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Sometimes, life can lack routine and structure, and that can be pretty exhausting. Perhaps you've got a bunch of extra work projects on the go, or you might have lots of family obligations to juggle, or perhaps a non-specific illness has caused you to spend a couple of weeks at home away from your usual daily routine. Whatever the reason, sometimes a pleasant and comfortable slice of the mundane can be an important oasis away from the chaos of the real world.
Recently, this is what the video game Coffee Talk has become for me: a pleasantly abstract take on the mundane joys of everyday life, viewed through a fantasy lens.
Coffee Talk is a visual novel video game in which players run a coffee shop in a modern-day fantasy Seattle. The town is exactly as you would expect it today in the real world, except that vampires, werewolves, elves, and cat people roam the streets alongside the human population. Your coffee shop is the only one locally that's open overnight, so your regulars include shift workers, those more interested in being awake at night, and those unable to sleep due to being overworked. When a writer needs to hit a deadline in the early hours of the morning or a kid runs away from home and needs somewhere to hang out safely that isn't age-gated, you're there to serve them a hot drink and offer a comforting ear.
Part of what makes Coffee Talk such an interesting video game is, counter-intuitively, the fact that it has very little actual gameplay. Unlike many visual novels, you don't often get dialogue choices that allow you to branch the direction of the narrative, with your main interactions with the world limited to making drinks for your customers. While this would usually be a complaint against a game in this genre, it feels very tonally appropriate given the setting Coffee Talk is trying to embody.
Playing as a barista in a coffee shop, your role isn't to interfere directly in the lives of your customers. If a couple chooses your quiet coffee shop to talk about how their parents' reactions are putting a strain on their attempts to get married, they need to work through that on their own without a stranger taking sides. What they need is someone to take their order, make it with care, and know the difference between what they ask for, what they actually want, and what they perhaps need.
This is where the mundane joy of Coffee Talk lies. From behind the counter, you'll catch glimpses of lives lived from a distance and start to feel like you know your customers. When that writer who's a regular customer comes in exhausted after a month of crunching on deadlines and asks for another triple espresso while pumping out ever-worse work, maybe give them something less caffeinated and more relaxing, encouraging them to get some sleep. When a werewolf storms into your shop mid-rage, you'd better hope you've spent the past few weeks keeping an eye on which drinks he responds to best.
In Coffee Talk, it's often less important what you say to the people who come through your shop and more important that you use what you understand about them to serve them a drink that's really going to help. There's always a little separation between you and the very human stories playing out, but that's part of the charm. These are not your stories; you're just creating a comfortable place that makes people feel safe enough to share and live through those stories in your company. Your role is to make them a warm hot drink, hopefully making them feel better so they sort their own problems from a calmer position.
Coffee Talk is a gorgeous exercise in people-watching, not to mention pretty darn charming. Over the course of five or six hours, I really felt like I got to know the game's cast of unique characters, as well as being left with the impression that I had captured a little glimpse of normalcy. In a world that's currently overwhelming on a lot of fronts, the simple joy of making a nice warm drink, listening to some chill beats, and helping people to feel safe talking through their worries was the exact dose of heartwarming mundanity I needed to get me through.