Back in the Good Old Days, my Dad played a whole lot of Flight Simulator, both in its SubLOGIC days and subsequently when it became a Microsoft product. (He still does, though perhaps not quite as much as he used to.)
One recurring joke we had in our family was taunting my Dad by saying that Flight Simulator was a game (which it is), which he would inevitably respond to by vociferously declaring that “it is not a game”, because he didn’t play games. (He has relaxed this policy in recent years, largely due to the advent of iOS.)
While I didn’t agree with his assessment of what a game was, I did, however, understand where his argument came from. Proper noun Flight Simulator was a cut above even other lower-case flight simulators in terms of realism and depth, and noteworthy at the time for being one of the only civil aviation flight sims. It was also noteworthy for being one of the first ever open-world sandbox games, in that there were no goals whatsoever besides those that you set for yourself; there wasn’t even really a “fail” state, since if you crashed, you could just respawn and start again.
By far the most noteworthy thing about Flight Simulator was the fact that it did exactly what its title suggested: it provided an accurate simulation of what it was actually like to fly a plane. That means no simplified controls; that means no throwing your plane around the sky; that means the need for at least a basic understanding of physics (including lift, thrust and drag) in order to even get off the ground. And even outside of the more obvious realism aspects such as the flight model, even navigation was simulated accurately; you had to tune navigation radios, follow the needle and so forth. Many real-life honest-to-goodness pilots actually trained to fly on instruments using Flight Simulator, such was its level of realism and detail when it came to this side of things, even if the graphics weren’t particularly impressive in the early days.
As a result of all this, I came to associate the word “simulator” with… well, simulations. Virtual depictions of something real — and a depiction that errs more on the side of realism than providing a thrilling gaming experience.
This morning I received an unsolicited Steam invite to a group promoting an upcoming game called Pregnancy with Your Mom Simulator 2016. This is what Pregnancy with Your Mom Simulator 2016 looks like.
If you have never encountered the modern use of the word “simulator”, Pregnancy with Your Mom Simulator 2016 pretty much sums it up. These days, although Flight Simulator still exists, the word “simulator” is much more frequently used in a “hilariously” ironic manner to describe something ridiculous, obviously unrealistic and filled with puerile humour.
I generally have nothing against puerile humour for the most part, but the use of the word “simulator” for this kind of thing is just getting a bit beyond a joke now. In just the last few years we’ve had Surgeon Simulator, Goat Simulator, Shower with Your Dad Simulator, Zombie Training Simulator, Corporate Lifestyle Simulator, Domestic Dog Simulator… and, well, literally hundreds of others. While there are a few genuine simulators in among the dross — the most noteworthy being titles like Euro Truck Simulator and its ilk, which follow the Flight Simulator mould of actually providing a realistic simulation of a real-life activity — the vast majority of these games are designed to be stupid visual jokes for YouTubers and streamers to whoop and holler over on videos with headlines like “CRAZY game from HELL?! SHOWER with YOUR MOM!!”
More than anything, I find it a bit frustrating to see the word “simulator” thrown around so casually these days because sometimes you just want to actually indulge in a genuine simulation of something — you want to see what it’s like to drive a truck, use heavy construction machinery, fly a plane, launch a rocket, whatever — and this nonsense’s use of the word completely devalues the word “simulator” to such a degree that it’s now meaningless. Moreover, it’s actively difficult to find real simulators — which, in the past, have had pretty functional, self-explanatory titles, such as Flight Simulator — among all this shit.
Ultimately this sort of thing is just another side-effect of the attention deficit disorder that the Internet seems to collectively suffer from. The population of the Internet staggers drunkenly from meme to meme, desperately searching for the next joke they can milk until it becomes the opposite of funny, then all the people who only use Facebook can start posting about it and it officially becomes dead, at which point a new meme shall rise and everyone shall become sick of it once more.
Perhaps I’m just old and cynical. Or perhaps I’m just tired of Steam and the mobile app stores getting flooded with “joke” games like Pregnancy with Your Mom Simulator 2016. People complained about the Wii being laden with shovelware, but that was nothing compared to the shit we see on Steam and mobile in 2016 — shit that distracts attention away from stuff that is actually noteworthy and interesting.