The enduring and universal appeal of PowerWash Simulator

The video game medium has undergone some very interesting changes over the course of its lifetime, and FuturLab’s PowerWash Simulator, released through Square Enix’s “Collective” initiative, is a particularly potent example of that.

What was once considered to be little more than toys for children (or, more accurately, toys for boys, to many people) is now a creative medium that encompasses an incredibly diverse array of experiences where everyone can find something that will appeal to them on one way or another.

So why have so many people decided to spend their free time pretending to power wash various things, given all that choice?

Well, one simple reason that we’ve mentioned previously here on Rice Digital is that some people have seen online entertainers that they enjoy — such as VTubers — play PowerWash Simulator, and thought that it looked like it might be fun.

But there has to be something more than that, surely? This is a game that has 8,137 “Overwhelmingly Positive” reviews on Steam right now; people love this game. And yet it’s exactly what it says it is: it’s a game about pointing a hose at things and spraying them down until they’re clean.

I saw some friends for the first time in quite a while last night, and I told them about PowerWash Simulator.

“Oh, right, is it like Surgeon Simulator?” one asked, clearly expecting some sort of crazy or silly stories to have come out of my time with the game.

“No,” I replied, “it’s just a game where you power wash things.”

And that really is just what it is, but if you play it, you’ll understand. It’s a game that plays on our brains’ tendencies to latch on to “oddly satisfying” things such as something dirty gradually becoming clean piece by piece — and the fact that being in control of that oddly satisfying thing is even more oddly satisfying than just watching it. It’s something that appeals to everyone on one level or another — a game with truly universal, inclusive appeal.

Interestingly, the relatively few negative reviews of the game on Steam don’t accuse it of being “not a game” in the same way that some people attack “walking simulators” — even though a lot of the same comments could be levelled at it. There’s no fail state — you can’t “lose” at PowerWash Simulator — and there aren’t any really meaningful choices to make that affect the overall outcome.

But to the vast majority of players, that doesn’t matter here; the game provides something that is fun and interesting to do, and developer FuturLab is committed to continually improving the game over time with new levels, new things to wash, new equipment, new customisation — and even, at some point in the future, a multiplayer mode.

I haven’t even seen anyone complaining that the game has no achievements or trading cards, which is usually something at least one Steam user is whining about at any given moment. I think it’s testament to the quality of PowerWash Simulator that people are finding it rewarding enough to play without the need for additional incentives to keep them coming back for more — and without the game having any real “point” to it.

Yes, as you progress through the game you earn money which allows you to purchase new equipment and cosmetic items. Yes, there’s a semblance of “narrative” (or perhaps more accurately, setting) delivered through the text messages you receive from the characters who supposedly own the vehicles and structures you’re washing. But there’s no real end goal, no way to really “beat” the game in a traditional sense, no sense of competition against other players outside of the dedicated “Challenge” mode and no real sense that you come away from the game having learned anything.

And yet it’s still an enormously enjoyable, satisfying and relaxing experience. It’s great for streamers such as VTubers because its simple, straightforward gameplay makes it easy to chat over, and it’s great for solo players because it provides an experience that you can easily immerse yourself in thanks to its realistic and pleasantly soothing sound effects — or you could always just pop some music or a podcast on in the background while you chill out with it.

It’s a potent reminder that sometimes entertainment doesn’t need a “point” or a “message” to be of value to us. In fact, as we’re all living through some of the most consistently stressful times in recent memory — for all manner of reasons — experiences like PowerWash Simulator are all the more important.

PowerWash Simulator
I love environmental storytelling

PowerWash Simulator provides us a simple, easy to understand, engaging means of simply tuning out from all those stressors for an hour or two at a time. And at the same time, it demands nothing of its players; it doesn’t demand that you commit to playing for the long term — it doesn’t even demand that you commit to finishing a complete level in one go, since you can always put the game down and come back to it later, picking right back up where you left off.

It is, quite simply, an activity you can participate in for as little or as much time as you want at any given moment — and more likely than not, you’ll come away from the whole experience feeling quite a bit better about everything. I know I certainly appreciate something that makes me feel like that right now — and I’m sure many of you will too.

PowerWash Simulator is available in Early Access right now on Steam.

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Pete Davison
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