There are aspects of most vocations that one might consider “sacred,” that bring elements of our relationship with God to bear on our relationships with others. Teachers, doctors, artists, social workers, men and women in military service, and many others have the opportunity — and often take advantage of that opportunity — to shine God’s light in the dark places of our lives. But I found an aspect of the sacred in an especially unlikely place: a bartender-sim, Bar Oasis.
Functionally, Korean-made iOS games Bar Oasis and its sequel have three components. There’s the micro-managing component of keeping all customers at the bar satisfied, the motion-based mini-game component of pouring and mixing drinks, and the visual novel component, a linear story about the intersecting lives of the bar’s patrons and its staff. Bar Oasis casts the player in the role of a young, rookie bartender named Victor who inherits the job responsibilities of the bar’s manager (simply called “Boss” throughout both games).
Depending on your words and actions, you can end up in a relationship with one of the woman customers (in the first game there are two “romance” options; in the second game, there are three). Your boss forbids you, quite explicitly, from getting involved with any customers (or, in the second game, any coworkers), explicitly comparing you to a priest, a man of the cloth: “Bartenders are just like the men of the cloth in that we tend to the wounded soul. So we must be pure like the clergy!”
I’ve heard the parallel drawn between bartender and priest before, but in a game where you play as the bartender, this truth becomes unavoidable. Consider the following:
A priest offers the sacrament of the eucharist (or, for Protestants, “communion”): bread and wine. The bartender offers a variant of the elements. Bread can be any form of free (salty) snacks like pretzels and nuts. The wine? How about a shot of whisky, or maybe a mojito?
There are rituals that the bartender follows: when a customer arrives, always slide a coaster and ask for their order. Certain drinks go in certain glasses. These aren’t meaningless gestures. The placing of the coaster is a way for the bartender to non-verbally acknowledge that the customer is there and will shortly be attended to. The use of proper glasses for the drinks shows respect for rich, long-standing cultural traditions, especially as many hard liquors and mixed drinks can be traced back to certain countries and cultures.
There is the aspect of confession. Customers come in, tell of their troubles, often admitting the mistakes they’ve made in the recent or far past. Bartenders don’t necessarily offer penance, but the listening ear for confession is part of the defined role of the priest as well as the bartender.
And, finally, there’s celibacy. That’s probably not a universal law for all bartenders, but in Bar Oasis, you’re expected to maintain a kind of abstinence. In one scene, Victor says: “I can’t date the people I meet on the other side of the bar, and I can’t date my coworkers, but you have me working here all the time — what other woman am I going to meet?” The Boss’s answer: “exactly. All women are trouble anyway.”
In the end, the game offers up the opportunity for Victor to partner up with a woman as a sort of “goal.” This is typical of Asian visual novels, to build in a “dating sim” or “love adventure” component. But the game also includes the option to eschew it all, following Boss’s advice. It just depends on how “priestly” you want to be.
Though I may never be a bartender, it was a joy to see this series acknowledge that in the midst of the foggy, alcohol-induced melancholy and blips of fleeting happiness that often come from social interactions in a bar, something stronger and — dare I say it — divine can often ferment.