Simulation games are currently enjoying a resurgence of popularity with the current generation of gamers, if the virtual shelves of your online retailer are anything to go by. From the staggeringly popular Sims franchise, to the staggeringly bonkers Goat Simulator, there’s a game out there for nearly every sim fan imaginable. In the world of Triple A titles where the player is nearly always handed a gun and asked to blast their way through problems, it’s almost impossible to imagine that meticulously planning and putting together something in a sim game could deliver as much pleasure. Just how did sims become so popular?
The history of sim games is difficult to determine, as the definition of a sim game itself is constantly in flux. Is any ‘life management’ game, such as Animal Crossing, classed as a sim, or must the game be more realistic in what it’s asking the player to do? No one has defined a clear answer, so the label of ‘simulation’ remains far reaching in the gaming world.
Some of the earlier sim titles are the ones remembered with the most fondness. One of the earliest titles, Sim City, was created when Sims patriarch Will Wright discovered the level editor in his game Raid on Bungeling Bay, was more fun to play with than the game itself. After developing the editor into a game itself, he became a founding member of Maxis and created a sim juggernaut.
The founding of Maxis lead on to arguably the most famous sim games, simply titled The Sims, in 2000. The game allowed the player to control a virtual dollhouse and micromanage their ‘sim’ peoples’ lives, and spawned a gigantic following. The original game sold over 6.3 million copies worldwide, and became the most popular PC game of all time. With the fourth installment recently announced, the game is still hugely popular.
Sporting simulations have been surprisingly popular too, with the Football Manager and Championship Manager games constantly popping up in ‘Top PC Sims’ lists. Surely sports fans would rather play a game that lets them get involved with the sport itself? Having consulted with a handy nearby Football Manager fan, he commented that the thrill lay in the building of your own team, creating a squad to your own specifications and guiding them through the football season.
This is possibly the appeal of sims as a whole. No other game genre lets the player have so much intricate control over their game. Anyone playing The Sims, for example, will revel in having total control over what their Sim wears, eats, and does. They decide exactly who that Sim is, what they do for a living, and even who they marry. It truly is a God simulator in every sense.
This may help explain the rise of ultra realistic sims, such as Euro Truck Simulator, Train Simulator, and Car Mechanic Simulator. These games take mundane tasks, such as driving a truckload of powdered milk to Brussels, and have you carry them out in intricate detail. They seem dull as dishwater, but have proved to be massive hits. Released by indie developers, these are games that never would have been created by Triple A developers due to their lack of drama and explosions, but suck the player in all the same. (This writer may well have harboured a secret Euro Truck Simulator obsession for a while…).
These, in turn, have given way to the simulator parodies. Truly, if sim games are being parodied, they have indeed made it as a genre. They started out as jabs at the genre with games like Blue Screen Simulator being submitted to Steam Greenlight, and Surgeon Simulator being released as a hilarious take on virtual surgery. However, the sim parody has reached new heights with the bonkers Goat Simulator. Initially created as a joke trailer on Youtube, Goat Simulator was made for real when thousands of viewers clamoured for the exploding scenery and satanic goats they saw.
The sim genre shows no sign of slowing down. Franchise behemoths like The Sims continue on into the current gen of gaming, and thanks to indie developers and online services such as Steam, there will always be a stream of hyper realistic and intricate offerings to choose from. After all, everyone likes to play God on occasion.