The Appeal of Simulation

In Ian Bogost’s “Video Games are Better Without Characters,” he states that games can be “non-fictions about complex systems bigger than ourselves” when referring to the realization he came to when playing SimCity for the first time. He notes that although no one would consider it a good idea to make someone mayor simply because they are good at SimCity, the game’s focus is in allowing us to make the connections between zoning laws, taxes, utilities, pollution, and several other aspects of a city that allow it to run, even if done in a more simplified setting. This idea brought to mind the large trend that occurred in the past few years revolving around a resurgence of simulation games, such as Euro Truck Simulator, American Truck Simulator, Farm Simulator, and Train Simulator, with plenty of other games following suit, if less successfully.header1

In much the same way one wouldn’t assume a SimCity player gains actual mayoral skill, these games don’t really translate into skills for their respective settings either, but people still play them nonetheless. Bogost’s quote offers a potential explanation, though. Although one doesn’t actually become a farmer or trucker with these games, they offer a peek into a much more complex system without the commitment and negatives of actually participating in it. In both, you must perform the tasks necessary in your position, whether they be delivering goods or tending to crops, but all the while you must manage your resources, time, pick the best jobs and equipment, and consider the external factors that could affect your profit. The mechanics are not as cruel or unforgiving as the experience they simulate (a crash can be easily remedied, and a lost harvest can be managed) but they offer a perspective into the simulated experience that gamers who buy these games consider appealintrain_simulator_2018-460x215farming-simulator-17-update-v1-4-4-0-ali213g.

3 thoughts on “The Appeal of Simulation

  1. I like the connection you draw between playing simulators as a way of engaging with complex systems without having to deal with the commitments and negatives of such systems. I love playing simulators, and I think that they can function not only as way of engaging with systems, but also as a way of engaging with realities faced by people. Imagine a game like the Sims, but one in which you play as a Syrian refugee. Such simulations might hold the promise of offering us the opportunity to inhabit the realities of people we might never encounter, and in the process help us understand and empathize with their joys and challenges.


  2. Thinking about simulation games such as Euro Truck Simulator or SimCity immediately begs the question, why would anybody want to pretend to be in a position in which they must hold immense stresses and responsibilities? Is that… fun?

    That then leads us to the question why anybody would want to put themselves in these positions in real life. Money, you might say. Well– yes. But also a sense of accomplishment and importance. If you are directing the routes of many trucks, or overseeing a whole city, you are going to feel important. You have the right to puff up your chest, to look down your nose at others, to feed your ego. And that feels good.

    What these games offer is a chance to feel that important and accomplished, with only fake stress and responsibility. When you emerge from the game, that stress will fall away– leaving, perhaps, an enduring sense of accomplishment. And that is definitely fun.


  3. Simulation games are fun in the same way (to me) that menial labor is fun. It’s repetitive work that eventually becomes almost meditative. I can reflect on myself and my life while also having fun accomplishing something, and working towards a goal. Even though they may not be considered “fun” in the traditional sense, they are certainly engaging and have widespread appea.


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