Monsters and Mistletoe

The Family Gathering Survival Kit


The first family holiday gathering took place on Thanksgiving Day in 11,292 B.C. Og and Sush, a young couple from the West Stonelands, had invited Sush’s mother over for grilled Mastodon. Og spent three days in the hunting grounds stalking the mastodon before he managed to strangle it with his bare hands, then dragged the 5,000-pound creature back to his cave where Sush spent a further two days stripping and cooking it. When Sush’s mother arrived for the feast, she complained that the cave wasn’t clean enough and the mastodon was undercooked. Og promptly wrenched her head off and turned her into a doormat. Then Og and Sush had a nice quiet meal and went to bed early.

Family holiday gatherings have been going downhill ever since.


Who are all you people and why are you in my house? Am I really a marcher in this ghastly recessive gene parade? How does anyone ever survive these events? When we were kids the strategy was easy: get trotted out for the aunts and uncles, say “thank you” for the socks and the educational video, then disappear upstairs to thrash the cousins at Super Hockey. The emotional dynamics were simpler, or at least simpler to ignore, and videogames were a big help in dealing with Extended Family Members (EFMs). Now, of course, the blinders are off. Every bit of the casual hatred, pending divorces and zombie-like conversation is visible and painful, like a ratchet to the eyeballs. Which means videogames had better step up. Much like televised sports for an earlier generation, they have some serious distracting to do.

Go for the jugular
First, the obvious: It’s clear that videogames inspire violent behavior, and it’s also clear that those behaviors are right. So grab your rifle, chainsaw, laser gun or eight-foot halberd and get to work over by the pretzels. Chest and forehead for a mercy kill, limbs and toes for some amusement. Call in an airstrike if you have one; cannibalism will restore your energy when you get tired. Remember that EFMs vary: You can take down aunts and cousins with a clean headshot, while mothers-in-law require full dismemberment to be really sure.

What’s that? You’re not one of those psychotically violent videogame vandals? Suit yourself. I was done in eight minutes and put up a YouTube video as proof of my score. But there are other options.

Genetic alteration
It’s simple when you look at it the right way: If your gene pool is filthy, go swim somewhere else. A self-altering mutation serum, whether in gas, pill or rectal suppository form, will leave you free of EFMs and enjoying your second head/extra tail/ability to eat mud. It worked in Duke Nukem, it worked in Half Life 2 and it worked for a little while in World of Warcraft. If you don’t like your faction, change it. ‘Cause if slaughter’s off the menu, and the DNA escape hatch isn’t available, you may have to deal with the actual situation at hand …

Old school
Not all EFM videogame strategies involve death or mutation. Some can just be old school fun, Nintendo style.

Find a high place. Check the room for ceiling fans or garrote-wire decorations. (This is important.). Scan the gathering table for either A) the most obnoxious EFM or B) the watery food dish with the most comic potential. Breathe deep. Recall every perfectly-timed A-button Mario jump you’ve ever done. Now soar … extra points if turtle is being served.

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Turn failure on its head
I’ve been doing this one for years: Amid the usual round of who’s pregnant, getting a raise, getting their PhD., succeeding in sport, running for office or other “real world” irrelevancies, feel free to slot in gaming achievements with a total lack of embarrassment. Jimmy got a big promotion? I dinged Level 70 on my second Paladin. Clara just got a second mortgage? I own every building in Bowerstone. Janice was on the local news the other week? I headlined Wembley in Rock Band.

Be as proud and vaguely snobbish as everyone else is of meaningless accomplishment. Really, why should the momentum be on their side? If someone wants to steer the family gathering towards a good ole one-up pissing contest, go right along with it, full force, total conviction. “Jessie’s taking on a lot more responsibility at the furniture store.” Good for Jessie. I have an 8-foot halberd that creates lumpy, human-shaped doormats. Wanna see?

You live in a different world from these people with their bad dye jobs, need to live through others and leftover belief in television. Be proud of that.

Join ’em, beat ’em, leave ’em.
When we were kids we could retreat upstairs with the Nintendo. But now everyone follows you. Videogames are “accessible,” whatever the hell that means. So roll with it. Look into the puffy, bloodshot eyes of your alcoholic uncle who works at a paper recycling center. Gaze at the misery and drudgery of the poor bastard’s life reflected in them. Now put a plastic guitar in his hands. Show him the crowd. Get the cheesy ’70s rock song going, watch him transform, then run like hell until you can’t hear the inevitable boozy sing-along. In 10 years everyone will be doing this anyway, so why not give your EFMs an early head start and clear the downstairs living room while you’re at it? You can even keep a old copy of Super Hockey around for nostalgia, so while everyone else plays the new stuff you’ll be getting thrashed by your tech-addicted 7-year-old shit of a nephew.


Spend time with your real extended family
Here’s a thought: Have you spent more quality time in the company of videogame characters than your extended family? Do you feel a stronger emotional connection to, say, Niko and Roman than to your second cousin Barry and his harelip girlfriend? I thought so. You can’t escape family, but you can expand your definition. Mine is in a whole bunch of different places and forms this holiday, and I look forward to spending time with all of them. Even the genetic ones, as long as there’s Rock Band and airstrikes.

So let’s accept it. Round up the Bellices, the Vances and the Daventrys. Book a table at an inn somewhere in Azeroth. Even bring Og and Sush, if someone wants to digitize them. We’ll have some ale, tell some stories, then grab our halberds and go kill some dragons for the barbecue. A real family gathering at last. Holidays, as always, are what you make of them.

Colin Rowsell lives in Wellington, New Zealand and would love to have you over for Super Hockey. Talk to him on [email protected].

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