A certain segment of gaming culture has recently been through a resurgence, that being the Simulator genre, a category of games including such riveting experiences as “PowerWash Simulator”, or “Lawn Mower Simulator”, or “Train Simulator.”
All things that, as we all know, every person has such an immense desire to experience. I mean really, who wouldn’t want to experience the sheer joy of spraying high pressure streams of water at different dirty surfaces, or tending to a train system, where you have to actively stop and allow passengers to board, and are penalized for breaking the schedule, or the act of riding atop a lawn mower, watching tiny pathetic blades of grass scream in sheer terror as you bear down upon them, an apocalyptic force of nature sent by whatever god their tiny plant brains can comprehend to punish them for sins they will never understand.
OK, maybe I got a bit carried away in that last part, but my point still stands. None of these sound like they’re incredibly exciting experiences right? However, they have all been massively popular recently. Especially “PowerWash Simulator”, which sold nearly 3 million copies just 2 months after its release.
You may ask yourself. “Why? Why are these games so hugely successful?” Well, dear reader, allow me to theorize.
Every human needs relaxation. It’s an important part of bodily maintenance. And people find that relaxation in different ways. Some take a nap, some read a book, some go watch a movie or TV show, some go running. And reader, some people pretend they’re power washing a dirt bike. It’s simple really, once you think about the purpose of gaming as a whole. A medium that I agree with is an artform, but also, a tool. A tool to shut your brain off and do something mindless for an hour or two after a stressful day. And let me tell you. It works.
Try something for me, go to your browser and just search up “PowerWash Simulator” on youtube. Watch any of the videos that come up (with your sound muted. YouTube is a horrid platform and I don’t even have the time to get into that.) Feel your muscles relax as you watch that hose absolutely delete dirt and grime. That is the appeal of simulator games.
Another name for these games, which I think goes a bit beyond the Simulator label, is a term I coined. “Podcast Games”. Podcast Games are games that you can turn on for a few hours and just lose yourself in. This, of course, includes simulators like the ones I have mentioned in the past, but they also include a few other more varied entries. MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) fill the category nicely. I just recently returned to “Final Fantasy 14”, one such MMORPG that really accentuates what I think of when I imagine a Podcast game. I can turn on Final Fantasy 14, pick up a bunch of quests, and just lose myself in the monotony of gathering 10 Wild Berries, killing 15 Wild Boars, and walking through a deadly forest to go talk to Guard Commander Barney or whatever. And this, of course, is where the “Podcast” part comes in. I never sit in silence when enjoying a “podcast game” (Otherwise, I would have called in ‘Bored silence games’). More often than not, I will have some kind of podcast or talk show playing in the background. I am able to focus on that, while my hands can do their own thing and complete the quest. It is the perfect symbiosis. I feel accomplishment as my level in Wild Boar Hunting increases, while being stimulated by an interesting discussion about Rail disasters, or caving accidents, or the latest video games news.
Another Podcast Game I was able to grab on sale recently is a title called “Hardspace: Shipbreaker” A fun little game about menial workers in space. Specifically, a group of workers called Shipbreakers, who take apart and sort spaceships of various sizes into components, salvage, and scrap. Adding on to the ability to turn off my brain and just cut a spaceship to bits and mindlessly sort things, “Hardspace Shipbreaker” also includes a fascinating story about the formation of a union in a capitalist society. Not just any capitalist society, though. A society in which Earth is owned by a megacorporation, who forces its laborers into debt just for the privilege of having a job, who created cloning just so that they could replace dead workers with exact clones, ready to do the same work. And of course, Hardspace adds onto its basic premises, adding reactors that must be dealt with quickly, forcing you to plan your route through the ship to get it out, or pressure differentials you must deal with or risk explosive decompression, and the pain of having your body squeezed out a hole the size of a needle and then realizing that explosion means you have now lost more money in that explosion than you paid to get access to that ship, and now you’re going to be a day behind on your space rent and then space corporation is gonna triple your 1 trillion+ dollar debt. It’s an absolutely fantastic experience that I wholeheartedly recommend for my fellow “podcast gamers” out there.
I can recommend games to play all day long, but where the real interesting stuff comes into play is the possibility for podcasts. There is such a variety of auditory media out there it can be a bit daunting to choose, so here are my recommendations, and the kind of games they work well with.
For you Powerwashers or lawn mowers, I recommend “Well, there’s your problem!” A podcast all about engineering disasters. Featuring three incredibly intelligent and educated hosts, “WTYP” provides a fantastic learning experience to enjoy while you slaughter billions of innocent grass blades, or blast about trillions of dirt particles.
For all my Train/Boat/truck simulator fans, look no further than the brilliant subgenre of podcasts known as the Dungeons and Dragons podcast. Part of the vehicle simulator experience is the long trips where you are doing little to nothing, so what better to entertain yourself with than a bunch of nerds (Don’t worry, they’re nerdier than you. You’re just pretending to haul freight, they’re pretending to play Lord of the Rings) coming together to try and tell a story. If you really want some interesting recommendations, I suggest Just Roll With it, a group of 4 friends pretending to be pirates and having an adventure. Alternatively, if pirates isn’t your cup of tea, try out Dungeons and Daddies (I promise it’s not weird. Their whole tagline is “NOT a BDSM podcast” for goodness sake!) DnDaddies tells a surprising and introspective story about 4 fathers transported into the world of Dungeons and Dragons where they must find their sons, and learn how to be better fathers and better people along the way.
And lastly, for my fellow shipbreakers/menial labor simulators, the best way to get into the game and into the world is to find yourself a nice talk show. Some of my personal favorites being “My Brother, My Brother, and Me”. An advice show for the modern era, MBMBAM is hosted by the podcasting superstars Justin, Griffin, and Travis McElroy. The brothers take the time to listen to questions submitted by fans or found online and definitely give good advice and not just comedy. Alternatively, the Cox ‘n Crendor podcast is a long run podcast hosted by two friends who discuss what’s going on in their life, then the last half is dedicated to being a.. Honestly poorly hosted morning show, where they describe the weather for any random location they feel like, make up some traffic reports, do a surprisingly in depth sports analysis segment, and end with the “News Story of the Day”, typically some stupid thing that’s happening somewhere in the world that is easy to make funny.
Setting out, I wanted to write an interesting and informative article about why in the world simulator games are so popular. But then, as I sat at my computer and listened to my podcast collection, I realized something. You can’t explain the popularity of simulator games. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would people want to come home after a long day of school or work to pretend to do more work? But honestly? It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, what’s really important is that people have fun with how they spend their free time. Be it playing the latest “Run around a shoot bad guys” release of the day, or suffering through the most absurdly difficult grind of a game, or committing grass genocide.
Braedon Martin is a Hutchinson sophomore studying journalism. He is the Collegian’s Opinion Page Editor and Managing Editor for Design.