#138: Under pressure

There's a heatwave, and a game about washing things gave me a minor mental crisis. The two may not be unrelated.

#138: Under pressure

I did not get much done this weekend. As many of you will already be sweatily aware, the UK is currently in the grip of a record-breaking heatwave. To those of you in more tropical climes, it will not sound like much — temperatures here have been in the upper 30s, and elsewhere the mercury has today risen above 40 degrees for the first time in recorded UK history. But it is all about what you’re used to, isn’t it. Our bodies, our homes, our infrastructure; all are built for the cold, and cold this really is not.

It is all a question of perspective, this stuff. One of Scotland’s favourite pastimes, for instance, is looking on with withering glee at the way England falls apart when it gets more than two inches of snow. Years ago I went on a family holiday to Florida, and when we arrived it hadn’t rained in months. Obviously we brought the weather with us, and in a 30-minute car journey after a rainstorm, we witnessed four traffic accidents. We Brits, of course, know our wet-weather braking distances instinctively. We are born with this hallowed knowledge, arrive with it burned into our souls.

Anyway, sorry, rambling, hot. My point is that this has been a very bare-minimum week. The house is an absolute disaster. The lengthy garden to-do list flutters politely in the fan breeze, but is otherwise undisturbed. We eat only that which can be removed from the fridge and put on a plate; it is too hot to cook and, in any case, the kitchen now belongs to the flies. We are in survival mode, really, albeit one barely deserving of the term. We sit still and sigh a lot, periodically checking BBC Weather to see if it’s cool enough outside yet to justify opening the windows (it is not).

So hot and bothered was I at the weekend that I could barely summon up the will to play videogames, though I made a brief exception for Powerwash Simulator. Made, surprisingly, by Velocity developer Futurlab, it landed recently on Game Pass and has amassed a certain buzz, particularly among the Dad set. The game is pretty much as its title describes: you are presented with a range of filthy settings — a mud-caked transit van, a neglected garden, a dilapidated playground — and tasked with blitzing the place clean with a steadily increasing array of nozzles, soaps and so on.

The consensus view of Powerwash Simulator is that it is gentle, meditative and highly satisfying, and sure, I can see that. I have used a pressure washer and it is a wonderful thing indeed, an excellent invention and a fine thing upon which to base a videogame. But I am afraid I found Powerwash Simulator it too obviously worklike. I have binned off countless games when their entertainment has turned nakedly to labour — the point where ‘shoot these aliens’ instead becomes ‘shoot 400 of alien X with gun Y in area Z’. At least those games have the decency to try and hide their true nature, burying their menial labour beneath a high-gloss sheen of science fiction or whatever. Powerwash Simulator is just a job, for all its gentle gamification, and I sort of resented it on those terms from minute one.

More than anything, it made me anxious. As I blasted away the grime beneath a garden dining set I thought of the sorry state of my own back yard, left parched in the murderous sun. As I very precisely sloughed off the last of the grime from a virtual van’s rear bumper I remembered that the family car has been bereft of screenwash for two weeks and I have persistently forgotten to sort it out. (I really must get round to that.) On it went: every second I spent cleaning something in Powerwash Simulator was another reminder of the laundry list of domestic jobs I have been too busy, too lazy or simply too bloody hot to get around to — and here’s me sat on my sweaty arse, morosely sipping over-iced bourbon, pretending to clean some pretend algae out of a pretend pond. Powerwash Simulator, you say? Dad Guilt Simulator, more like.

This is fine, of course. It is hardly the first widely admired game with which I have failed to click. I can just file it away with all the other games that are obviously pretty good but Simply Not For Me. But if a game called Powerwash Simulator is not for me — your boring old dad with his cardigans, who craves peace and quiet and enjoys an easy, satisfying domestic job — then who is it for? I thought about this for a while as I carefully hosed down a grime-caked garden fence. Are there people out there whose houses and gardens are spotless, for whom a ruined back garden is an escapist fantasy? Just thinking of that bummed me out even more.

