Simulation games are hit-or-miss, which means a lot of misses when you take into account how many indie sim games there are out there to be played. It leaves us asking: what makes certain titles stand out?
Simplifying Complex Ideas
Simulation games allow us to take on the roles of a Prison Architect, Surgeon, or pilot of a 747. Things that we normally would be unable to do throughout our daily lives, and are typically very complicated, become easy as a click of a button. Many of these games center around jobs that we find fascinating, and can’t help but wonder what it’s like to operate a subway train or drive across the country in an 18-wheeler. Kerbal’s Space Program is an excellent example: it takes the head-scratching field of rocket science and pairs it with both physics and loveable little aliens to help you get your satellite in orbit.
A Lack Of Narrative
Here, the stories are up to you. Sure, you’ll most likely come across a game that has a “campaign” consisting off a few levels and certain tasks you need to finish, but there’s little linearity forcing you to do these tasks in a certain way, and you can set things up how you see fit. The Sims allows you to make a unique backstory for your Sim. If you want your Sim to leave their old home just to start fresh in Willow Creek as a major player that romances all the other Sims and trolls online forums, you can do just that. The narrative is either not fully there or completely up to you to flesh out.
This ability is mostly found in whatever “Sandbox” mode the game comes with, provided the entire game isn’t a Sandbox. The best simulation games allow the player to toy around with all the tools provided in them. In Prison Architect, you have total freedom. Your prison layout is up to you, and you have the ability to control every aspect of your inmate’s lives from when they shower and eat to who gets put in isolation. City Skylines lets players build the most immaculate, functional city they possibly can before submerging the entire 100k population in sewage (if they want to.) Microsoft Flight Simulator will let you attempt to do that barrel roll in the 747 you’ve been telling everyone you can do.
Simulation games are one of the best genres of games out there. The good ones will leave you clocking in hundreds of hours trying to perfect the things you see in your head. The freedom, lack of narrative, and simplification of different roles and ideas are what makes these games huge when they’re done right and perfect for even the most casual of gamers.