The thrill of cleaning in video games

For lots of commercial games, being able to spatter the walls with viscera or to leave a mess of smashed barrels and crates behind is part of the abandon. But aren't people often just as driven by the urge to clean up?

Last night in Bloodborne I found a ghostly lecture hall, a theatre where plain wooden chairs faced the blackboard in tidy rows. I found that I could smash the chairs. And then I did not stop until I had smashed every last one. It felt like I was decompressing, and yet I did it methodically.

I got nothing more than a sense of satisfaction for smashing every single chair. What I get from Bloodborne in general is the thrill of owning spaces, getting stronger and stronger until I can run powerfully and freely through areas I once navigated incompletely and fearfully. One of my favorite things games let me do is "one hundred percent" things, completing maps and mastering areas. Nothing makes me happier until every secret wall is crumbled, every lecture hall chair lies in ruins, every monster is dead and all is quiet.


In a way, what I'm doing is cleaning. It's the same urge that makes one suddenly decide to organize, to vacuum, as if gaining control over the space around you will offer some psychic relief, or will constitute, to you, some sense of progress. The pleasure in many games comes from putting things in order; I'm hardly the first to say that Tetris, for example, is about "tidying up", stacking things in an orderly way so that they go away, are cleared, leaving a neat space.

Sometimes I like to pretend that people are watching me play Tetris. Or Klax, or Lumines. I bet a lot of people who play video games have that urge to show everyone: look how tidy I can be. But what if you could actually enter game spaces after someone else, and have a different job? What would you think, if you saw my lecture hall full of smashed chairs?


At Motherboard, Soha Kareem (who's also contributed here at Offworld) looks at a game called Viscera Cleanup Detail, which couples the odd joy of cleaning in games with another pleasure: Shifting the protagonist into an unexpected role. As Soha writes, you're usually the one doing the dismembering, not the one gathering up the limbs. In her piece, the creators of the game allude to this role reversal:

According to Nolan Richert, another designer and programmer working on the game, the intent is to show "familiar situations from a different perspective—the perspective of someone who gets to see the worst of things when all glory is gone," he told me via email. "Whether it's the violence of a typical action game or the machinations of powerful corporations, they both look as ridiculous as they are from the perspective of the janitor."

Soha also speaks to the creator of another unusual upcoming cleanup game, and examines games' frequent, absurd junction of the methodical with the grotesque.