I started writing this piece shortly after the death of George Floyd, and the resulting (and, despite the news having moved on, continuing) protests over police brutality and systemic racism. I worried then that it was too tongue in cheek; jokes like ‘people who have pineapple on their pizza are cops’ feel off these days, when we’re in the midst of certainly the biggest conversation on racism within the police force in my lifetime.
I even pitched this article around a few places, more interested in the response than the commission, which I felt unlikely for a niche take on an indie game. Usually a response is a yes or a no, and if it’s a no, we shake hands and move on. This time, however, I wanted to dissect the reasons behind the no. I fear, in my haste to prove this had something real to say, rather than a joke at the current conversation’s expense, that I rambled too much and the rejections were boilerplate. Probably the places I sent this wondered what in the hell I was talking about.
Does any of this matter? Well, I suppose that’s for you to decide. Feel free to travel back in time and skip over these opening paragraphs. The point is that Jorji, the cop from Coffee Talk, is a cop.
Coffee Talk is a pretty great indie game by Toge Productions, released earlier this year. Essentially a visual novel where you make various coffees, teas and hot chocolates, it’s set in a fantasy world with pixies and orcs and elves. It does go a little bit Bright in that the orc character, Myrtle, is coded to be Black, but at the same time it clears Bright’s low bar by having her be a computer programmer and giving her a more rounded personality, unlike the stereotypical depictions of Black culture in Bright.
This, however, is one of the key ways Jorji shows himself not just to be a cop, but ‘A Cop’. Racism, as we know it, does not exist in Coffee Talk. Freya, a pixie and author, even mentions writing a novel about a world of only humans, where people are treated differently because of their skin colour; the other characters are incredulous. At the time, Freya is taking inspiration from an elf and succubus whose families are keeping them apart, but this feels less like real world racism than it does classism, perhaps inspired by religious prejudice, mixed with traditional fantasy tropes. A closer look at Coffee Talk’s world building, however, reveals that racism is very much alive.
Every day begins with a newspaper. This is the only part of Coffee Talk’s world we ever see, aside from the coffee shop’s interior. While a decent chunk of the headlines discuss events linked specifically to the characters – Rachel’s music festival, for example – the rest discuss the orcs. Headlines include ‘Stop Workplace Racial Profiling’: Orcish Union Demands and Protests Arise Over Government Treatment Of Atlantic Immigrants, with the orcs clearly being analogous to a combination of the Black community and immigrants. Given the classic idea of an orc is a powerful creature of low intelligence, the comparison to Black people definitely feels uncomfortable. You could argue that’s offset by Myrtle, but it still feels like a lazy comparison, one ignorant to the decades of racist narratives around Black people.
Nevertheless, one thing we can take from it is that racism definitely exists in Coffee Talk. While Myrtle and Jorji have no significant interaction, the fact we know both systemic racism and police brutality exist in Coffee Talk positions Jorji’s role as a cop in a new light. At the very least, he’s complicit in this system.
Then let’s look at how Jorji actually acts. For one thing, he’s usually still on his shift when he visits the coffee shop. So he might be positioned by the game as one of the Good Cops (TM), but he’s certainly not a damn good cop, Jim Gordon.
Then, of course, there’s the way he’s a good cop. When Rachel is nervous about traveling home at night, he takes her in the car. I have no complaints with this; it’s exactly what the police should be doing. Helping those in the community in need, with no threats of violence, no abuse of power, and nothing asked in return. If that was the only cop-like thing he’d done, I don’t think these thoughts would ever have formed in my head.
Jorji ends up talking to Rachel’s father, who is concerned about the record producer Rachel is associating with. Jorji, abusing his position as a police officer, runs background checks, investigates the producer’s history and begins a small scale investigation. Of course, the producer is a dirtbag, Jorji rises as the hero and Rachel enjoys a happy ending with her father. I say of course because, well, of course. When was the last time a fictional cop’s hunch turned out to be wrong?
On TV, cops detain suspects without cause all the time, get strung out for it, then later on evidence turns up and they’re lauded for proving the doubters wrong. Criminals don’t change on TV, and cops know it. They know you’re up to something, and they’ll find out what, just you wait. Jorji has what you might call Big Brooklyn 99 Energy.
Again, Jorji was right. The producer was a dirtbag. But he’s right in the fictional world Coffee Talk has constructed, a world which tells us racism doesn’t exist while showing us that it still does. He’s right in the way fictional cops are, in the way which gives actual cops God complexes that tells them their hunches, their guts, their racial biases, are correct, because they are cops and cops are heroes.
Coffee Talk is an enjoyable game with an interesting storyline, albeit one which relies on the tired ‘what if Black… but orc?’ trope. However, the presence of Jorji, the only character with no significant personal arc, only reinforces the problematic ways police are ‘saintwashed’ in fiction, and the fact he’s a nice, relatable character only makes his abuse of power all the more haunting. We are all aware that the phrase is ‘one bad apple spoils the bunch’, right?