We’re All Simmers, But What’s A Sim?

by Fran Mulhern


We’re all simmers.

While the computer games industry is moving more towards consoles and joypads, there will always be those of us for whom the buzz of searching through the skies with our air-to-air radar holds the most attraction. Keep yer Playstations and yer X-Boxes, give us our sims!

Sims? Did someone say sims? What, you mean like “The Sims”?

No, no, no — of course not! Sims, simulations. Titles that simulate things!

What? “Titles that simulate things?” But the Sims! It’s in the name, for crying out loud! It simulates being a person! If that isn’t a sim, tell me what is!

Dinner in our house is always lively, and my girlfriend just LOVES the Sims. She even had me go get her the recent Nightlife expansion pack when it came out. Urgh.

But does she have a point? What makes a simulation, well, a simulation? Is Falcon 4: Allied Force “a sim”? Is LOMAC? Is NASCAR Racing 2003 Season? What about Flashpoint Germany, or any of those other tactical wargames?

More than that, what about the “lesser” sims that people so malign — say, for example, the F-22 series by Novalogic. Aren’t they sims? Or not?

And, lastly, what about the “big” picture? All games SIMULATE something — they’re all virtual, none are real. A Star Trek game simulates what it would be like to do something in the Star Trek universe, even though it’s not real. And, last but by no means least (honestly, darling!) The Sims. Is that a sim? Is a Sim a sim?

So, what do we mean by a sim?

Now you see, I’m a bit believer in the theory of relativity. Not Einstein’s, but Franny’s. Theory of Relativity Number 1, to be exact. And my theory, if you want it, goes something like this: “the concept of a sim changes with the person explaining that concept”. I should also mentioned that this theory is based not on logic, but on the real world:

Hold that in your mind for a minute while we look at the rest of the idea.

A sim simulates. I think that much is fairly straight forward, self-evident and (hopefully) uncontroversial. It does what it says on the box, it’s in the name, and so on and so forth. Surely a sim must simulate? Can we agree on that? Great, let’s move on. Because we’re probably about to disagree.

What must it simulate?

Well, logically, surely it could be anything? A chess game could, correctly, be called a chess simulator. Something like Sim City could legitimately be called a city simulator or a mayoral simulator.

I can’t see how this can be argued: strictly speaking, all games simulate something.

You see, it’s all well and good saying “a sim simulates”, but that’s not it, is it? I mean, really. As a flight simmer, my own personal (i.e., relative) view is that a sim must simulate something technical, and must feel to me like a sim. Simming, as we know it, is more than than just simulating. It’s about a title that reaches out, grabs you, pulls your from your seat, and plonks you down into the cockpit of an F-15, or the gunner’s position in a tank, or… you get my point. A sim isn’t just a game — a sim is something that goes from being a game to becoming — at least while you’re using it — a way of life. It immerses you, it holds you there and lets you forget that you’re NOT pumping chaff and flares while coming off the target.

A sim is something distinct from a game. A sim has a life of its own. In that sense, it’s a sim. It’s a sim because, unlike a game, it requires a detailed understanding of how to control it AND because it gives you the kind of immersion you’ve always dreamed of. (What? You’ve never experienced this? Okay, here’s what you do: boot up F-22 Raptor by Novalogic. Off you go on a mission. BUT, here’s the trick. Have your girlfriend / wife / boyfriend / husband / dog / cat / whatever… stand behind you while you’re playing. Have them hold an iron bar. When you get hit by a missile, they need to whack you — as hard as they can — on the head. Done? Great! Scared of getting hit again? Good, now you’re immersed!)

But wait. Can that be right?

Football Manager requires a great understanding of how the various options work, but it’s not a sim, is it? Hmmm. Now there’s a thought.

So what it is that distinguishes the likes of LOMAC or Falcon 4 from the likes of Football Manager?

The immersion? Well, sometimes Football Manager can feel pretty real. If you’re passionate about football. So, no, not the immersion.

What else? You know what, I can’t think of anything else.

Maybe this is where Franny’s Theory of Relativity Number 1™ comes in.

Maybe a sim is a sim because we want it to be. Maybe that’s all it boils down to. Let me ask you this. Is Falcon 4 a sim? Most people will undoubtedly say yes. What about the Novalogic F-22 series? Most people will probably hesitate before saying no, they’re not sims. Sure, they’re about flying aircraft, and they can be great fun, but you can’t really call them sims.

Okay, fine, I can accept that, but wouldn’t some of the F-22 series be a more accurate representation of what it is to fly and fight a modern aircraft that, say, the old Fighter Pilot or, dare I say it, F-15 Strike Eagle III? Sure, we look back on those titles with fond memories, but if you examine them now, you’ll realize just how “un-simmish” they actually are. In their time and place though, they were true flight simulations, with a capital F and a capital S.

So here’s my conclusion, one you may or may not disagree with. Logically, we can’t really define what it is that separates our love for simulations from the entire range of simulations out there. Our simulations have certain relatively common aspects — a certain subject matter, a certain complexity of controls, for example. But we could argue all day about what actually constitutes a simulation and, while agreeing on general principles, we’d NEVER be able to agree the subtleties. They’re all relative. Like a liberal in a microwave (and I say this as a liberal, before you liberals out there get all annoyed and you Republicans get all excited ), there’s a solid core to what constitutes a simulation for the purposes of our community, a solid core surrounded by a warm fuzzy wishy-washy outer layer.

But you know what? The best thing about our hobby is that, when all’s said and done, we’re in it together. We’re all, for want of a better word, simmers, and we have the best community spirit out there. There’s something about our games, something we can’t quite place, that makes them special: and it’s that certain something that makes our community special.

Who’s for some F4:AF? Slammers are on me!

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