Swimming isn't easy to animate in a video game. First of all there's the complexity of underwater effects. Then there's the freedom of movement in three dimensions, which is neat for the player, but a real pain to achieve in third-person games in terms of achieving an intuitive interface and a fluid camera. Then there's the problem of water meeting land—it's easy enough to have your character jump or fall into water, but to get them out again you'd need ladders, shores, so forth, so you're going to have to do your art direction with that in mind. And to be even slightly realistic you'll need to think about the character's oxygen supplies. Basically, having your character be able to swim means adding an entirely new form of gameplay that's usually boring, annoying and nowhere near worth it.
The most common solution is to have no water, at least nothing more than ankle deep. But since our world is full of the stuff another very popular solution is to declare that the lead character of this game, no matter how athletic, trained and/or super-powered they may be, is just that: Lead. They cannot swim at all, not even enough to thrash around a bit. They just sink like a stone or are helplessly swept away by strong currents and are gone forever. It gives a new meaning to Hazardous Water.
Some more recent games have decided that it is worth it, and thus attempt more realistic solutions, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Quake, an early example, would deal damage to your health if you were underwater too long. However, armor protects against this damage—meaning you can stay underwater longer if you wear full body armor. Earlier still, the Ultima Underworld or the The Elder Scrolls: Arena games didn't let you go underwater—swimming was essentially the same as walking except you bobbed up and down more and couldn't use a weapon, but after some amount of time your health would start taking a battering. More recently, the Tomb Raider games and the latter The Elder Scrolls have Oxygen Meters that would deplete as you swam, with running out causing lots of damage to be dealt, resulting in swift death. Other techniques have also been used to increase realism and decrease the prevalence of this trope.
Another solution is to put the main character in an environment suit, like in Halo. Which doesn't explain why the apparently perfectly ordinary land vehicles don't suffer from hydrolock when submerged. Even then, some bodies of water may still act as Bottomless Pits.
Interviews with developers note that this trope exists to avoid a few other tropes, such as Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence or Border Patrol as water is a more "logical" method than a fence or invisible wall. Additionally it removes the need for extra assets taking up inventory slots that don't get used a lot. Sometimes, an item that allows one to swim will be presented - usually to keep the player from going places they shouldn't be able to yet.
Important: If your drowning skills come with an Oxygen Meter, they're not Super. Only Super Drowning Skills go on the Super Drowning Skills page.
Compare Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence.
Contrast Olympic Swimmer.
Anime and Manga
- One Piece:
- Anyone who has eaten a Devil Fruit gains a special power, at the cost of losing the ability to swim. In fact, having at least half of their body submerged in any kind of water will not only cancel out any abilities granted by the fruit, but will drain all strength out of them to the point of near paralyzation, causing them to sink. This is inconvenient, since most of the characters are pirates. Note that only actual submersion counts; rain is harmless and DF users can still take showers according to Word of God. A few people (mostly winners of the Superpower Lottery) have Devil Fruit powers that at least partially negate this weakness. Aokiji for example, An Ice Person , freezes the water just by coming into contact with it, giving him a massive advantage over other Devil Fruit users; also, Protagonist Monkey D. Luffy still has an elastic body regardless of whether he's in water or not, so he can have somebody else stretch his head outside of the water (he'll still be paralyzed, but he will then be able to breathe, at least).
- Even before he ate the Devil Fruit, Luffy couldn't swim and was given the nickname "Anchor" by Shanks' crew.
- The worst part: at times, Tony Tony Chopper would jump in after Luffy if the latter ended up in trouble in the sea, forgetting he can't swim either. Upon which Brook would jump in after Chopper, ALSO forgetting he can't swim.
- A good example of the toll this can take is with Buggy. He "accidentally" swallowed a Devil Fruit he was planning to steal and sell when he was startled by Shanks. He still holds a grudge to this day. Why? Because he was an excellent swimmer before he ate it and planned to swim to a very large amount of treasure hidden in the sea.
