Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jason Geeks Out, Part 3

I've always had a thing for simulation games. Any game that takes a real world process, replicates it, and hands the controls over to you. And while there are some great simulation board games, like my favorite Republic of Rome, I'm mainly drawn to the computer variety. With sim games, it's all about the authenticity. The more closely you can model whatever system you're replicating, the more fun the game is, and with board games there's always a level of abstraction that pulls you out of the experience.

Wow, Jason. Your cold, technical analysis of sim games makes them sound like such a hoot, tell me more!

Oh, you have no idea. Actually, I don't either. Sometimes I wonder what's so enticing about this genre of games. They often, but not always, model relatively obscure experiences. SimTower was a favorite of mine years ago. It put you in charge of constructing a 100 floor skyscraper. As you built each new floor you had to decide how to distribute the space between office, retail, infrastructure and other categories. You had to design the elevator and escalator layouts to efficiently move people around the building, as well as take care of mundane details like trash collection. The goal was to finish all 100 floors, be profitable, and keep your tower dwellers happy. I don't think I ever got past the 35th floor.

Another game I played a decade or so ago was SimAnt. An ant colony simulation. No, not a digital version of the narrow, glass enclosed toy you might have had as a kid (though equally as pointless probably.) This was a faithful recreation of the day-to-day life of a colony as it attempts to spread itself across some hapless human's yard. Through resource management, queen movement, and ant specialization you slowly establish new hives. Once you've amassed a large enough colony and manage to infest hapless human's house, you win. I know. It sounds more like an episode of "Nature" than a game. But it was a lot of fun. I guess if sim games are your thing.

There are sims for almost everything you can think of. Some of my other favorites included Caesar II, a Roman city building sim, SimEarth, an planetary evolution sim, SimCity, the mother of all sim games, which takes city building and management as far as it can go, and of course, The Sims.

The Sims is the strangest of all the sim games, in my mind, for two reasons. One, because you play sim games to temporarily escape real life and The Sims simulates...real life! And two, because it was wildly popular, even among people that generally don't fall into the sim game contingent. If you haven't seen it, imagine this. A game that let's you create families, build them houses, buy them stuff, find them jobs and friends, and generally help them live their lives. They pay bills, have to call repairmen for plumbing leaks, and get fired if they consistently miss work. All the joys and troubles of life, manageably modeled in miniature.

It gets old after a while, but while the gloss is fresh, it is so addictive. The urge to play must be related to the urge that parents have, trying to make sure their kid's lives are better than their own. You get to live vicariously through any number of simulated people, letting them do all the things you can't, or won't. Or you can just set things up for them, and watch as at all falls apart.

The next logical step from The Sims is SimGamer. A sim game that models the life of a geeky sim gamer as he or she attempts to beat the latest sim experience, wasting hours of their lives in the process. Can't wait.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! And my boyfriend calls me a geek. I have avoided introducing myself to sim games because I know I'd become addicted. Now that I know you can show me how to navigate my way through one, maybe my days are numbered before I start scratching my arms, sniffling and pan-handling for extra time to feed my addiction.