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Virtual Gifts

Call of Duty

Gifts you can't lay your hands on

The age of the Internet and the app may mean the end of wrapping paper as we know it. Sooner or later every Christmas gift will just be beamed straight into your brain. It hasn’t come to that yet, but this year, you might find far fewer physical gifts under the tree and many more awesome, virtual gifts to download, upload, and reload on Christmas morning.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Do you have a friend whose life you’d like to ruin? Then Call of Duty: Black Ops for the Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and Playstation 3 is the ideal gift. This absorbing, first-person-shooter will have them glued to their HDTVs day and night, killing zombies and buying weapon upgrades until they get fired from their jobs or their significant other leaves them. Of course this isn’t a truly digital gift since it still comes packaged in compact disc form, but the virtual world inside is as massive as they get.

Where to get it: Most everywhere

Cost: $59.99


Chosen as one of “Oprah’s Favorite Things of 2010,” a subscription to Netflix is the ideal gift for the movie lover in your family. Watch as many movies as you want instantly on your PC, Mac, TV, and now your iPhone, starting at $7.99 a month. For an extra two bucks a month you can order DVDs straight to your doorstep, one at a time, and keep them for as long as you want. That extra monthly charge also allows access to a larger selection of TV episodes, classic movies, and new releases. Finally, The Color Purple and Native Son on demand!

Where to get it:

Cost: $7.99 or $9.99 per month

Virtual Instrument Apps

Sooner or later every musician out there is going to toss her busted old guitars and drum kits in the trash and replace them all with iPhones and iPads. These versatile touch-screen devices are perfect for synthesizer and drum pad apps, which have transformed the way musicians make their music in the studio and live. Gorillaz front man Damon Albarn even claims he’s writing the new Gorillaz album almost entirely on an iPad. Apps like Bloom, an ambient sound loop generator developed by composer Brian Eno, and GyroSynth, a gesture based synthesizer for the iPhone, are popping up in the arsenals of bands all over the world. Bloom and GyroSynth are inexpensive apps ranging from $1 to $4, but more complex apps, like the upcoming Konkreet Performer, a visually and aurally impressive multi-touch soundstation, might lighten your pockets a bit, but it will also instantly turn you into Aphex Twin. The days of tearing the snowman wrapping paper off of that brand new MicroKorg Synthesizer are over.

Where to get it: iTunes app store.

Cost: $1-$100.

Name a Star

Give the gift of pure energy by purchasing a star in the sky for a loved one. Star Foundation, an organization that supports charities such as Toys for Tots and the Dream Foundation, offers “name a star” packages starting at $39.95. The standard package comes with a certificate of authentication and a map of the cosmos pinpointing your own personal sun, but of course the real gift here is your donation. Not many gifts will last billions of years, but this is the exception, unless of course it burns out and turns into a white dwarf or a black hole. Planets sold separately.

Where to get it:

Cost: $39.95 for the Standard Name a Star package to $97.95 for the Ultimate Star Gazer package.

Little World Gifts

Think of the bookshelf packed with those little porcelain trinkets that you see every Christmas at your aunt’s house. All the miniature elephants and rocking horses that just sit there, staring at you, ready to come alive when everyone goes to bed. Now take away their actual physical existence, the wood and porcelain, and you’ve got the idea behind the virtual trinkets of Little World Gifts. is an internet boutique specializing in interactive digital curios, like mini Elvis, the Titantic, and an electronic zoo full of panda bears and tigers. No more spraying Pledge on that dusty shelf, just make room on your Facebook wall.

Where to get it:

Cost: $3.99.

Flickr Pro Account

Okay, so you want to buy that photographer friend something nice to aid in their picture snapping, but you can’t afford a new Canon Telephoto lens or the latest version of Adobe Photoshop. Instead, try a one-year subscription to, a photo sharing and storage website with a database of more than four billion photos. Flickr is free to join, but a pro account grants unlimited uploads and storage, ad-free browsing, HD playback for high-definition video, and account statistics so your friend can keep track of how many people view his slick pix.

Where to get it:

Cost: $24.95 per year.

iTunes Gift Card

Quickly becoming a classic last-minute gift, an iTunes gift card is sure to make any MacHead happy, and is always a great stocking stuffer. If the audiophile in your family is illegally downloading 43 albums a day, then a $50 gift card might keep them free from lawsuits. Gift cards are also good for movies, TV episodes, and iPad and iPhone apps ranging from awesome new games like Spider-Man: Total Mayhem to classics like Tetris.

Where to get it: iTunes store online, Best Buy, Target, Walmart, anywhere with a cash register.

Cost: $5-$100.

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