- Ranma ½:
- Akane Tendō panics and cannot swim even when her life really does depend on it. Even wearing a flotation device, she manages to sink like a rock. Even when the water is only knee-deep. Until she was explicitly told otherwise near the end of the manga, she honestly believed you were supposed to breathe while underwater. Discovering that you have to hold your breath was nothing short of an epiphany for her.
- Played with in a very nasty way when, during the final arc of the manga, the villains kidnap her and deliberately drown poor Akane in a Jusenkyo spring, creating the Spring of Drowned Akane. Fortunately, her experience with drowning is so extensive, she survived the ordeal. But it was still a surprisingly cruel reference to a character flaw that was always treated for comedy.
- Gentoku Ryuubi from Ikki Tousen. Usually played for laughs since she's a Dojikko as well. She still jumped into a huge pond to rescue a drowning Koumei. They survived, but barely
- In Pokémon:
- Misty's Psyduck doesn't know how to swim despite being a Water type. A few attempts have been made, but it ends in failure every time. He seems happier with an inner tube, though.
- Even more fail on Psyduck's part given that real ducks naturally float. They have an oil on their feathers that repels water.
- Azumanga Daioh's Osaka is able to swim just fine, she just can't float.
- Most Vampires in Vampire Hunter D cannot swim at all, and being submerged paralyzes them. And even D - a Dhampire of extraordinary caliber - can drown if he's in deep enough water to keep him immobile.
- In an episode of School Rumble Tenma (on behalf of her friends) challenges Nara and his buddies in a swimming competition. Since she knows she cannot swim herself, she expects that any of her friends will be able to win the competition (and the viewer may be led to believe that either Mikoto or Akira have better chances, at that). However, no sooner than they all dive, Tenma looks aside and sees... her three friends sinking behind her.
- Sonic X:
- In the first episode, Sonic falls into a swimming pool and after trying to get out for several seconds, seems to give up and sit placidly on the pool floor, waiting to drown.
- Even better, in the Sonic X episode "Sonic vs Knuckles", Sonic gets knocked into water by Knuckles. He instantly has a panic attack, splashing wildly and yelling. It takes him a few seconds to realise he's barely ankle deep, with Knuckles looking on at him with a wry smile.
- Lilo and Stitch:
- Stitch is so dense that he will automatically sink if submerged in water. Of course, he ends up on an island.
- Doesn't stop him entering Hawaiian Surf Competitions, mind you.
- David in Unbreakable learns that along with his superhero-like strength, he has an Achilles' Heel of water.
- Enola in Waterworld. Even though the entire Earth was covered with water decades or possibly centuries ago, this ten-year old girl can't swim. And people wonder why this movie bombed...
- In Superstar, Slater can't swim, and still doesn't bother to learn after he almost drowns and Mary Katherine saves him the first time.
- This is the ultimate fate of Admiral Zhao in The Last Airbender. He drowns in less than twenty seconds!
- After being knocked off his boat, the killer in Terror at Tenkiller quickly drowns, despite being a marina worker. The Final Girl has no trouble swimming to shore.
- Garion had acquired this skill ever since he was hit by a log on a pond while attempting to swim.
- In Fairy Dust And The Quest For The Egg by Gail Carson Levine, it is mentioned that if a fairy's wings got wet, they'd become heavy and drag the fairy underwater.
- Dwarves in the Dragonlance series are noted for swimming like stones.
- It becomes a running joke in Aubrey-Maturin that Doctor Stephen Maturin would always nearly drown when trying to board a ship. Considering how often he needs to go on and off ships as the Naval Surgeon...
- In the Green-Sky Trilogy, Raamo slipped and fell into the Bottomless Lake and made no effort to try and swim or even let go of the "tool of violence" he was carrying. Snyder, realizing she really screwed up with this ending, authorized what was likely the first canonical video-game sequel to another medium's story...and even in that game, so much as touching the water would send the player back to their home with an ominous "You were found unconscious" message.
