- [In this GameSetWatch opinion piece, Mister Raroo returns to take a look at how videogames have helped to break down barriers and bring him closer to his in-laws... and manages to discuss his favorite part of the chicken in relation to his wife's anatomy, spying on someone's late-night cartoon watching, helping to relieve bladder and hunger problems for a hopeful Wii camper, and much more!]

Welcome to the Family

When all things are considered, I was very lucky to end up with the in-laws I did. It’s never easy to adjust to gaining a new family when you get married because, put simply, they’re not your family. I’m most comfortable with the family I grew up a part of, and though my wife Akemi’s family is very accepting and inviting, there are times I feel uncomfortable and out of place. Sharing common experiences and building bonds by discussing shared interests have helped break down some of the barriers that stood between my in-laws and me, but there are times things still get strange.

One time during lunch with Akemi’s family my father in-law posed a question to me out of the blue: “So, is the breast your favorite part of the chicken?” I happened to be eating a chicken breast at the time, so there was context for his question, but it still seemed really eccentric. After a quick moment of confusion, I gave a short reply. “Uh… yes, it is.” He proceeded to ask another question. “What is your second favorite part of the chicken?” Was this some type of metaphor? Was he asking, “So, what part of my daughter do you like the best? Her breasts?!”

- But it turns out that there was no hidden meaning in his questions. He just wanted to know if I liked chicken breast the best and what my second favorite part of the chicken happened to be. My father-in-law is truly transparent and says what he means. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and there’s never any question to how he’s feeling. (And yet he still manages to win big at poker!) Naturally, I learned this through though spending time and forming a bond with him.

However, for some reason it’s often difficult to build those connections with in-laws. Perhaps some part of me feels I’m constantly being judged as to the worthiness of being married to Akemi. Or maybe it’s just because I didn’t grow up as a part of Akemi’s family. Whatever the reason, it took years before I could understand that questions from my father-in-law have no hidden context, but rather they are only as deep was what is on the surface. If he really wanted to know what the favorite part of Akemi’s body was, he’d just ask. And, for the record, my favorite part of Akemi’s body is her heart. Corny, I know, but true.

Beginnings of Brotherhood

Akemi’s brother Thomas is definitely the type of person that one would call a stereotypical “guy.” He works as a mechanic, watches sports on a regular basis, and eats meat almost every night. I, on the other hand, don’t really fall into that category. I work at a public library, would rather go on a family picnic than watch sports, and rarely eat red meat. On the surface, Thomas and I don’t have much in common, but the more I got to know him, the more I realized we were pretty similar in terms of our core values. Neither of us smoke or drink, we’re both proud fathers, and we both value family above all else. Nevertheless, even though we always got along well, it was tough to form a strong bond because we didn’t share many interests, or so I thought until one fateful night.

- The event occurred a few years ago at Thanksgiving when we all ventured Akemi’s aunt and uncle’s home for a weekend of family togetherness. All of the kids (that is, anyone under 40 years old) brought sleeping bags and set up camp in the largest room. I always have trouble sleeping when I’m anywhere but home, and Thanksgiving night was no exception. As I lay there staring at the ceiling, I heard some shuffling and peered through the darkness to see what it was. Suddenly my eyes were met with a blinding light as the television powered on. After a few moments of adjustment, I was able to make out the form of Thomas sitting in front of the TV, flipping through the channels. He stopped on the Disney Channel, took a quick peek around to make sure nobody was watching, then hunkered down to enjoy an episode of Kim Possible. It was at that moment I realized Thomas was a dork, and it made me happy.

However, knowing Thomas was into nerdy stuff like Kim Possible didn’t immediately allow us to become the best of friends. There was still distance between us because even though he was watching Kim Possible that night, it wasn’t something I was necessarily into. Recently, though, things have changed. It feels like a wall has been knocked down and a true bond of brotherhood has been forming. When we talk or spend time with one another, the awkwardness of being in-laws has all but disappeared, and it’s more like we’re good friends. I credit one thing in particular for helping to bring Thomas and I together: videogames.

The Family That Games Together…

Thomas was in no way, shape, or form a gamer when Akemi and I first started seeing one another. In fact, Akemi told me that the only time she and her brother played videogames was as children when they’d spend every Sunday afternoon at her Grandma’s house. Her cousin Blair would bring his NES and the three of them would play games like Super Mario Bros., Contra, and Ice Climber. It wasn’t until Akemi started dating me, in fact, that she became reacquainted with games. She’s no hardcore gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but she has played through Shenmue, Chrono Trigger, and Dragon Quest VIII. Thomas, on the other hand, had left his game-playing days back on those Sunday afternoons at Grandma’s house. That is, until his son discovered videogames.

