Make a New Year's Resolution to Play More Simulation Games
If Baby Boomers were the "Me Generation" and Gen-Xers were the "MTV Generation" and Millennials were the "Internet Generation", this next generation coming up through the ranks and born after 2000 might just be the "Minecraft Generation".
Extra Credits ran a video about the effect that Minecraft would have on the gaming industry way back in 2014, and a lot of what they said “would happen in 10 years” is already well on its way to happening.
But you may not be a kid or young teenager reading this. You could be much older, and the transformation into a simulation gamer may have come decades ago.
After all, when the original SimCity came out on the SNES as a launch title, plenty of kids whose NES experiences were games like Contra and Punch-Out! suddenly found a whole new world that they'd never seen before just waiting to guide their maturing tastes in a whole new direction.
There are still plenty of you out there who play primarily action-oriented titles, but look no further than Red Dead Redemption 2, a game in the action-RPG genre, that requires more patience to get the most out of the experience than we've ever seen in a game that didn't have Todd Howard's design handprints all over it (I see you there, Fallout 4).
But I'm not talking about Red Dead when I say you should play more simulation games in 2019. I'm saying you should make the leap and get into the serious simulators, the ones with the word “Simulator” in the title that don't also include the word “Goat.”
“But Fox,” you may be sensibly asking, “why would I want to do that?”
I'll give you five good reasons why.
The Games Are Fantastic Short Distractions
Have you ever had half an hour to kill and done a quick quest in an RPG or a turn in a game like Civilization or Total War, only to find that what was meant as a quick time-killer led to you playing all day, the victim of the wrong kind of distraction?
Do yourself a favor. Go buy one of the Truck Simulator games (American Truck Simulator or Euro Truck Simulator 2, depending on your geographic preference.) Load up the game when you've got between about 30 minutes and two hours, then pick a cargo run you can complete in that length of time.
Then do the cargo run, notice that the game gives you a fantastic natural exit point by requiring a little bit of effort—not a lot, but just enough to remind you that you only planned one cargo run—and then see how simulated trucks are a perfect part of this balanced breakfast between being an adult and wanting to get some gaming time in.
If you've got responsibilities—work, kids, wife, whatever—simulations are the perfect games for fitting into your day without getting carried away.
It doesn't have to be trucks either. It could be a day's farming in either a casual (Stardew Vallley) or serious (Farming Simulator, in whichever biannual release your computer likes best graphics-wise and performance-wise) sim. A flight in X-Plane 11 or even Microsoft Flight Simulator X. Sports games, if they're accurate reflections rather than arcade-style games (think Madden or NBA 2K) even fit under this broad gaming tent.
The Community Tends to be Great
Is there a bigger cesspool in gaming than the MOBA genre? You have hypercompetitive children trying way too hard to be edgy in voice chat, to the point where a lot of non-gamers think that's all video games are when they dismiss our hobby.
Contrast that with the way the community interacts with the devs and each other among big-time sim fans. Because the games aren't PVP, even in their online modes, people have no incentive to be jerks to each other and every reason to be super helpful and cooperative.
There are also some fantastic Let's Play-style instructional videos on YouTube. Playing American Truck Simulator, I found the turning radius on my trailers so ludicrously wide that the only real solution was to have them towed whenever they got into a tight spot. But there was YouTube, ready and willing to help and demonstrate. A few videos later, and I was spinning that trailer around in one place like the minute hand on a clock.
And at no point do most of the people in those videos have the condescending tone you get from forum posts and the like, either.
If you're burned out on other people, taking up simulations is a great way to break yourself of that malaise.
If You Want a Long Session, You Can Have One
Go ahead, Stardew Valley players. Lie to me in the comments and tell me you've never played an entire season (or more) in one sitting.
Likewise, these are games that if you're not trying to limit yourself, you can lose yourself in them.
Put on some classic rock, load up a tractor or a truck or that city in Cities: Skylines that you've been working on and expanding beyond the freeway for the first time and lose a day or a weekend or a whole college winter break playing.
These games are relaxing, low-stress recovery games. When you need a mental health day just whiling away the time, this is the perfect genre for it.
The Worlds Persist in Ways MMOs Don't
There is nothing quite like coming back to a game and having what you built exactly as you left it. It's the subject of many daydreams during working days, the source of incredible screenshots like those Minecraft worlds you see all over the Internet, and possibly the most satisfying part of playing simulators long term.
It's having a neighborhood in a Sims game that you started on a blank or nearly blank map grow and change and thrive with each generation of Sim kids and each new house build until the neighborhood is full and bustling.
Bringing sports into it again, it's the franchise mode that's many seasons removed from the first game of Year 1, the game's auto-generated draft classes having had Hall of Fame careers of their own, all but the youngest rookies from the actual sport long since retired.
And the best reason of all for playing simulators?
They Tend to be Cheap
Well, except for the DLC. But that's just it.
These are “lifestyle games”, and every mod you install, content pack you buy, or other addition—free or paid—that you make to the game truly makes it yours.
At no point is any of it mandatory. It may feel that way—the Truck Simulator games feel pretty constrained without their expanded maps—but you can have a highly satisfying experience with just the base game.
That scalability makes simulations great fun, because at no point does it constrain the playerbase the way an MMO walls off not only new zones from people who don't buy the expansion, but part of the community from the friendship and content that other players provide.
You can mix and match for any budget, and besides, these games go on deep discount on Steam all the time.
So why not try a simulated life in 2019? You'll find it a beautiful change of pace, and who knows—when you play one that truly speaks to you, you might end up like that high school freshman whose love of simulated cities in 1992 became a love of writing about simulations 27 years later.