Simulating Simulation AntiPattern

Problem: We want to make our games toyetic; that is, like toys. We look to toys for our inspiration. Or we want to decrease the violence in a violent title.

Solution: Making a game that simulates playing with toys 'solves' the first problem. Making a game (such as Super PaintBrawl? or ArmyMen?) that takes a violent genre and sanitizes it, reminds us that we're just pretending, allows us to keep our E rating.

Consequences: Playing a game - even games with the "awesome" graphics and audio of today - still require a leap of imagination from the player. Twenty years ago, they had to imagine that the dot on the screen was a tank. Now they have to imagine that the five-thousand triangle model is a tank. This imagination is a valuable tool in the designers' toolkit, and we should use that imagination to create the most visceral experiences we can with the limited technology available. Diverting that imagination into mundane activities - activities the player could probably do anyway, even if they didn't have a videogame console - is giving up some of our power.

[Someone could go off the deep end now and point out that everything is a simulation; if we're content with the hyperreal simulations on TV why not be content with increasing orders of simulation? Because there is a "fetish of the real": other things being equal, people are going to want the lowest order of simulation. Usually, other things are not equal, and that's why we prefer to watch *Alias* rather than join the CIA.]

I think board game designers know this intuitively; I've never seen a board game about people playing a board game.

Examples: Virtual paintball would be the egregious example. Paintball is supposed to simulate war. Make a game that simulates war, not one that simulates paintball. Virtual legos is another one. Legos simulate construction. Make a game where you build something. Castles, cars, whatever. Not a game where you assemble Legos. Army Men.

Some counter-examples that actually work (or so I hear): JunkBot? (legos) and .Hack (a videogame about playing a videogame.)

Obviously, this rule is trumped by good gameplay. Or I should say, a game can still have good gameplay and violate this rule. The game design in your paintball simulator might beat the crap out of, say, Team Fortress, and it would therefore be a better game, but it still might lack that visceral quality that Team Fortress brings to the table.


Chess simulates war. Or does it? Is Chess a fair choice for a computer game? What about all of those other computer version of board games and game shows? Who wants to be a millionaire? Is the Sims a simulation of a real family, or the simulation of a doll house?

How do you classify "simulation"?

What do science fiction and fantasy-based games "simulate"? Do computer RPGs simulate pen and paper RPGs? Do pen & paper RPGs and/or computer RPGs simulate actually exploring dungeons, fighting with swords, casting spells and gaining levels experience, like happens in "real life"?

How can you simulate flying a space ship if there are no space ships? Do Star Trek and Star Wars games simulate space combat, or do they simulate other media?

Game play not only trumps this idea, it makes this idea moot.

Check it out, first flame on the wiki

It certainly does not make the idea moot. Did you work on Super PaintBrawl? or something? [I worked on Deluxe Wheel of Fortune for Windows Featuring Vanna White; it was not a simulation of a simulation; it simulated being a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. (Not that I think much of those kinds of games anyway, but some people do like them.)]

Suppose we have a ?HotWheels? game that actually is an excellent racing game where racing enthusiasts who actually try it agree, "Yes, this is better than Nascar and Gran Turismo." You can keep the same gameplay and yet make the game "better" - in the sense that now the player is imagining that they're driving a racecar instead of playing with ?HotWheels? - and probably also more succesful.

A computer chess game isn't a simulation of chess; you're actually playing chess. I don't think manipulating the actual wooden pieces is what makes chess chess.

The Sims simulates a family. If they had called it ?SimDollHouse? and it had exactly the same mechanics, it would have been a less succesful game.

For discussion of simulation, Ron Edwards has some good ideas ( that were meant for discussing RPG's but has some relevance to all games.

Fire extinguisher

No, I did not work on Super Paint Brawl. I do think a paintball game is a cool idea, but I am not into real war games -- I play Quake 3, but with the blood and gibs turned off, and it feels a lot less like real combat. Quake 3 is like playing first person action figures. You are right about Chess being a game irrespective of the way that the pieces are modelled, but it is true that some computer Chess games go to great lengths to preserve the physicality of the board and pieces, instead of using flat symbols. My point about science fiction was not so much that the games simulate some "imagined real situation", but that they often are mechanically identical (or nearly so) to some other "actual real situation"; space ships are like planes, aliens are like Nazis, etcetera, but a lot of people prefer fighting imaginary aliens to fighting real people and flying space ships to Mustangs. Not that it means other people would want to have a computer game about flying model airplanes, but they might.

I thought you were closing the book on this rather soon -- possibly I misunderstood the exact gist of your original argument. Still, if someone can make a good virtual lego game (ignoring that lego is a toy), I suspect that there might be lots of other non-computer games that at first seem like simulation but might have their own mistique which would be worth carrying over into a computer version. I can see how Army Men has its dumb side, but virtual G.I. Joe might work. (I'd argue that both the G. I. Joe toy and this hypothetical G. I. Joe game are each only one order of simulation away from G. I. Joe-ness.) Sometimes the distance provided by toys is valuable, and computers are now capable of such detail and atmospheric realism that maybe they no longer provide a distance that some players would really like to have. In other words, sometimes you have to dumb down the simulation. Simulating a simulation can do that. Probably there is a better solution. One could use a cartoon theme and style, but since cartoons often look like toys (or is it the other way around?), I don't know if this is drastically different. (That's a good point. If we make a game that simulates a toy we can 'nail it' - have possibly a perfect simulation - whereas trying to simulate reality we're always going to miss the mark. Kind of like if you go for cel shading your graphics look perfect, but if you go for photorealism your graphics fail.)

[Why do you put 's around some game names? Could this wiki use a style guide?] -- Brent

[Good idea, I'd definitely try to obey a style guide if there was one. I sometimes want to italicize game names as if they were novels, but then forget to use quotes and fall back on my old e-mail * habit. Just a quirk, really. And how do you make it so joined capitalized words do not link?]