Gaming with your kids is a great way to spend time together. For example, when my niece Autumn was younger she’d come spend every weekend with Akemi and me and we had great times playing the Mario Party games, battling it out to see who would be the Party Star. As with any shared activity, playing games together is a great way to strengthen a relationship. Just don’t be like my friend Asa who made his wife cry when, after she let a goal slip past during a game of Sega Soccer Slam, he commented that the reason the buttons were on the controller was to press them!

When Thomas’s son Mario got into games, it was like he was living up to his name. Mario became infatuated with anything Nintendo and soon the boy was a master of almost any game with Mario in the title. Nobody can speed through Rainbow Road in the Mario Kart games like that kid! Thomas and Mario spent a lot of time playing videogames together, though at larger family gatherings Thomas usually refrained from gaming. Maybe he just wanted to use the time to enjoy being with his relatives, or perhaps he was embarrassed about playing games. Whatever the case, I ended up playing videogames with Mario the most.

- Mario doesn’t open up very much to people, but videogames turned out to be the best way to get through him. He splits his time between staying at his mom’s house and staying with Thomas, so like many children whose parents aren’t together, he has to juggle between two different spheres of existence. Perhaps because of this, he he’s often very introverted and having a conversation with him can be tough. One time while we were playing games, however, I jokingly started talking to him in a “Super Mario voice” and he responded immediately. It was like the floodgates opened and suddenly we were having meaningful discussions, though it was through the filter of wacky voices.

You Can’t Be a “Bro” By Yourself

The turning point in building my bond with Thomas came last year when he and Mario decided to stand out in front of a Best Buy one Sunday morning in hopes of scoring a Nintendo Wii. As anyone who has done so can attest to, waiting in line for hours can be really boring, so Thomas called our home to chat and pass the time. Akemi and I decided to go visit Thomas and Mario, so we drove over and found them parked on their bottoms near the front of the massive line.

Poor Mario needed a bathroom break and was complaining about being hungry, so Thomas held down their position in line while Akemi and I took Mario to a Carl’s Jr. to hit the restroom and get some breakfast. When we brought Mario back with an empty bladder and a full tummy, Thomas was extremely grateful. We hung out with them until they got inside and successfully nabbed a Wii and a few choice games, then bid them adieu as they drove off home to enjoy their new system.

Soon thereafter, we began sending Wii messages back and forth. At first the messages were coming on only on the days Thomas and Mario were at home together, but before long Thomas started sending messages on his own. Our correspondence ranged from simple “Hello!” greetings to more elaborate messages in which we discussed plans about family gatherings or asked about bringing our cars in the auto shop he worked at so we could get our oil changed. Thomas never seemed to be into e-mail, but he sure liked to Wii-mail.

We also dabbled in playing games together online. We pitted our Pokémon against one another in Pokémon Battle Revolution, went for the winning goal in Mario Strikers Charged, smacked each other silly in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and tried to reach the finish line first in Mario Kart Wii. Thomas and I are both very busy with our family and work obligations, but the few moments we find every now and then to play online are some of my favorite gaming memories. Somehow the time we’ve spent playing games online, even though it’s been fairly limited, has paved the way for us to become better friends.

Going from “In-Laws” to “Relatives”

- Since Thomas and I have begun sharing game time together, it’s made a significant impact on our personal relationship. Before we were gaming pals, we were very polite with one another, but I felt like I always felt like we weren’t able to be totally comfortable and unguarded when we were together. When I’d talk, I’d always try to watch what I’d say so as not to be offensive or blurt out with something that’d be taken the wrong way. He, too, seemed to be careful with what he said and our conversations never went past the superficial level. But nowadays when we talk it’s just like two friends yakking away. Our conversations might not go past videogames and the few other subjects we’re mutually interested in, but any tension or restraint that previously existed is gone. For the record, Kim Possible has yet to come up during our conversations, though I’d gladly like to hear what makes the program so appealing!

Akemi told me that Thomas has also opened up to her more as a result of the bond he and I have formed. She says he seems happier when he sees us, like he’s glad he can just be himself. He’ll also call her for advice and input on various subjects or sometimes even just to talk—something he rarely did in the past. I’m thrilled that our bond as “bros” has become stronger, and I’m sure Thomas is, too. As silly as it sounds, if it weren’t for videogames, there might still be more of a wall between us. Videogames served as the hammer that shattered the wall and allowed us to be more comfortable with each other.

The stresses and challenges that come with in-laws are not easy to handle. For anyone learning to fit in with their spouse’s relatives, there will be plenty of awkward and bizarre moments, such as being asked what your second favorite part of a chicken is. Finding things you have in common and sharing experiences with one another go a long way to making your relationship with your in-laws much more manageable and enjoyable. Though videogames are what helped me bond with my brother-in-law, for other people it may be activities such as crochet, golf, reading, or cooking. These days when I’m spending time with my in-laws, I truly feel like part of the family. They’ve become more to me than just “in-laws”—instead, I now consider my wife’s family to be my relatives.

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and many pets. You may reach Mister Raroo at mister.raroo@gmail.com.]