I look out over my field and take pride in a job well done. Neatly harvested, expertly tilled and new seeds deftly planted, it had taken me almost all day. But it was absolutely worth it, knowing that in only a few more hours my toil will pay off, and I’ll have another bountiful crop to deliver.
I reach the end of my shift, and wipe a bead of sweat off my brow. The emergencies had come in thick and fast, but I’m a 911 call operator, and know exactly how to get the help to where it’s needed. People are alive today because of me, and it’s tough to recall just how many disasters and crimes in progress I’ve helped put a stop to.
Screwing in the last nut, the train is ready to go again. Testing every part, from the largest engine to the smallest brace, was time-consuming, but knowing people will be able to get home from their busy days at work is all the reward I need. The fat paycheck is a bonus, though; train mechanics don’t come cheap.
Games let you put on many different costumes – super-soldiers, tomb raiders, assassins, spies, astronauts, the list goes on and on. Except the vast majority of games give you jobs very, very few people actually have, and so I realised it’s time to celebrate the games about mundanity – the simulator. When you spend all day being a super-soldier that can run faster than a train and jump eighteen story buildings like it’s nothing, there’s something immensely appealing about taking a breather to just try out being a farmer for a change.
Games like Farming Simulator, Train Mechanic Simulator and 911 Operator all feel so reverent of the jobs they let you play with. They don’t have the high-end graphics or the decades of replayability more mainstream games have, but that just amplifies how much respect the developers behind them have for their muses. You don’t make detailed recreations of hundreds of bits of obscure farm equipment and not care about what actual farmers do for a living.
Even if it’s as dark a topic as being an emergency call operator, there’s an underlying sense of positivity to simulators. They often brim with care, attention and respect to something that so many other people will just gloss over, a shameless sense of “yeah, this is a weird thing to make a game about, but it’s so cool, how could we not?”.
Playing sims often makes me feel the same way I feel when listening to people unabashedly talk about something they love. It could be something I have zero personal interest in, but find myself being sucked in just by their sheer enthusiasm – if someone opens up enough to you enough for them to be a complete dork, you automatically owe it to them to join in with their hype. I have no desire to really be a train mechanic, but playing along with the game assuming I totally do want to be one is bizarrely engrossing in the exact same way.
At the risk of sounding too far up myself, there’s also a childlike appeal to them. I remember when I was in nursery playing doctors or house, just pretending to be a grown-up and do grown-up things. Now I’m a 23-year-old man-child who writes about games for a living. Being able to safely put on a different hat and see what being an actual grown-up is like in a safe digital space is lovely.
I love simulators. It’s a genre marred by its comparisons to wider gaming, and connotations to plenty of joke games that don’t share my enthusiasm for the genre. It’s a hugely calming genre where repetition is often the key to success, but at the same time it’s wildly enthusiastic about the weirdest things you can imagine. Super-soldiers are meant to be exciting, but if a game can make being a binman the coolest thing in the world? That’s worth a play, as far as I’m concerned.