The concept of House Flipper is innately absurd. How else would you describe a video game that’s all about earning money for cleaning up other people’s houses? What’s to stop you from turning off the computer, getting a mop and a bucket and do that in real life? No, really, tell me because I have been obsessed with this game right from the start. House Flipper appeals to me because as someone who enjoys doing housework, there’s joy to be found in this digital recreation of an insanely mundane activity. It helps that more difficult tasks, such as painting, demolition, and having to clear out spider webs, are a whole lot easier to perform as game actions instead of getting down on all fours to scrub until the Magic Eraser has been worn down to a fine grain.
Playing the part of a house cleaner and flipper, the flow of the game involves finding work by accepting contracts from random people. Your office, a comically small shack, feels a little out of place among a neighborhood filled with large, multi-story homes, white picket fences and absurdly green lawns. Also, when you first start the game, your office is a total mess and looks like a light breeze could knock it over. Trash is piled high against the side of the house, empty cans, cigarette cartons, and food wraps cover the floor, and questionable stains mark the floors and ceilings. Add a bathroom that looks like a demilitarized zone and the world’s most pathetic looking hot plate and you’ve got a contender for Bachelor Pad Hell & Garden’s Hovel of the Year. Your journey into the world of house flipping starts from humble beginnings as the cash you earn is used to buy houses that can easily be described as “fixer-uppers.” Clean them up, place some tile, demolish a few walls, add new fixtures and BOOM, sell it for a profit at auction. Rinse and repeat.
The houses you buy to repair and flip function a lot like a sandbox mode. You’re given all the tools you need to fix the place up, dropping money on new appliances and beds and showers in response to the demands people make as you work on the house. When you’re satisfied with how it looks, initiate an auction and wait for the money to roll in. Of course, you’re going to need money to do all this and the best way to acquire it is to accept assignments from people willing to TaskRabbit their home repair and interior decorating needs. At first, you’ll be cleaning and installing a few appliances here and there as per their requests. Eventually, you’ll get more elaborate and complex assignments, like putting together a nursery or painting rooms to specific tastes. What’s funny about taking jobs like this is you never really can expect what the state of the house looks like before you get there. Emails are often humorously light on details beyond a person’s basic request. A simple assignment like, “clean my garage!” can reveal a house that looks like it doubles as a squatter’s den. I laughed at myself a lot in this game, as I would often gasp at the disheveled state of bathrooms and kitchens (some of them infested with roaches, UGH!) after opening the front door.
Once the initial shock and surprise wear off, it’s time to get to work. I often felt that the game is light on specifics as to what kind of care a room needs and it doesn’t help that you can’t access the initial e-mail from the customer once you’ve gone out in the field. That’s where the task list comes in handy as it spells out what needs to be accomplished based on the room you currently occupy. From there, it’s all a matter of sweeping, mopping, and taking out trash until the indicator for each task reaches 100%. Do enough work in the house and you’ll reach the minimum acceptable level for completion. If I wanted to earn more money, I could go around the house and see what needs fixing or cleaning. In one house, I opted to completely replace their shower, which netted me a pretty nice bonus. Sticking around to clean the rest of the house will earn a nice pile of extra cash so it’s always in your best interest.
Just like the real world, cash is what makes the world go round. You’ll need to buy cleaning supplies and while paints, appliances, and furniture cost money, you’re usually earning enough money from jobs that it almost seems trivial most of the time. You can shop for just about anything using your tablet, an Otterbox-protected iPad from which an online store carrying everything you could possibly want is always ready to let your fingers do the shopping. Beds, kitchen fixtures, decorative art, floor and wall tiles, and cabinets can all be bought and placed anywhere in the house. Buying appliances can be pretty fun to buy because you have to manually install them by holding down the mouse button on various components (screws, valves, and hoses). I never knew how to replace an electrical outlet until now because of House Flipper. Could I do it myself in real life? Maybe, but I don’t really trust myself when it comes to dealing with electrical wires. I recently installed a porch light security camera and was worried I’d shock myself without even knowing it. Regardless of my abilities as an electrician, it’s fascinating to see how showers, sinks, and stoves get installed.
To add even more depth to the game, performing different activities feeds into a character upgrade system that offers some pretty useful passive perks. At the start of the game, you’ll notice that actions feel slow and inefficient. Repetitive actions eventually award skill points that fall within different disciplines boosting productivity and speed. You can drop points to speed up mop cleaning, paint multiple walls at once, increase the amount of money earned from a job, negotiate auction prices for flipped houses, and get better prices in the online store. This method of character development is great because you really learn to appreciate the ease of repetitive tasks knowing that you can accomplish them in half the time.
House Flipper does have a few problems that can disrupt the flow of work. This annoyed me because of how it harshes my productivity buzz. A lot of it has to do with the UI. The task list is an important tool that’s necessary to complete the contract. Unfortunately, on-screen text had a tendency to get cut off after a certain number of characters. In one house, I needed to purchase and place two bean bag chairs. My clue to do this was labeled “2X Pouf…”. What the hell does that mean? First of all, I was convinced for a good twenty minutes that “2X” was “ZX”, which made me think I needed to buy some electronic appliance. I typed that to my store’s search box and came up empty. I tried looking under the different categories which sort all the furniture and fixtures according to the room types they occupy. A quick jaunt over to the Steam forums and a visit to Target.com helped me to understand that “pouf” is a real thing (it’s like an ottoman but not). That’s a lot of unnecessary fussing around just to get a damn chair! More annoying than the struggle of trying g to discern two pieces of furniture is trying to find that last bit of dirt to clean. After finishing one room, the task list displayed that it was 95% clean. I went over every inch of that room three times and couldn’t find the mess needed to clear the space. I thought I would just leave it be and hope that the rest of the housework would make up for it. When I left the room and shut the door behind me (I wasn’t raised in a barn) did I happen to spot a line of dirt framing the bottom of the door. It was easily missed since the black streaks were well masked by the dark brown finish of the door.
These are problems that can be fixed, though. And even though trying to find and clear that last speck of dirt can be frustrating, House Flipper is still a great game for inducing calm and finding your center. This is the perfect game for people who agonize over decorating rooms and houses for The Sims, only at a much more granular level. What’s most surprising about House Flipper is how it offers that “just one more” feeling as you go from house to house, cleaning after people’s filth. After I painted my first room, I then spent the next half an hour painting the inside of my little shack (ten minutes of that was spent languishing over which color would look better). Video games allow us to escape to faraway lands, distant galaxies, and the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes. And then there are those that exist without meaning and doesn’t actively set out to change the world or empower the player to become a supreme being. But then again, how does that saying go? Cleanliness is close to Godliness. It seems a little silly to gush about a video game that simulates housework but given the added amount of stress and anxiety that has crept into my life lately, House Flipper is a wonderful way to shut out the noise of the world for a little bit.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.