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Mario Tennis Aces helped me connect with my fiancée’s foreign grandparents

Video games are my ace in the hole.

A month after proposing to my girlfriend, I went with her to her hometown to meet her grandparents who were visiting from Peru. They were very kind and loving towards me but only spoke Spanish. I communicated with them as best as I could but found that my five years of Spanish in high school and college were only mostly valuable for comprehension. Her grandmother was a retired teacher and knew more English than her husband, who could really only tell me that he was “eight eight” when sharing his age. I did the best I could to speak to them in Spanish and they were patient in conversing with me.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Mario Tennis Aces. It was supposed to be a return of the classic Mario Tennis experience from the Gameboy Advanced/GameCube era. Even though it delivered on thrilling moment-to-moment gameplay against human players, the story mode was infuriating while the other modes felt tacked on. However, one of these modes, though simplistic, may have secured my seat at the adult table during Thanksgiving at my beloved’s house.

Mario Tennis Aces released on the Nintendo Switch the same day we went on our trip. Desperate for a genuine way to connect with her grandparents that didn’t revolve around me sucking at Spanish, I downloaded the new Mario Tennis game, hooked my Switch up to the TV, detached the controllers, and turned to the nice old Peruvian couple sitting on the couch in front of me.

Mario Tennis Aces is a highly technical game that requires players to remember a handful of button combinations and implement them quickly just to keep up with your opponent. It is fast paced, tricky, and can be overwhelming for even veteran gamers. But the developers also thought to include a “Swing Mode” that allows you to use the Joy-Con like an actual racquet similar to Wii Tennis. Digging further into the settings, I was able to make the tennis ball larger and slow down the ball speed. I configured a version of Mario Tennis tailor made for persons who were “eight eight” years old.

I briefly explained the controls to my fiancée’s grandparents by mimicking the motions before placing the Joy-Con in their hands. They both struggled with serving the ball, but overall they were able to rally back and forth a bit. My future grandmother-in-law tapped out after a few minutes but my grandpa-to-be was just getting warmed up. My fiancée and I took turns using the controller her abuelita abandoned while her grandpa competed fiercely from his seat. Afterward, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe scratched his itch to play a racing game. For that hour, a video game helped me connect with my new family in a way I wasn’t able to before due to a language barrier.

And this was all possible because Nintendo removed the skill barrier by including optional accessibility features. Nintendo games are known for many things including wholesome content and being innovative. However, the cost of innovation sometimes means isolating people with limited motor functions. Luckily, it seems Nintendo is increasingly aware of the needs of the diverse people who play their games.

This photo looks staged but I swear we were all legitimately having fun.

My fiancee was impressed by the ability to craft a play experience for her grandparents in their 80s. Even Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has new features that automatically accelerates the car and steers it away from walls which helped grandpa stay in the race. While many people don’t need these options, their inclusion helped me create memories with my future family during the only weekend I might ever spend with them until the wedding. I’ll be working on my Spanish in the meantime.