I have been playing Sunset Overdrive for a solid 10 hours or so, progressing through the story and doing oddball side missions, but always avoiding the surrounding water. The game never told me I could drown or swim, I made that assumption myself. I stick to grinding rails, running on walls, and falling from 50 stories; but anything near the boats and the oceans I avoided.
It took a misstep in platforming for me to realize the game was made for you to traverse water as well. I was falling toward the blue abyss, certain of a respawn, when my character dipped under and bobbed back to the surface. You could even grind along the surface of the water itself. All this time, I had abstained from going near collectibles amidst the water until my platforming abilities furthered in progress, and it was all out of this pre-existing fear that I would have to respawn and start over.
Wait, I can skate on this?
The vast majority of the games I have played had programmed me to associate water with death.
Very few considered swimming viable. Grand Theft Auto was a prime example, as swimming would not be incorporated into the game until San Andreas. One slip off the balcony and boom, gone. Psychonauts? Dead. The first Assassin's Creed? Desynched. Red Dead Redemption? You Don' Drowned. Even Batman wants nothing to do with swimming as he immediately grapples away in the Arkham City entries.
That is not say in most games it feels unjustified. In Infamous, you avoided the water by choice because we all saw cartoons when toasters entered the picture near water. Additionally, if I am walking around in a suit of armor that weighs more than me on Halo or Dark Souls, it is expected that I should sink to the bottom of the ocean.
Swimming runs strong in my bloodline...kinda
There also was justification in the limitations of the hardware at the time. Animating a character model to swim is not a simple task, and could take a substantial amount of time, not to mention coding the action for the player and the AI. Additionally oceans and bodies of water acted as invisible walls in early gaming, big blue nothings to relay to the player, "Hey, stay over there, nothing fun this way."
That is not to say water was avoided entirely, but only when it was presented as an element to the particular level or mission. The more infamous of Mario levels ,World 2-2, would became a staple as you hum along to the familiar tune, but you were thrust into the water immediately. We all try to forget the Water Temple in OoT, but swimming was introduced as you plummeted in the first dungeon to the pool at the bottom of the Deku Tree. Each established clearly, "Okay, water is fine in this."
Drink some water just...just don't get too close
Lately it has become hard to tell. Here are a list of recent games that result in death in deep water, some on the outskirts of stages, others with large bodies of water throughout:
Overwatch, Destiny, Halo V: Guardians, Batman: Arkham Knight, Tomb Raider (2013), Dragon's Dogma
Here are games that allow swimming in deep water:
Witcher III, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Ori and the Blind Forest, Just Cause 3, Fallout 4, Sunset Overdrive
Despite the trend of including swimming in recent games, the occasional variance snaps me back to my usual feeling. It is like the vast majority of early gaming had me avoid it, and the newer games are easing me back into the kiddie pool.
From now on, I suppose I will have to emulate the same tactic I do in real life; Dip a toe in and see if the water's fine.