PowerWash Simulator broke me in a way I couldn’t have anticipated. This supposedly “tranquil” game features a control scheme so painfully repetitive and demanding that it brought back an old injury of mine. My first couple of sessions were fine, but by my fifth and sixth hour, I couldn’t handle it anymore. Even after attempts to bypass these issues through alternate controllers and increased mouse sensitivity, I found no way to avoid the pain.
Video games are an escape for many of us; a delightful medium that takes us to new worlds and lets us experience sensations no other artform can (like powerwashing). So you can imagine my frustration when a PC game that’s meant to be chill instead created a major real life inconvenience for me.
The story of my injury
Sometimes, the way we interact with video games can hurt us, and not everyone comes out unscathed. This most commonly occurs in the professional scene, where the demand for a fast response time, godlike aim or frequent practice wears out certain parts of the body. Players can also suffer ill effects from gaming for too long, particularly insofar as having poor posture or the overwhelming brightness of their display degrading eyesight.
There are a myriad of ways players can hurt themselves and, admittedly, my story is a little silly. When I was a kid, my friend and I were coming home from a trip to Coney Island, an amusement park that borders the North Atlantic Ocean in New York City. When we got to our block, we agreed to race home as fast as possible. He and I had always been competitive about this, as we were keen on measuring our maximum speeds through these friendly sprints.
Amidst our run home, we tripped over one another and tumbled against the concrete. It was the summer, so we weren’t wearing layers that might’ve softened the brunt of our falls. My right elbow scraped against the sidewalk and tore most of my skin off, which remained dangling for a few months. In elementary school, I vividly recall being approached by a teacher I didn’t know, who requested me to “put that away,” as it was grossing her and the other kids out.
It took a long time for it to fully heal, but when it did, my elbow bone would lock up and occasionally require me to turn my arm to unlock it. It created an unpleasant grinding noise, and while it didn’t necessarily hurt, I knew that something was wrong. As a dumb kid who didn’t want to cause any trouble, I never said anything about it to anyone. This remained the case for many years, all the way up through middle and high school. But someday around when I started college, it just stopped happening.
I foolishly assumed I was free of my arm troubles. But everything changed when God of War (2018) came out. I was early in my playthrough on the “Give Me God of War” difficulty, which is still the hardest game I’ve ever played. It was late that year, and I recall getting frustrated with the Yeti boss. I shifted in my bed slightly, palm against the soft mattress I was sitting on, when I felt a sharp pain jolt through my wrist and up to my elbow.
I panicked and brought my wrist to a neutral position, but whenever I tried to move it around, I felt an uncomfortable sensation, akin to a sharp pain, surge up my elbow. This would also happen whenever I tried shifting my arm at all, so I accepted my fate and moved on. A couple of years of wearing an elbow brace later, and it finally went back to normal around 2020.
But even then, my right arm has always been weak. When I work out, I need to wear a band around my elbow to support it. I also wear it for extra support when I play osu, which is a rhythm game that requires constant mouse movement. I even have trouble fully extending my fingers, which can cause me a lot of trouble when I need to wrap my palm around something to grasp onto it.
To be honest, I haven’t worn my elbow support strap in a while. I don’t work out much anymore and I quit osu years ago. It’s been smooth sailing since then outside of a few random occurrences, but last week, that changed.
How PowerWash Simulator broke me
I booted up PowerWash Simulator, a calming game that offers an entertaining but mindless goal: Wash away the dirt, mold, rust, sludge and whatever else occupies a series of locations, whether they be homes, cars, skate parks, playgrounds, or even a firehouse. It sounded like a decent way to pass the time while chatting, so I asked a friend if he wanted to play.
At first, it was fun! I enjoyed the game’s satisfying simplicity, as there is an inexplicable joy to be had in power washing. Even in real life, it feels good to turn on a hose and watch the dirt trail down from whatever you’re cleaning. But by my second session, I started to notice an uncomfortable tightness in my wrist. Playing this game for an hour would physically strain me, even though I’m capable of playing other games for ten hours straight without issue.
The problem with PowerWash Simulator, especially when compared to other first-person games, is that the controls are repetitive. The player moves their mouse around constantly in recurring motions when completing a job. First-person shooter controls are more dynamic, allowing you to often not move the mouse at all, and when you do need to, it’ll be in a completely different direction than before.
PowerWash Simulator is the most straining mouse-based game I’ve played. Even osu offered frequent breaks when selecting songs or browsing for new ones to download. But in PowerWash Simulator, jobs get larger and larger in scale, which means you can be working in a single location for an hour straight. It’s up to the user to take breaks at that point, but if I did, I’d need to stop every minute to do so. My friend also shared that he felt strained, noting that he needed to take breaks every once in a while because he felt his arm get sore.
I realized I couldn’t handle it anymore on my third day of playing. I felt a sharp jolt travel up from my elbow to my wrist whenever I placed it against my armrest, which made it obvious that my injury was resurfacing. There was no reason to put myself through physical harm just to play something I don’t love, so I decided to drop the game.
But the next morning, I concocted a few plans: The first was to switch over to a controller, and if that didn’t work, the second plan was to put my mouse sensitivity so high that I wouldn’t need to move the mouse much. Unfortunately, neither worked. The former plan just ended up messing with my thumb. As I mentioned previously, I have trouble fully extending my fingers on my right hand, so continuing those monotonous movements non-stop with a joystick put pressure on my fingers.
Increasing the sensitivity might have made things worse, as I needed to grasp the mouse that much harder to clean in a precise manner. This put extra strain on my wrist and didn’t let me relax while moving the mouse. It became clear that there was no way out, so I decided to give up on PowerWash Simulator altogether.
First of all, I’m fine. I stopped playing PowerWash Simulator before I’d need to wear an elbow brace again. My wrist has felt a bit tight for the past couple of days, but it usually goes away after some rest.
I also don’t blame the PowerWash Simulator developers, as it’s hard to imagine how a game like this could’ve been designed differently. It just so happens that the subject matter is a demanding one, where the player is constantly flailing their mouse around to clean every object in sight. It’s an unfortunate situation that this seemingly relaxing game ended being one of the few to resurface an old injury.
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Self-described art critic and unabashedly pretentious, Momo finds joy in impassioned ramblings about her closeness to video games. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism & Media Studies from Brooklyn College and five years of experience in entertainment journalism. Momo is a stalwart defender of the importance found in subjectivity and spends most days overwhelmed with excitement for the past, present and future of gaming. When she isn't writing or playing Dark Souls, she can be found eating chicken fettuccine alfredo and watching anime.