And relax the joy of video games where you do almost nothing – The Guardian

Posted: February 4, 2020 at 9:53 am


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People just do nothing Coffee Talk. Photograph: Toge Productions

In the recently released game Coffee Talk, you play a coffee-shop barista who stands at a counter, through long, rainy Seattle nights, making drinks for customers as they tell you about their lives. Thats it. Thats all you do. Theres no aim, no purpose. Your only interaction is pressing a button to move the conversation on and occasionally crafting a drink using the available ingredients. Its barely a game.

And yet, its a lovely, involving experience. The beautiful pixel art interior of your shop, the fleeting glimpses of passersby outside, and the jazzy soundtrack replicate things we love about hanging out in real coffee places. Also, this is an alternative version of Seattle populated not just by humans, but by elves, demons and other fantastical beings, so your clientele is pretty varied. Elves tell you about their love lives, insomniac werewolves seek calm and quiet you listen and you try to make drinks that will soothe them.

Coffee Talk comes from a long line of quietly transgressive games that dont ask much of the player, that defy the popular notion of video games as a hectic, dizzying pursuit where buttons are bashed and the onscreen action is intense and demanding. Games, like music, can sometimes sit in the background, asking for little more than occasional check-ins. In the early 1980s, I loved to travel vast distances in the space simulation game Elite, watching the pixel stars and hollow planets swoop by, perhaps encountering the odd freighter. Id put the game on in the background while I did my homework.

Later, PC owners all over the world were transfixed by Myst, the slow, silent puzzle game that had you visiting almost still images of a deserted island, in between spreadsheet chores. The visual novel genre, vastly popular in Japan, requires little more from players than button presses to select conversational options playing Steins;Gate, Hatoful Boyfriend or Doki Doki Literature Club is like checking in with a WhatsApp chat, just one with more Japanese high schools, trans-dimensional monsters and interspecies dating than usual.

Open world games have become hangouts for a lot of players. You can sit on a hill in Minecraft and watch the sun travel across the sky; you can park your car in Grand Theft Auto V and the world moves around you. A few days ago, I tweeted asking friends for the games they treated like quiet background music. Lots of people mentioned gentle life sims such as Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, which writer Ria Jenkins told me she plays while watching Love Island; several opted for professional sims such as Euro Truck Simulator and Train Sim World, where you just drop in on a job and carry out mundane tasks. Xbox social strategist and streamer Charleyy Hodson talked about the multiplayer game Farm Together: My entire family loves checking in once a day, planting some new crops and picking some flowers. Then we come back the next day to check in again.

Experimental indie games often fulfil this role as an unobtrusive element in our endlessly partial attention spans. The exploration mode in action adventure Concrete Genie, the road movie-like Jalopy, the letter-writing game Kind Words can be checked in on or left running. Guardian contributor and Gadget Show presenter Jordan Erica Webber plays the Shakespearean comedy game Astrologaster while doing cross stitch, just pressing a button every now and then to advance things.

For many people, the arrival of appointment games on Facebook and mobile phones such as Farmville and Words With Friends, where you check in and out on the experience throughout the day provided a gateway to the idea that games dont have to be all-consuming. At the same time, our modern dual-screen culture of watching TV while browsing a smartphone or tablet device, has prepared for us a mental space in which seemingly competing inputs can be experienced concurrently.

Coffee Talk is clever in that it holds the player in a transient social space, where people flit in and out, giving us glimpses of other lives, and it provides no time pressures, no long-term goals. Youre just there. You just listen and serve. It feels authentic and lived in, and it is as Kris Antoni Hadiputra, founder of Toge Productions, the Indonesian studio behind the game explains:

It was Fahmi, our writer and game director, who came up with the idea of recreating a peaceful experience of sitting down inside a coffee shop, sipping a cup of coffee on a rainy night, while listening to relaxing music that helps emit warm and soothing vibes. It also came down to his personal experience around relationships with people and friends, which inspired him to write slice-of-life stories that a lot of people can relate to.

Video games are about interactivity, of course, but interactivity doesnt have to mean ceaselessly hitting buttons and guiding an on-screen character, vehicle or weapon. Interactivity can mean quietly inhabiting a space, or just checking in on it, and for a few seconds lending our attention to something benign and beguiling.

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And relax the joy of video games where you do almost nothing - The Guardian

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February 4th, 2020 at 9:53 am

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