Order and Chaos and Trains

An interest in the mundane has always lurked around the edges of most entertainment, from novels, television, and more and more recently to video games. I’ll start off with a big clarification that when I say mundane, I do not directly mean boring. What I mean is worldly, everyday, or prosaic. The things that you generally could open your window up and check out going on directly outside the digital world. It seems counterintuitive that with the almost infinite storytelling and situational possibility games can offer, that we would spend so much time, effort, and money simulating the familiar and seemingly normal. However, the results can’t be argued with. Train Simulator, Euro Truck Simulator, Sim City, Cities in Motion, and of course the big one, The Sims,  are all extremely successful franchises, and all offer access to a specific and generally niche world.

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Very niche, occasionally.

Some of the interest in these can be explained simply by the subject of the game. Tons of people dream of flying, but don’t have the means, time, or patience to get to it in the real world. Hence, Flight Simulators. However, I have to say that I find it kind of hard to believe that a particularly large amount of people who play video games would be super interested in an all-night trucking run on their free time. The same can be said for managing all of the transportation in a city, being a piece of toast, or watching your virtual family slowly fail at their dreams. Of course, I have shelled out personally for a number of games that enable those actions, or similar ones, so there’s undeniably something intriguing about simulation of the real world. Whether or not it’s a part of ones everyday life eventually becomes irrelevant, I think. I think the draw may be more a result of the zenlike state that humans get into while managing systems.

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Look at that sweet, sweet, synergy.

“Watching gauges, dials, and bars go up and down isn’t the most exciting or visceral gameplay, but there’s a joy to the strategy of management that is almost universal”

Nothing pleases our human-brains more than optimization, efficiency, and nice clean lines. Not all the time, obviously, but I think that the reddit thread “oddly satisfying” as well as shows like “How It’s Made” are indicative of how much we enjoy seeing things fall into place. Sure, watching gauges, dials, and bars go up and down isn’t the most exciting or visceral gameplay, but there’s a joy to the strategy of management that is almost universal. Whether they’re building something, trying to grow a digital family, or just trying to keep a train on schedule, there’s a zone that the player gets into where the subject matter becomes more flavor than anything else and the goal becomes simply keeping things running smoothly. Of course, that’s one school of thought. If The Sims has shown us anything, it’s that part of the fun of a simulation is seeing just how far you can push the limits. This often leads to chaos which, coupled with glitches and other video game strangeness, can lead to unchecked hilarity and hours of gameplay. So the way I see it, there’s two sides to the draw of simulations: the joy of making something happen, and the desire to watch something fall apart. The easiest way to figure out which style of gameplay  you personally prefer is to ask yourself, what’s the most vivid thing you remember doing in Roller Coaster Tycoon? Constructing a well-oiled and functional theme park, or building a ride that hurled cars into a lake?

Good gaming, ladies and gentlemen!

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