The growing allure of driving and flight simulators show that our understandable techno-weariness should not blind us to an enormous recreational and educational potential.
Simulators make accessible incredible experiences which in their real form are only available for a tiny, privileged minority. It might not be “our thing” but it is still worth thinking about.
It goes against the grain to fire up the PC at home in the evening, especially if we have sat at one all day at work. But overcoming the aversion can be worth it.
The same computers that sap our lifeblood with spreadsheets can also take us into richly-detailed parallel worlds created for our amusement, engagement, education and excitement.
The processing power and software needed to create these incredible illusions is getting less expensive by the month. And each extra GHz increment makes them all the more convincing.
The processing power we now have allows for a mind-boggling level of immersion, with headsets now able to give us all-round 3d vision as we move and turn our heads, as in real life.
The $90bn games industry taps technology by slaking our thirst for fantasy. But simulators take the opposite approach, trying to reproduce the real world, with accuracy their benchmark.
Flying and driving simulators have the added advantage of trying to mimic ways we already navigate our world by controlling machines, albeit ones made of metal not pixels.
There is typically a competitive element to simulated vehicles like in real ones, but simulators are also intended purely for the experience they provide. Most users appreciate both.
Simmers may fly imaginary combat missions or drive in circuit races online, but they also fire up their engines with no aim other than the sights, sounds and trance of the activity.
Cars and planes also have a complex engineering, science and human history to draw on. Simulators allow us to learn about these in a uniquely hands-on way.
And being able to be almost anywhere we can think of can awaken a feeling of wonder, exploration and global consciousness, and literally open our eyes to geography.
Like with meditation, music, running, gaming, painting., reading or writing simming can change the way we think and feel for the better, without the risk of a psychoactive drug.
Some experimental digital formats beyond sims even focus entirely on this mind-altering potential, with “technodelics” designed to deliver psychoactive audio and visuals.
With our movements restricted by covid-19 and, increasingly, climate change, we can still wake up with a flight over the fjords near Nuuk or putter over the Ganges delta in a triplane.
Technology need not always drain us. Driving and flying simulators show the digital world can also provide accessible recreation enriching our engagement in the real world. ■
The first of a short series which will explore driving and flight simulators before dabbling in technodelics.