have them back when they can beat Mega Man 4 on Hard mode. By the time they're sober enough to do that, they'll be legally able to drive.
Snacks: Not for the vegan, unless you like veggies
Serving liquor without food is in poor taste, even if you're not a gamer -- so have snacks at the ready. Gamer Grub isn't going to fly here (unless you like scrubbing orange-and-brown puke out of your carpet), so try these suggestions to keep your guests happily fed.
Snack 1: Pizza
Total cop out but if you remove a slice or two, the whole pie looks like the Pac-Man. If you're making the pizza yourself, however, the decoration possibilities are endless (and really fun to prepare with friends or family pre-party). Slap on some mushrooms in the outline of Mario's cap, arrange pepperoni in a Space Invaders pattern, or form a warp pipe entirely out of peppers.
Snack 2: Nachos
Nachos are an easy finger food, especially if you're balancing a drink in one hand. Arrange individual nacho chips in a Triforce pattern for an easy Legend of Zelda association.
Snack 3: Veggie platter
Super-healthy veggies off-set the greasy grossness of pizza and nachos. No natural video game theme emerges from them, sadly, but if you're willing to go the extra mile, cut and arrange the veggies into video game-themed shapes (you could probably pull off a Plants vs. Zombies motif, if you're creative).
Snack 4: Cupcakes
These are a fantastic way to end the night. Bring out some delicious tasty treats, and decorate them to fit what you're doing. Red gel coloring makes fine blood, candy can fill in the details for making eyeballs, brains, or sweeter game related options, like the oft-repeated mushrooms and Mario imagery. Like the pizza, decorations all come down to being creative and finding something that fits your theme.
Entertainment: The key to all the best parties
For a proper Halloween party, we recommend you remove Rock Band and Guitar Hero to the closet, at least until the end of the night. The games tend to kill conversations and render at least four people unable to drink or eat while they hold the instruments. Games like Street Fighter IV (well, any fighting game) also have a habit of dragging a party down, as they glue people to the screen and spark more fights between tipsy gamers. Here are some alternative game-related ideas:
Idea 1: Ambient retro games
Instead of music games, bust out some retro horror games like Splatterhouse, Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness, Silent Hill, etc. The games themselves don't have to be great, but they do have to be entertaining -- or at least lend themselves to pass-and-play so nobody gets stuck babysitting a screen.
Idea 2: Healthy competition
If you are up to it, make a group competition for speed runs or high scores in a retro title like Mega Man -- and maybe offer a prize to the winner. If you've got a ton of people who aren't that great at or familiar with games, try something more elaborate like a Resident Evil freak-out. The way it works is you turn off all the lights and start up a playthrough of any RE title pre-RE 5 (RE 5 is just too recent to pull off a good scare), or Dead Space. Encourage everyone to be super quiet. Then, when the scares start happening, kick people out of the room whenever they so much as startled at an in-game moment. The licker-through-the-mirrored-glass scene in Resident Evil 2 gets 'em every time.
Idea 3: Drinking games*
Only play these if you want to get drunk and try to follow an actual set of rules created by someone else (to prevent welshing on penalty shots). Anything goes as far as which game you pick, but the important factor is to make a single player experience a group experience. Do not resort to fighting games or the best player will automatically be the least drunk.
*You can adapt these games for non-drinkers by asking them to shotgun a pixie stix package instead of taking a drink -- trust us, they'll feel it like you feel a shot.
Idea 4: Game movies and music
The best parties are more about the people than the entertainment, so ultimately, you may want to keep stuff like games and movies as strictly background noise. Throw on something like Silent Hill, a Resident Evil flick, that awful "video game" movie Frankie Muniz was in, or even the 80s-flavored Mario Bros. film to provide ambiance. Music is a little hard to keep to video game theme, but you can still find or download the Resident Evil or Dead Space soundtracks and play them at a low volume on loop. Just remember not to put drinks on top of the speakers.
However you spend your Halloween, we hope you have a good one. Check out our Gamer's Costume Guide and keep it here for another "Spooky Sunday" feature this time next week.