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Player is God - The Power of the Simulation Game

By Yoamiwaii, Nov 11 2017 09:00AM

[Article By: Amiwaii]

At some time or another, most of us have dreamed about some job position or the like – which for whatever reason, might not be realistically obtainable; where you have the power to dictate down to the finest detail everything that happens in the daily running of a grand enterprise. Maybe you even found the idea of being a God-like being attractive, taking control of every aspect of a person’s life, directing their decisions down to the most insignificant detail. Anything is possible with the power of simulation!

The core purpose of a simulation game – in most cases anyway – is to replicate real world situations and activities, putting you in the hot seat as the big decision maker within the environment represented. Simulation games cover quite a number of categories within gaming, including real world training aides, role-play, and micromanagement games, to name but a few. You could say that most video games are simulators in some way or another, in that we take on roles where we choose – in many cases – the path we follow, item management and how we improve the character/s, be it their stats or supplies. But a significant difference between most general games and simulation games is that primarily the former is usually highly dictated by set directives, whether it be with the gaming mechanics, or the situations and characters involved, and doesn’t always aim for realistic depictions of life itself, usually aiming for the suspension of disbelief. They tend to follow a narrative that contains multiple perspectives with very little control of anything besides the characters themselves, with minimal interactions with the environments, and following a scripted path, which is usually fairly linear. That’s not to say all simulator games are strictly tied to reality as we know it.

My experience with simulation games has covered a broad spectrum of types; to name a few from memory that I’ve played include: Transport Tycoon, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Hotel Giant, The Sims, Popstar Maker (an absolutely atrocious game for the PS1 – the less said about it, the better!), Theme Park, and Theme Hospital. Oh, and I even dabbled in Football Manager many years ago as well, which usually wouldn’t be my thing, but we had it on the PC and I was bored. Go figure. Some of the games had realistic elements that were grounded with their mechanics, while others were just micromanagement mad (Hotel Giant being one of them). Then there were the few that were a little wacky and tongue-in-the-cheek – I’m looking at you here, Theme Hospital! It’s a shame that game always crashed when I got to the epidemic level, because I really wanted to see how that panned out. Oh well…

Everyone has their own reasons for playing simulator games. Some play games to experience very realistic depictions of potential job interests, or to play job roles they’ll never get to experience, though maybe some play to enjoy the creative aspects that come with some simulators that encourage you to form your own environments; plus some engage with them because they enjoy the micromanagement mechanics and having more control with the in-game mechanics. While playing ‘job’ simulators might not be everyone’s idea of fun, there are a few that aren’t so strictly tied to very intricate depictions of real life.

The simulation market has broadened in the last few years with an array of different types of games. If you’re looking pretty realistic simulators or certain jobs, the likes of Train Simulator, Flight Simulator or Euro/American Truck Simulator are tailored for the fans looking for an intricate set up that tries to accurately simulate the operations of those vehicles. Or maybe you want something a bit more laid back and goofy like My Summer Car where you spend time building up a car to race while earning pocket money with the likes of making illicit moonshine and emptying septic tanks. And you can urinate everywhere, because, why not?

Many simulators promote a sense of idealism. I mean, who wouldn’t want to build and run their own theme park with everything designed to their own tastes? The likes of Rollercoaster Tycoon and Theme Park played on childhood whimsy and the idea of creating commercial fun. My experiences of these games, with particular memories of Rollercoaster Tycoon, let you decide the layout of your park with the placement of your kiosks and the rides, and getting to intricately design your rollercoaster rides with many loop-de-loops and crazy twists that guarantee your park attendees barfing up happy chunks the minute they step off the ride. The best simulators offer this depth of open design available within the framework, which lets you to work your own personal magic and flair into your gaming experience.

On an even grander scale in some respects are the city builders, like Cities Skylines and Sim City. These have a more industrious feel overall, giving you the opportunity to build an intricate and thriving metropolis, all the while hoping that some natural disaster or plague won’t destroy all your hard work and bottom out your wallet. As much as I liked the broad aspects of the city builders and watching the rise and fall of such digital ventures, personally, I was always more interested in the transport side of simulation; as such, the likes of Transport Tycoon were more up my street. Particularly with that game, it had a gentle learning curb to figure out how to construct your mobile empire, taking advantage of the in-game economy to prosper. I still love those old school pixel graphics, which were incredibly detailed for their day, which still hold up well over two decades later. Though, I’ve got to give a shout out to those who created an open source simulator of Transport Tycoon Deluxe, which has allowed modern PC gamers the chance to experience the game.

Not all simulation games have to be taken seriously, whatever their subject matter. Theme Hospital revels in its own sense of humour, not once pretending it’s supposed to be a serious experience, especially when you’re got inflated heads and over elongated tongues coming through your doors. Then there is Surgeon Simulator, a game with a dark sense of humour, with cumbersome controls that will vex even the most dextrous gamer. Frankly half the equipment they give you to perform your surgeries might make you question what kind of medical establishment you’re working for – or maybe it’s just playing up to acknowledging that a lot of the players are far from qualified surgeons anyway! It’s a game that sees plenty of questionable hygiene and organ flinging for plenty of giggles.

Then you have the likes of Goat Simulator. Yes, you heard right. Though, actually, it’s less of a ‘true’ simulator in some respects and more of a sandbox action game where you take the role of a goat to cause as much damage as possible and perform goat-tastic stunts. Certainly you simulate the role of a goat, but you don’t have the same control over the environment as other simulation games. It’s sort of a parody of the genre, while not wholly playing as such. I guess something had to buck the trend (PUN!!!).

I think one of the more popular simulation games that most players will have experienced without any particular interest in the simulation genre is The Sims. First appearing in 2000, The Sims gave you a God-like role in a life simulation as you guide your little family of Sims in their everyday activities, driving them to success or slovenly behaviour, seeking romance or solitude, or merely – if you’re a sicko – torturing your little digital avatars to an early grave. The choice if yours! It opened up such a world of creativity, catering the environment to suit your Sims and their likes and dislikes as you built and decorated their houses. And with the wealth of expansion packs out there to broaden the world the little Sims inhabit, there was so much adventure and creativity to be had. If only we could live with such whimsy and creative freedom... and the 'Rosebud' cheat to have endless money. One can dream!

Simulation games, much like most other games for that matter, provide a different form of escapism. It allows people to achieve dreams, maybe even in a practical way, or just to give us a little taste of something just out of reach. We’ve all been that kid who have dressed up and pretended to be a sports star, a doctor, a film star, or whatever your wild imagination could come up with. Simulation games are outlets for those dreams or impractical desires, maybe with simple childish whimsy, or prove to be a tool of inspiration to change the direction of a person’s life. The impact from playing such games can be either negligible or significant. It all depends what the player hopes to experience from it. And there is plenty to take away from such game experiences... well, maybe not Goat Simulator, but who knows! Maybe the world of simulation will open up a whole new perspective; it’s always worth giving a chance!

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