I poured another bourbon and spiralled a bit. Is Powerwash Simulator in fact an arch socioeconomic satire, riffing on how rampant house-price inflation means entire generations may never get on the property ladder, and never have their own grimy garden to fret over? Condemned to life in rentals, unable to put up picture hooks without permission, moving every six months because the landlord wants to jack the price up or sell the place off? People who will never know the simple pleasure of pressure-washing a grimy patio and revealing, to their astonishment, that its tiles are in fact different colours? Is this game for, or somehow about, them? How thoroughly depressing. And of course from there it was a short hop into general malaise at stuff like wage inflation, the rising cost of living, and just how much it’s costing me to run all these fans around the clock. It was not a particularly pleasant way to spend a Saturday evening, I have to say.

Was I overthinking this game about tidying up? Yes, definitely, certainly. Was my brain, slowly liquefying in the heat, taking me to some dark places? Oh god, yes (you wouldn’t believe the dreams I’ve been having this week). But it’s fascinating, I think, how these games that seek to replicate some humdrum everyday activity, with no loftier goal than tickling a certain type of receptor in the brain of a certain type of person, can send someone in such unexpectedly bleak mental directions. That’s the thing, I suppose, with seeking to simulate something in the real world. Some of us can’t help bringing the rest of reality along with us, and spoiling everything by association.

Weird stuff, really. Probably just the heat. I’ve uninstalled Powerwash Simulator, anyway, and gone back to shooting aliens. And this weekend, once the heatwave has passed, I promise I will finally get around to doing the gutters.


A rich supply today, partly in response to John Riccitiello being dim, and partly to the return last weekend of Max HP, Hit Points’ subscriber-exclusive interview series. Herewith some highlights:

  • “It’s not as flashy as calling devs fucking idiots,” Philip points out in response to last week’s Unity mess, “but another huge blow was Unity canning the internal game project that was started to help show and overcome difficulties in shipping games with the engine because, not a joke, of the difficulties in shipping it.” I knew about this because it came up in the Discord after the Unity layoffs the other week, and it was most remiss of me not to mention it in Friday’s edition (again: brain too hot). To recap: as part of the layoffs Unity shut down Gigaya, an internal game project that was designed to help Unity better understand the needs of developers. Killing it off sends quite a message, really, about Unity’s priorities. “It's impossible to overstate how Epic making Fortnite with Unreal improved almost everything about the engine for everyone,” Philip adds. “The benefits of eating your own dogfood are real.”
  • “A quick reply,” Ross writes hurriedly, “to shout out the Bournemouth train station taxi rank: for my money, home to the most extremist views per square metre anywhere in the south of England.” Proper belly laugh for this one, thank you very much.
  • “The taster for [Max HP] was expertly designed to make me finally pull the trigger on a paid sub, so kudos for that,” writes Karl. “Also, the full story was amazing, and made me feel instantly gratified for making the leap. It wasn't the interview alone, though; I feel like you've really started to hit your stride with the regular newsletter this spring and summer, it's been really fun to see.” What a lovely thing this was to read, particularly the fact that the preview sent to free subscribers worked as intended/hoped. I don’t intend to make a habit of it, mind. Just on special occasions.


  • Unity CEO John Riccitiello has apologised for calling developers who prioritise their craft before the monetisation of it “fucking idiots”, though not before Unity PR tried to dismiss the furore as him being taken out of context and the boss himself sought to wave it off as clickbait. “My word choice was crude. I am sorry,” he sobbed. “I am listening and I will do better.” Narrator’s voice, etc.
  • AcquisitionBlizzard could complete very soon. Microsoft has complied with an FTC document request, kicking off a 30-day window in which the body has to either formally challenge the deal or shut up about it forever.
  • Sony’s acquisition of Bungie, meanwhile, completed on Friday. Could one of my freshly wealthy Bungie pals sub me a tenner until payday? Or perhaps take out a paid subscription? Sony has celebrated by announcing another buyout, this time of esports platform Repeat.gg.
  • The NPD has retracted its claim from last week that Elden Ring had become one of the ten best-selling games of all time in the US. Ah well. It did seem a bit outlandish, in fairness.

There you go! Time to melt. Please do buttons. See you Friday.