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The Sordid, Crucial History of Video Game Showers

The Sordid, Crucial History of Video Game Showers: Parasite Eve on the original PlayStation

Parasite Eve on the original PlayStation

In 2015, video game showers came into their own. It doesn’t matter how sneaky Metal Gear Solid 5’s super-spy, Big Boss, is; if he doesn’t shower, enemies will smell him coming. In the interactive horror flick Until Dawn, Hayden Panettiere’s character fights off a monster attack post-bath. The fantasy adventure The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt opens with its hero, Geralt, soaking in a tub with Yennifer, his on-again-off-again flame.

Okay, two of those are technically baths. But still.

These scenes did not emerge from a vacuum, and every one of those games is soaking on the shoulders of giants. Video game showers aren’t just a time-honored tradition, they’re a pivotal part of video game history. Without the shower, it’s safe to say that games wouldn’t be where they are today. Probably.

THE EARLY DAYS

‘Porky’s’

In the beginning, limited computing power meant that games had blocky, rough graphics. As a result, most video games played showers for laughs; it’s hard to evoke deeper emotions when everything looks like it’s made from crudely assembled LEGOs.

For example, take a look at one of the first—if not the first—video game shower scenes: level 3 of Porky’s, an unlikely video game adaptation of the raunchy 1981 comedy for the Atari 2600. A pixelated babe soaks in the middle of the screen as the player embarks on a Donkey Kong-like jumping challenge. In this case, the shower is just set dressing, designed to evoke the film’s nudity-heavy source material. It isn’t interactive, it’s not particularly interesting, and it’s definitely not sexy.

As the 1980s rolled on, consoles grew more powerful, and graphics improved. However, as the Nintendo Entertainment System grew into the dominant video game platform, nudity disappeared from games. From 1988 on, Nintendo strictly enforced its Game Content Guidelines, which forbade “sexually suggestive or explicit content,” including nudity. As a result, shower scenes in Nintendo games like Maniac Mansion (which featured a bathing mummy, as well as graffiti that urged players to call EDNA for a “good time,” in its original PC release) were censored for their releases on Nintendo platforms.

Some developers moved their shower-heavy games to other platforms. Metal Gear mastermind Hideo Kojima released Snatcher, which features a voyeuristic shower scene (and a very weird accompanying panty-sniffing minigame), on the NEC PC-8801 and MSX2. However, most publishers just ignored showers entirely.

SHOWERS GET REAL

Before the ‘90s, video games came on cartridges, which only held a maximum of about 2 megabytes of data (about a single short MP3 these days). With the rise of CD ROM-based consoles, that changed. Suddenly, developers had a whopping 650 megabytes to play with. This extra storage space lead to an explosion in full motion video (or FMV) games, or video games that incorporated pre-recorded footage featuring real-life actors. Some FMV games, like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, were innocent. Many were not.

Unlike FMV games like the Philips CD-i’s Voyeur or the 3DO’s Phantasmagoria, the Sega-CD title Night Trap isn’t sexually explicit, but that didn’t stop it from causing a national uproar—all thanks to its shower scene. In Night Trap, players must monitor security feeds in order to protect five nubile teenagers (including Diff'rent Strokes star Dana Plato) from a group of vampiric kidnappers. Part way through the game, the villains attack one of the girls while she’s getting ready for a shower.

The victim never undresses; she never even turns the water on. None of that mattered. Toys R’ Us and Kay-Bee Toys, two leading video game merchants, removed Night Trap from store shelves. Later, during a series of Congressional hearings about the impact of violent video games on children, Senator Joseph Lieberman accused Night Trap of encouraging players to “trap and kill women.”

Night Trap’s developers tried to protest, but the damage was already done. Lieberman threatened to create a federal commission to regulate the video game industry. The Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry’s leading trade association, countered by creating the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which rates games based on their content. It’s been with us ever since.

By the mid ‘90s, consoles like the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 had ushered 3D, polygon-based video games into the mainstream. Suddenly, game designers could move the in-game camera, showing off their games’ characters and environments from any angle. Before long, developers were using cinematic camera angles and movements to make games like Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil feel like Hollywood blockbusters.

As video game storytelling became more and more cinematic, game developers grew increasingly reliant on Hollywood tropes, too. The shower scene was no exception. As in movies, video game showers can be romantic, funny, or scary. However, most of the time, in-game showers are used for good, old-fashioned titillation.

Even Nintendo’s gotten in on the action, albeit in a decidedly family-friendly way—and the less said about Sonic and Tails’ creeptastic shower encounter (above), the better.

THE SHOWER AS ART

rinse and repeat

These days, video game showers have evolved past their cinematic counterparts. After all, while showers are an integral part of many beloved movies—hey there, Psycho—there’s never been a film about showers themselves.

On the game side, that’s not true. Thanks to the rise of high-speed Internet and digital distribution platforms like Steam, independent games are experiencing a major renaissance. Any without corporate oversight, small teams of developers have the freedom to tackle any subject they want.

Some of them choose showers. Last month, developer Marbenx released Shower with Your Dad Simulator: Do You Still Shower with Your Dad?, an old-school arcade throwback that casts players as young children trying to find their father amid a crowd of naked, showering men. The game is a joke, and a very dark one at that. Advanced power-ups include alcohol, which gets the child drunk and slows down time, or adoption papers, which lets the kid shower with any dad he wants. Shower with Your Dad Simulator is persistently unsettling—and no doubt intentionally so.

And then there’s Rinse and Repeat. While creator Robert Yang describes Rinse and Repeat as a play on “the ‘locker room/shower’ genre of gay male porn,” the game works as a commentary on the eroticism of shower scenes in general. In Rinse and Repeat, a sunglasses-clad hunk swaggers into a gym shower, electric guitar wailing in the background, and asks you to wash him. Scrub the dude’s back, his chest, his butt, and his nipples just right, and he moans with pleasure. Go too fast or too slow, and he swears at you.

Technically speaking, Rinse’s water simulation is remarkably convincing; however, more importantly, Rinse and Repeat offers a profound reflection on intimacy, body image, shame, and sex. Despite the game’s campy trappings, Rinse and Repeat’s action is intimate and intense, and its ending is legitimately heartbreaking. Rinse and Repeat is a great argument as to why video games should be treated like art—and why video game showers are important.


Christopher Gates is a writer and video game critic from Los Angeles, CA. In his spare time, he watches too much baseball, reads too many comics, and drinks too much beer. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisWGates.


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