Take a stroll through your local video game store, and you can't fail to notice the tempting-looking toys lining the shelves. How about a plastic attachment that turns your Wiimote into a tennis racket? Or a special screen-wiping cloth for your DS? Or a $50 HDMI cable that'll make your picture extra awesome? Sounds cool, but they're often a waste of money.
If you really want to raise your game, pass on the gimmicks and stick with what works. Such as:
Xbox 360 Controller - Microsoft An extra controller...or three.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that no matter how many controllers you have, it's never quite enough. You never know when a four-player session will spontaneously kick off in your living room, and if you can't supply the necessary hardware...well, that's how friendships break down. As a general rule we prefer official, first-party gamepads, but they tend to be the priciest option. If you opt to grab a couple of off-brand models for occasional use, we won't judge. Nor will your friends, and if they do, make them bring their own.
Wii Charge Station Quad - Nyko Recharging kits.
How many times have dead batteries interrupted your gaming session? If you're still using wasteful, expensive AAs, you're throwing away money. Many companies make specially-built batteries and charging stations for modern consoles, and any of them will be a great improvement over disposables. Even on the PS3, where the controllers already have rechargable batteries, you still have to plug the damn things in (and leave your console running) to charge them -- and that's assuming your mom hasn't swiped the cord to use with her digital camera again. There's a great deal to be said for having a convenient charger/stand to keep your pads topped-off and out of the way while they're not in use.
Ear Force X41 - Turtle Beach Surround sound speakers or headphones.
Yes, it's a bit of a luxury, and it might fill your front room with wires. But now that surround sound systems are cheap and support in games is pretty much universal, you'll be at a disadvantage if you're still stuck in stereo. In racing games, you'll hear exactly where challengers are moving up behind you. In shooters, you'll be able to pin down incoming fire with your ears alone. And in just about any first-person game, you'll enjoy the extra ambiance of an all-enveloping soundfield. Don't have the room for a surround sound setup? Then check out a pair of surround sound headphones from Logitech or Turtle Beach. Give it a week and you'll wonder how you ever managed without it.
Force GT - Logitech A good steering wheel
Most gimmicky, one-use controllers are junk. But there are at least two exceptions: quality arcade-style joysticks for fighting game enthusiasts, and quality wheels for racing game fans. A pad doesn't give you anywhere near the same degree of control, realism, and feedback as a good wheel, and if you're even slightly serious about games like Gran Turismo or Forza, they're well worth the $100-200 investment. Right now, the PS3 choice is Logitech's Driving Force GT -- Xbox owners should probably hold out a few months and see what products spawn in the run-up to this fall's Forza 4.
Hard Drive - Western Digital Extra storage space
If you're a serious gamer, you can never have enough storage space. Once upon a time, the Xbox 360's 20 GB hard drive was considered huge, but these days, just a few big downloads from the Xbox Live marketplace will fill it up. Save yourself the hassle and inconvenience of picking through precious saved games and downloaded content, and make sure you have ample storage space.
But you don't need to go to a game store: currently, off-the-shelf hard drives work in the PS3, and there are cheap, off-brand Xbox 360 drives available online much cheaper than the official models you'll find in your local Gamestop. The Wii? That's easiest of all: it'll take any old SD card.