I picked my mailbox up this morning. The wrong button. I meant to open it, but then blam: it was gone, and it had moved to my inventory. I did not know that you could do that. It was a reminder that after - jeepers! - 185 hours of the latest Animal Crossing there are still things that surprise me.
But those things have been scarce of late. I still log on every day, yet like Billy Bones I have mainly been scanning the horizon. For the last few months I've been logging on for Redd and Redd alone, the fox who turns up in a boat that pours black smoke into the sky and contains art treasures, crated together in the gloom, the real and the fake alike. I have worried somewhat. I can still find pleasure in the flittering butterfly or the sight of Gulliver on the beach, but the truth is hard to deny: once my art gallery is finished, I will struggle to come back as regularly.
I say that. Now a new update has dropped. It contains a bunch of things, most of which I will leave for other people to unpack. What I'm interested in is the headline feature: Brewster is back. Brewster the pigeon who makes coffee. Brewster who I had longed for, who we had all longed for. Unlocked with what amounts to a very short quest line, and then you wait for a day - oh the waiting! - for the museum to be remodelled, and then, upstairs, first on the left: BREWSTER.
Testify. I was excited for Brewster not just because he is an old pal, and not just because his coffee shop is a perfect videogame location - the wooden bar, the sense of polished surfaces, the feathered tiles and lovely hanging lights. Not even because when Brewster returns so does his languorous, melancholy soundtrack. No, I was excited for Brewster because he breaks so much of what I think has been established as video game logic by this point. You pay for an interaction with Brewster which, on the surface at least, appears to be largely meaningless.
Brewster's coffee costs 200 bells. It may have some secret benefit hidden deep in the stat tables - maybe not even that deep, who knows - but by and large it's an interaction that costs money and doesn't, superficially, give you much in return. You pay the cash, you get a virtual coffee, which you then drink. As such, Brewster seems to exist outside of the thermodynamics of so many modern video games in which our input of X leads to an equal output of Y - a perk or a new skin or a double jump or even a short period of invulnerability.
Or is it that simple? Video games tend to charge you in return for a meaningful reward - so how is this meaningful?
For one thing, it is beautifully observed. You jump onto the stool by the counter. Brewster has his head bowed like a monk: he is cleaning a cup. You order, he serves from a Siphon Brewer (which tells you he is precise and fancy; happy to wait for good things, possibly loaded) filling the cup - beat one - and then gently pushing it towards you. You drink. There is the irresistible music of clinking crockery. Brewster cleans everything away. The end.
This is what you get: a perfect moment outside of the thermodynamics of video games, where energy is always transformed in clear, obvious ways. In fact, Brewster uses that relationship - I pay money, I get something useful - to subvert everything about it. He encourages you to value a single moment simply for what it is.
And there's more. I am fascinated by the fact that you cannot sit with Brewster for very long. The coffee process and exchange takes place at a daringly slow speed, sure, but once the coffee is drunk you find you cannot linger on the stool at the perfect bar, sat beneath the perfect hanging light. You hop off. The moment is over.
Unless you come back. And that's it, isn't it? This coffee shop is a lovely grotto, a place outside, somehow, of the upwards bustle of the rest of Animal Crossing. Long after my gallery is finished, I can still come here. And Brewster will be waiting for me, head bowed, cleaning a cup.