A couple of months ago, William Hughes explored the calming comforts of a game called PowerWash Simulator. In that game, you play as a… sentient hose that must eliminate the filth left behind by humanity in a world run by hoses. (I haven’t played it, but that feels right.) As someone who primarily plays games on consoles, and games that involve assassin creeds and calls of duty at that, this genre of normcore PC experiences like PowerWash Simulator or House Flipper or Dog Bather is largely alien to me. So, when publisher Curve Digital offered me a chance to check out the Xbox Series X version of Skyhook Games’ similarly boring-on-paper Lawn Mowing Simulator, I jumped at the chance.
Here’s the thing about mowing a lawn, though: It sucks. If you’ve got a stand-up mower, it turns walking into work. If you’ve got a sit-down mower, it turns sitting into work. It’s noisy. It’s probably hot outside when you’re doing it. There’s no room for creative expression, because your mum prefers the lines to go a certain way. Really, the only good thing about mowing a lawn in real life is that you might get paid for doing it, and then you can spend the whole miserable experience thinking about how many more lawns you’ll have to mow before you can afford a cool new video game — but maybe not a video game like Lawn Mowing Simulator. A video game with a legend of Zelda or a monster in your pocket. You know, a normal video game.
That’s not to say Lawn Mowing Simulator is bad. If anything, it replicates the mundanity of mowing a lawn too well, because that’s pretty much all there is to it. You pick which mower you want to take out into the field, you get the guidelines you have to follow in order to successfully mow the lawn (including a time limit and rules about how many flowers you’re allowed to destroy), and then you go do it and keep doing it until it’s completely done to perfection. This is a minor point, but if I paid someone to mow my lawn and then they told me they were finished even though only 98.6 per cent of the lawn was mowed, I would say “good job” and offer them some refreshing lemonade. I wouldn’t say “get out there and keep doing laps until you find the missing 1.4 per cent, even though the gas you use might cost more than the bonus you’d get for completely clearing the whole yard.”
But if you look past the inherent stresses and annoyances that come from mowing a lawn, Lawn Mowing Simulator does seem to have potential as the kind of game that you can jump into for an opportunity to gently shut your brain off and surrender to an endless list of achievable tasks. The most fun I had while playing it was when I was able to get into a groove and just do laps around a yard without worrying about missing spots or pushing my mower so hard that it broke (a very frustrating mechanic), but those moments never lasted long enough for me to achieve the true meditative chill that I got from, say, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2.
Lawn mowing isn’t a relaxation technique in this game, it’s a business. You have to keep track of how much money you’re making and how much money you’re spending, or else you’ll screw up your burgeoning lawnmower empire.
This isn’t an exercise in destress, it’s work… just like mowing a lawn. So I guess they nailed it.