Gaming Writer Abigail Kinsella explores the yearly Christmas tradition of an Undertale play-through

Written by Abi Kinsella

The nights draw in. The temperature creeps down. The dulcet tones of Michael Buble drift between the molecules of frozen silence that hang suspended in the air. They’re saying, “Please stop making jokes about defrosting me.” Little hands grasp steaming cups of hot chocolate. Larger hands wrap around mugs of mulled wine. Baristas blow the dust off their industrial vats of cinnamon from the year 1982, and put their prices up by £1.50. Mothers slap fingers away from Quality Street that must be saved for the big day. Fathers practise the technique of tantalisingly wafting the wrapping paper bin-bag of legend in the air. Cats and dogs put aside their differences and cower together beneath the stairs, as a teenager on the end of an iPhone tiptoes through the house with a pair of pet reindeer antlers. 

A festive playthrough of the other option might land one in festive counselling

And as all these harbingers of Christmas weave their merry way through the fabric of December, I pull my curtains closed. I nestle beneath my duvet. I smile. 

And I load Undertale. 

The annual replay of Undertale (pacifist route – a festive playthrough of the other option might land one in festive counselling) is much a festive tradition to me as any needle-shedding tree, any dry-as-bone turkey, or any vacant-eyed animatronic Santa that leaks battery acid. Any argument about whether Die Hard is a Christmas film, any Dawn French gorging on too many lunches, or any Mr Poppy flagrantly kidnapping children in the name of Christmas cheer. Any forgetting quite how alcoholic Baileys is, any support meetings for Bounty Bars with low self-esteem, or any assurances that no no, you’ll like these brussels, I did them in butter!

Christmas begins at the sepia-edged beginning of the game

Christmas begins at the sepia-edged beginning of the game, where the melancholic soundtrack fills my self-created cave of blankets and pillows. As our mysterious, silent protagonist advances through the catacombs, I find myself immersed somewhere familiar and safe; somewhere that feels pure of heart and profound beyond the simple graphics. Somewhere that evokes the winter-bound feeling that while it may be cold outside, here I am safe. 

It is perhaps not too difficult to analyse why Undertale feels so Christmassy. Our protagonist is swaddled throughout in their cosy little jumper. They trudge through snowy landscapes and voyage with snowmen. Stars guide them as they mark their process, like the shepherds who watched their flocks by night. They meet benevolent beasts and exchange gifts and eat pie. There is laughter and there are tears.

The game also seems to hit all the narrative beats of the Christmas film. Our protagonist is thrust into a new and frightening situation. They meet new people and struggle to adjust, but in their struggle, they learn and grow. They misjudge and are misjudged, and all comes to a head in a final act where it seems like all may be lost. The glimmer of hope to which they cling is not the one they expected to find. The audience is left feeling warm. 

I will forever be astonished by and grateful for the game

So much of Christmas for me is about nostalgia. About being able to temporarily shake off the intimidating novelty of ever-advancing real life, and revert to comforting old routines. I know every click of every key of every second of Undertale. And yet I am joyful anew every time I tread that familiar path again. The heart of the game beats so loudly and so unapologetically, the passion with which it was created leaks from every pixellated pore. I will forever be astonished by and grateful for the game. 

Bring on Christmas, it’s time to return to The Underground. 

Watch the trailer for Undertale here:

Read more gaming retrospectives here:

Super Mario Galaxy: In Space No-One Can Hear You Mamma Mia 

Five Games That Mean Something To: Yankie Chow

Retrospective: Minecraft Story Mode