These games teach us how to have those difficult conversations

Technology | Todd Martens 9 Mar 2020

Sitting around a campsite near a tent. Making a cup of coffee. Typically, these activities are interstitial moments, occurring before or after something more exciting.

Yet they are at the core of two new games: Turnfollow's Wide Ocean Big Jacket and Toge Productions' Coffee Talk.

Both approach interactivity with a light touch, letting players uncover intimate moments. We play less as directors of action and more as voyeurs.

We connect with sometimes odd characters - we meet an alien, for instance, who is not so hot at the dating app game in Coffee Talk - and while we don't become friends with these characters, we do walk away feeling as if we've shared a moment with them.

Gameplay centers on discovery, as each game deals with mature themes where what isn't said is often of equal importance to what is said.

Wide Ocean Big Jacket unfolds like an interactive animated film, albeit one with adult topics such as the neverending difficulty of navigating interpersonal relationships regardless of age.

Coffee Talk, which contrasts its nondescript name with a roster full of mythic creatures, can be experienced in multiple ways.

Both largely dispense with typical game-like elements yet show how even delicate participation can illuminate the everyday. Simple acts, be it swinging around a camera in Wide Ocean Big Jacket or opting to mix ginger and cinnamon in Coffee Talk, offer the illusion of choice, thus creating relaxing environments in which we can explore weighty topics.

Coffee Talk alludes to multiple thought-provoking subjects, from interracial dating (here it's interspecies dating, between an elf and a succubus) to a parent struggling to maintain a connection to his daughter.

Wide Ocean Big Jacket, meanwhile, emphasizes the fragility in relationships. In Coffee Talk, we sometimes feel like a barista therapist, while Wide Ocean Big Jacket shows how efforts to console often fail. When a teen asks about sex, we shift the spotlight to her aunt, who squirms her way out of answering the questions.

So while the core narratives of the two games use interactivity sparingly, they connect by creating a world in which we explore topics we often try to avoid.

The characters in Wide Ocean Big Jacket may try to joke away a serious moment, but we're still there, a faceless observer moving among the campgrounds and prompting conversations whether the characters want it or not.

We can let much of Coffee Talk play on autopilot, or take a more active role and explore the characters we meet via their writings or social media pages.

Their concerns and their troubles are discussed at the coffee counter, and whether it's a vampire, an elf or a succubus, their issues are relatable.

Be careful, of course, not to mess up their drinks - we may not be solving problems but in Coffee Talk, the happier the patrons are, the more they may share.

Fear is everywhere, and there's talk of closing borders. A fish, for instance, must leave her home in the ocean because there are no decent schools underwater anymore, only now she's lonely because no one she knows can get a visa.

We delight in uncovering the interpersonal drama of fairy tale and fantasy creatures, but there's no denying this is a game of modern life, where relaxing electronic beats create a calm environment in which we can make drinks and provide a little relief to those we meet along the way.

It's a reminder of the healing power of listening and talking.

Games for decades have been teaching us new tools - how to fight off orcs or bounce off mushrooms and blast away at Nazis. Maybe they can also remind us how to talk to one another.

Los Angeles Times (TNS)

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