Simulation Games and What They Teach Us

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There are a few well-known genres of games which are grossly over-represented in gaming these days. First-person Shooters, Action-Adventure, Horror (see Action-Adventure), RPG, etcetera.
Yet a genre which is often overlooked is that of the Simulation game. Sim games have been around for the majority of the time which games have existed. They are often disregarded by mainstream gamers because of their tendency to have a niche focus, for example Farming Simulator and Snowcat Simulator.

Farming Simulator 2013

There are a few Simulation games though, which have made it into the mainstream consciousness, and one series in particular which is one of the most popular game series of all time. I’m referring, of course, to The Sims. I had an experience with The Sims recently which made me think about the way we interactive with games, and Simulations specifically.

One of the great things about Sim games is that they allow is to focus on one activity. They allow us to set our own goals within that activity and pursue them actively. I know we all play games differently, but one of the great things about Sim games, is that because we get to choose how we play, and because it’s a Simulation, we can learn a little bit about ourselves, almost by accident.

I was playing The Sims 3, and I wanted my sim, my representation of me, to become ‘Leader of the Free World’, that is, I wanted him to reach the pinnacle of the Political Career path. And he did, I did, and we sacrificed almost everything to do it.

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Butterfly’s in your stomach.. could this be love? Nope not for me, I’m at home talking at a mirror.

I devoted all my time to improving my charisma skill, only interacting with other sims to gain the friends necessary to succeed at work, engaging in leisure only to ensure my mood was high enough for that promotion I was gunning for. And I did succeed.

If you haven’t played The Sims 3, it now incorporates an aging system into the game. Sims now transition from babies, to children to teenagers, to young adults, to adults to elderly sims; aging up in a prescribed number of days each time. I began as a ‘Young Adult’. By the time I’d finished by mission to the top, you want to know how long I had to enjoy the spoils of my hard work?

Three days.

Three days until my sim became elderly, and at that point, it’s generally worth retiring. At this point I actually just stopped playing and went to have a little sit down. Without even considering my actions, I had disregarded almost everything available in this simulated town, the parties, meals out, going shopping, having a family, everything, and focused so hard on achieving my goals that I literally wasted the best years of my life.

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I got old. :(

This is the beauty of a Simulation, because it’s attempting to mimic a real situation, there’s a lot to be learnt, not only from what we choose to engage with, the path we decide is right for us. But also what we leave behind, what we avoid. And I would say this applies just as much to Farming, Train, or Snowcat Simulator as it does to Sim City or The Sims.

This is something other games could learn a lot from. It’s a great source of player feedback, to observe what the player doesn’t do, and adjusting accordingly.

But more than this, we can learn something about ourselves from the way we play games like this, and that’s the most powerful effect of any form of art. Don’t for a minute mistakenly think I’m suggesting The Sims or Farming Simulator are art, but you can see what I’m driving at.

My experience with The Sims 3 made me sit down and think about my priorities, do I drive headlong towards my goal at any given time? Do I really let things fall by the wayside for little real reward in the end? And if I don’t do these things, why do I do them in games? How do my goals differ there, and what can I learn from my attitude in The Sims which I can bring to other areas of my life?

Maybe by learning something useful about myself, that’s how to win a Simulation?

About Ed Prosser

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