If you’ve been on Steam for a long enough time, you already know that in recent years Steam has been pretty much quantity over quality in a lot of ways. Steam is, after all, the most popular online marketplace for games, and everyone wants to be a part of it. Steam’s own lack of quality control has not helped things: If you want proof, just do a quick search for the word “Simulator” on Steam. The mass proliferation of uninspired sim games led to the first “joke” simulators, Goat Simulator being by far the most famous of them.
On the surface, Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015 looks exactly like one of those joke simulator games. Its gameplay is simple enough that anyone with a modest amount of programming knowledge could make a similar game in a weekend. It involves little more than matching a (naked) child with his (naked and anatomically correct) father again and again. Its mediocre pixel art apes the stillongoing retro-inspired indie trend without showing a lot of effort, making an especially big deal about each dad’s 8-bit genitalia. It’s a reheated joke from last year, presented as yet another wacky fake simulator game.
It must be understood that this is a deliberate choice of presentation: The debut trailer shows chat messages from friends asking why you’d even play a game like this. The game gives you an achievement for booting the game up, asking what your friends will think of you for playing this game. It knows its concept is crass and likely to lead to all kinds of social awkwardness, and with the asking price of a single euro you would be excused for thinking that’s all there is: It’s a cheap joke that you’ll boot up once, then bury it deep within your Steam library with the other 400 games you bought on impulse and played only once.
There’s more than meets the eye here, however. SWYDS 2015 takes this framing and turns it on its head.
By playing the game you unlock more items that enhance the base gameplay, comparable to Binding of Isaac. These items have a running theme of transgressive play, by allowing your child avatar to drink beer (“Not For Kids”) or giving him adoption papers that randomly selects a new dad for him.
But once you play for a long enough time, you begin to unlock brand new subgames, which occur at random. These include a satirical graphic adventure game, which can only be beaten by doing completely illogical actions like taking graffiti off a wall. My personal favorite is Inglorious Bathdads, where you’re flying in a bathtub and must collect your dad (69 times, obviously) while shooting down other dads.
These minigames are significant because they come out of nowhere, and are never advertised in the game’s own press materials. I distinctly remember being outright surprised when I triggered one, thinking I had broken the game. You may suddenly find yourself whisked away to a VR environment where you get to collect virtual dads as you fly through cyberspace. In featuring these randomly unlocked minigames, SWYDS 2015 makes a commitment to surprising the player, showing that there is still a lot more underneath the surface that is yet to be discovered.
The game certainly still has many more secrets to find: There’s an enigmatic password screen that doesn’t seem to do anything, but no-one has found any codes yet. Levels still have changing visual details that no-one’s explained yet. The game itself teases you with achievements that no-one knows how to unlock yet. What the game presents outwardly is only the tip of the iceberg, with much more left to discover. SWYDS 2015 presents a facade of a simple throwaway gag that you’d gift to your friend and laugh about for five minutes, like Bad Rats. But under that facade it presents a surprising amount of nuance: While few are willing to take the game seriously, the game could easily evolve into an ARG as people work together to crack its secrets.
Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015 is a surprisingly clever and nuanced mystery, masquerading as a stupid joke.