2021 in review: Together alone, with a pigeon

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Hello! Over the next few days we’re going to be going back over some of our favourite games and moments and themes and whatnot from this very strange year. We hope you enjoy looking back with us!

For most of 2020 I was obsessed with a book, The Bells of Old Tokyo, by Anna Sherman. It’s a book about an awful lot of things, and I won’t do it the violence of trying to untangle any of that here. But one of the things it’s about is a coffee shop in Tokyo run by a man named Daibo.

Please read this book. I won’t spoil much. All I need to say here is that Daibo’s Coffee Shop is a place of calm and tradition, a place where time slows and reflection is encouraged. As Daibo makes his coffee he chooses a cup for you. The ground beans bloom. It takes time and it’s personal, and that’s the point.

Coffee shops! Coffee shops, libraries, the tucked-away corners of second-hand book stores and junk shops. This is what I have missed the most, I think, over the last two years. I never realised I loved these places – or rather, I never realised that I loved the same thing about all of them. Now I realise all too sweetly that what I miss, what I continue to miss, given this uncertain time we’re living through, is that quiet gift of cities and urban spaces: the pleasure of being by yourself but surrounded by other people. The pleasures of being together, alone.

That Brewster music is fantastic.

Games, of course, are absolutely brilliant at this. It’s pretty much a key element of what they do. Just you and a bunch of people who don’t really exist, hanging out together in cyberspace. For 2020, my go-to for being together, alone, was Inkopolis Square, where one goes to see and be seen as much as think about maybe having a round of Splatoon. Inkopolis’ together/aloneness is particularly delicious because the people around you are real players, just with the human part sliced away. Digital shadows, poised and sauntering.

In 2021 though, together, alone got serious. Epic. Iconic. Animal Crossing got an update that brought back Brewster. And Brewster’s coffee shop – it’s just like I imagine Daibo’s. Beautiful feathered tiles. Lots of dark polished wood. The floor creaks. There are chairs you aren’t really allowed to sit on. And at the counter, Brewster, slowly, carefully going through the processes of serving coffee, each cup a quiet event, a culmination.

Brewster has something I envy: stillness. The very spirit of being together, alone. I don’t have it. I stutter and flap and panic and fill the empty moments with babble. But there is another way to be, and with Brewster I glimpse it. In coffee shops, libraries, the tucked away corners of second-hand book stores and junk shops I feel it. Maybe 2022 will be my year to learn it.

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