Living Vicariously Through Simulation Games

In Black Mirror’s interactive episode, Bandersnatch, the protagonist vexes over the thought of someone or something hovering over him and controlling his life. It comes to his awareness that the watcher is making his decisions for him. It’s meta, but what if…

The premise of Bandersnatch is a looming inquisition of humans’ existence. Maybe you’ve experienced walking in a room and forgetting what you were about to do. Perhaps you find yourself performing a task you never intended to do. Why are things out of your control? What are the forces that drive humans?

These existential questions might be a shot in the dark as humans try to make sense of life, but these may also be the reasons simulation games are entertaining. In simulation games, the table turn, and the puppets become the puppeteers— and it feels oh, so great.

Being in control

What would you give to be in control? To not be bound by socioeconomic and other societal limitations? To a certain extent, simulation games provide this kind of fantasy.

The player can live vicariously through their Sim because the Sim can live in the player’s virtual dream house, drive luxurious cars, and easily excel in their dream jobs. For example, the Sim can paint a masterpiece and sell it for thousands of Simoleons right away. Alongside this painting career, the Sim can also be a successful CEO of a company with several properties and partnerships to their name.

Whereas in the real world, one can work for years and years and still wait for the perfect opportunity to attain their Sim’s kind of living. As much as one wants to come home to a beautifully landscaped home in Utah with pea gravel lining the pathway to a grand front door, the systems that govern society controls a person’s quality of living. The real world is complicated, so people use simulation games as a kind of escape. It fulfills their wishes and gives them a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

No direct real-world consequences

man wearing virtual reality googles

The player can pick risky decisions without dealing with their repercussions in their personal life. As author Jamie Madigan puts it: “[Simulation games] strip away all the bureaucracy, consequences, and — let’s be honest — necessary restrictions that the real world imposes…”

In dating simulation games, for example, the player can juggle two relationships and keep it a secret. While they might know what it means for their character in the game, their real-life relationship is still intact. In games where the player runs a business, they can make a risky decision, like exhausting their capital for a huge investment, and still be able to survive.

In more ways than one, simulation games feed our curiosity. “What if I did this? How will I deal with it? What will life be like if I did this?” Fortunately, in simulation games, life will still be convenient. On the other hand, real life can be bleak at times, and to take care of your sanity, you should enjoy a little escapism sometimes.

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