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Let Me Tell You About This Idiot Video Game I’m Obsessed With

FuturLab/Square Enix

I've been up since 5:00 a.m. This is not because I had work to do, or because I enjoy getting an early start on my day—going to the gym, appreciating the peace and quiet, watching the sun rise—I hate all that shit. No, I have been up since 5:00 a.m. because that's the time I briefly woke up, still snug abed, and thought to myself: I could get a couple more hours of sleep, or I could play some more of the video game where I pretend to clean stuff with a pressure washer. Ah, I can sleep when I'm dead.

I want to be clear here, for the first and final time: I am not doing a bit. This is a real game that exists. PowerWash Simulator was released in 2021 but only came to Switch (the only console I own; I am a baby gamer and proud of it) last week. Even then I was not aware of its existence, let alone a likely candidate to play it. Even after my friend Ashley, whose tastes are so abnormal that her favorite game of all time is something called Thief Simulator, talked it up, I dismissed it. That sounds stupid. I watched a couple YouTube videos of gameplay to satisfy my curiosity, then put it out of my mind. That looks stupid.

But somewhere along the way it had wormed its way into my brain. I'd find myself thinking about PowerWash Simulator. Wondering how it would feel to hose down a filthy driveway. Wondering how satisfying it might be to make a dirty thing clean. So I gave in and bought it, if only to silence the intrusive thoughts. That was on Friday. I've played an unconscionable amount of hours of it since then. And I've thought about it in nearly all of the waking hours in which I wasn't playing it. I was at a bar, having a good time, with other people—and thinking about this damn PowerWash Simulator.

I must emphasize this point, because I suspect that you are wondering: PowerWash Simulator is what it says on the box. PowerWash Simulator simulates power washing. There is no more to it than that. You are presented with unreasonably muck-covered situations, ranging from the small and boxy, like a golf cart, to the large and complex, like a carousel. You have a power washer and unlimited water and no time limit, and you complete the stage by blasting away 100 percent of the dirt.

You have choices. Your washer comes with a selection of nozzles, which trade increased pressure for a decreased field of spray. (I find the green nozzle strikes a fine balance for most objects.) You can kneel, or even lie prone, to open up new angles to spray from, at the expense of mobility. Eventually I will be able to purchase new washers, extensions to increase range, and cleaning supplies to make the dirt come off more easily, but I am not there yet. I am simultaneously excited about these future upgrades and perfectly content with my basic washer. I care for it deeply.

You also have more subtle, almost philosophical decisions to make. Will you begin by hosing down the side of this bungalow with the white, wide-angle nozzle, to get most of it, and then use a higher-pressure nozzle to clean up the more tenacious dirt that the first missed? Or will you just do the whole thing with the higher-pressure nozzle from the start, even though its small angle means you're going to need many, many passes to get complete coverage? Will you begin your cleaning of the playground by tackling its easiest, largest, flattest surfaces first, and saving the more intensive and frustrating objects, like the monkey bars with their small planes, for the end? Or will you get the hard stuff out of the way, and save the simple Stegosaurus slide as a reward for a job well done?

A very nice thing about this game is that there is no way to lose, and no wrong way to play it. You can customize your approach to satisfy your own particular brand of obsessiveness. For me, that means fussing over detailing rather than attacking the big picture—for example, making sure each monkey bar is 100 percent cleaned before moving on to the next one, rather than hosing down the entire thing before mopping up the surviving dirt. PowerWash Simulator is teaching me more about my own neuroses than I expected it to.

Ah, but there are universal joys here. The joy of approaching a seemingly overwhelming project by breaking it up into smaller tasks. The joy of completion, and of quantifying how close that completion is. The joy of rigor and being thorough. But above all, the simple, almost zen joy of getting lost in the work.

There is no music in this game. The only sound is the gentle, steady rush of water. The white noise and the repetitive actions bring on a softly hypnotic state, where time and the world fall away and all there is is you and the washer, its susurration something like a mantra, helping you to pure concentration—or pure mindlessness. Whatever you need, you can find it in the washing. I have played it stoned and I have played it overcaffeinated, and though the shades of it are different, at the heart of it is a stillness. That, I find, is a refreshing escape from the intentionally distracting chaotic loudness of most games—to say nothing of life.

After all this you may be saying, Barry, if you enjoy this so much, why not just pressure wash something in the real world, for real. To which I say: Fuck off, I rent.

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