Why I prefer playing simulation games.

As I get comfortable in my seat and sift through my game library to decide what to play, I chuckle at myself as I know I will always end up choosing the same games over and over again. As I start another session of FIFA 18 on my PC, I look back at the start of the previous semester. Since I have started studying at the Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center, I have been asked multiple times "What games do you play?", and every time someone asks me that question it gets me thinking about what do I actually like playing. 

FIFA 18

Over the years I have played my fair share of games in a lot of genres from First and Third Person Shooters to Real Time Strategy and Role Playing Games, but, nothing gets me as excited - or lose complete sense of time - as a good simulation game. Simulation games give me the ability to live vicariously through them and gain experiences that I normally wouldn't have been able to acquire in this lifetime. A well crafted simulation game will have you hooked from the get go.

Let's take a look at Sims for an example; the brainchild of Will Wright and currently the gold standard for a suburban simulation. The Sims 4 provides an exceptional wealth of options for self-expression and customization, and the extent of this variety only continues to grow. Another great example is F1 2017 by Codemasters. IGN states that, "F1 2017 is a confident and comprehensive racer that succeeds by embracing all of modern F1’s idiosyncratic rules and regulations, as well as its danger, and baking it all into a truly great sports simulation."  

Kerbal Space Program is an incredibly detailed physics-based space simulation which lets you design and construct your own spacecraft before launching it into orbit, and then doing impossibly complicated things like docking with other vessels or landing your wobbly phallic construct on the moon. Is it 100% realistic? Given that it's simulating one of the most complicated human endeavours ever undertaken and letting you have a go with your mouse and keyboard, there's an element of creative licensing. However - it's about as close as the medium has produced. Every physical object in the game abides by Newtonian dynamics and its model of orbital mechanics has also been praised by those in a position to assess that sort of thing. In fact, NASA took notice of the work Squad, the developers of Kerbal Space Program were doing and worked with them to implement the real-life Asteroid Redirect Mission. My point with these examples is that a good simulation will be able to recreate the original content in a fair and just way, and have you playing them for hours on end.

 Image: A screenshot of Kerbal Space Program

Image: A screenshot of Kerbal Space Program

Personally, my favourite category of simulation games is sports simulation games. I grew up watching and playing a lot of sports, from being part of my high school soccer team to watching every sports channel imaginable on the television with my grandfather. This has prompted a love and appreciation for all things sports. Therefore, I lap up any opportunity I get to enjoy sports - be it first-hand by playing the sport physically, or second-hand enjoyment by playing it in a simulation, or watching it on TV. Ernest Adams says in The Designer's Notebook that, "Simulation games, especially sports simulations deserve more respect than they get because they make a real effort to address the second-greatest challenge in all of computer gaming, and they’re getting better and better at it all the time. The greatest challenge in computer gaming (and, for that matter, in computing generally) is the creation of credible artificial people. That’s a problem whose solution is still a long way off, and most adventure and role-playing games don’t make any serious effort to address it. The second-greatest challenge, however, arises from the basic premise of almost all simulation games: that they are an accurate simulation of the real world." Even though most of what Ernest says is relevant even today, I personally feel that the challenge of having credible artificial people in your game has been tackled to quite some extent, and the day we can have such characters in the game is just beyond the horizon.

Also, over the last twenty years, with advancements in computing technology, simulation games have started becoming more realistic and accurate depictions of the real world. Simulations like military simulator or a flight simulator might have the luxury of faking things and not having to worry about being completely accurate as the number of people that know what the real thing feels and how it works like is very small, but in the case of sports simulation games, they do not have that luxury as millions and millions of people know how the sport works and these people also have access to the real thing weekend after weekend on the television. But that being said, simulation games are reaching the point of realism where they are being used as training and testing apparatus for professionals in that field.

While one of my cousins was studying to be a commercial pilot he was required to undertake six months of training on a flight simulator before he could actually get his hands on a real plane. When I questioned him about it, he said that these simulations are so realistic he sometimes forgot they he wasn't actually flying. He also said that the simulator use the same software as the jets themselves, and that makes a major difference for training realism and effectiveness. He stated that the companies also use these simulators as testing apparatus to test the pilot's level of preparedness in the case of an emergency, may that be flying through a storm or following protocol in case of a hijacking. These tests are conducted periodically to keep the pilot's on their feet.

 Image: An example of a flight training simulator

Image: An example of a flight training simulator

All in all, the level of detail that game development companies put into their work - from getting the stadium atmosphere right, to perfecting the idiosyncrasies of the actual sport, right to having actual commentators do hours of dynamically playing commentary - grants sports simulation games a gold star in my books.

As I recline back in my chair waiting for the next game to load, I now have some of the answers to the questions that I get asked when I say that I prefer playing simulation games over any other genre out there.