- Septimus Heap:
- Septimus near-drowns surprisingly quickly in after he's been thrown into the water by Queen Etheldredda.
- In the end of the book, Etheldredda drowns very quickly as well after she's slid into the river.
- Parodied in "Glass of Water", where a bunch of klaymen drown in a tiny puddle produced by a glass of water by sticking their faces in the puddle. And then several more are drowned by the towel used to clean up the puddle.
- A Cracked article compares the Strid (see Real Life below) to "exactly how water works in a video game".
- In Code Lyoko, any monsters or heroes falling into the Digital Sea are "permanently virtualized", i.e. dead. Happened to a lot of monsters, and to Yumi and Aelita once each (they got better). There are also ordinary bodies of water in some sectors; terrestrial monsters just sink and drown there, but the heroes can swim through them.
- Panthro from ThunderCats (2011) is a master of this technique.
- Codename: Kids Next Door: Numbah Four. To the point that when Nigel is trapped within a simulation in one episode, he only realized he was because he saw Numbah Four actually swimming.
- In one episode of the 1987 DuckTales, Webby is admiring all the dozens of merit badges Launchpad has, but notices he doesn't have the Swimming Badge because naturally, he never learned to swim. It also naturally means that Webby - who does have that badge - has to save him from drowning in the climax of the episode.
- Some accounts of Fredrick I, the Holy Roman Emperor actually have him falling face-down in plate armour into a shallow part of a river and, you guessed it, drowning. Justified in that plate armour is not recommended swim-wear, it's extremely heavy. In fact, going anywhere near a body of water in it is probably Darwin Award material.
- You can in fact swim several yards in full plate mail, if you're strong, a good swimmer, and desperate enough. There have been records of fully armoured knights fleeing pursuers over narrow rivers after losing their horses. Doesn't help if you're knocked out, of course.
- Additionally, as shown in Age of Empires II, Frederick and his men had just trekked across most of Turkey. The river was the first water they'd seen in a while, and were understandably thirsty and hot. AOE 2 may have used Rule of Drama here, but it at least makes sense.
- To be fair to Frederick he was 68 at the time and he may have been knocked out when he fell.
- He may also have suffered a heart attack, stroke, or similar problem that caused the fall.
- Gorillas cannot swim. This was even referenced in the remake of Planet of the Apes.
- This applies to pretty much all of the great ape species aside from humans. In addition to a more tall, thin body design (granting a more efficient stroke), humans have a higher percentage of body fat and larger lungs in proportion to mass than other large primates, giving them greater buoyancy. Still, humans are poorly equipped for swimming in comparison to many mammals, and very skinny humans often have trouble swimming efficiently because their legs and feet tend to sink.
- Before actual swimming techniques were developed, a lot of people could easily commit suicide by wading into a lake until the water level went over their heads.
- Pirates avoided learning how to swim to avoid a drawn out death, not that you could expect other sailors to know how to either.
- People who have worked in theater may be familiar with the differences between fire curtains and the deluge system. For those who don't, a deluge (or appropriately named "drencher") system involves a huge water basin located above the stage breaking open at the sign of a fire. As fire doors close. Usually in small theaters. With raised seating. And tons of electrical equipment. Believe it or not, the situation could very well get worse if your backstage dressing area is downstairs in an enclosed area with no immediately accessible means of esca—I mean exit.
- The River Wharfe in Yorkshire has a section know as the Strid, in which the 25 meter wide river narrows down to less than 2 meters in some places. While it looks like a small creek no deeper than knee depth, it is actually too deep to have ever been measured and has extremely strong currents that suck everything down. Attempting to step into the river will instantly suck you below the surface and there are no known reports of anyone ever having survived falling into it, with the bodies assumed to be wedged between the rocks at the bottom.
- The Cracked.com article on the subject all but names this trope:
It's exactly how water works in a video game: It looks all stupid and harmless, but the second your foot touches the surface, you get some bullshit drowning animation and die instantly.