Feeling stuck? These vehicle simulator games might just scratch that travel itch

Published April 23, 2021, 1:00 PM

by Pao Vergara

Drive through the Rhine or Napa Valley, or fly over the Sierra Madres and get breathtaking views

IN GAME TRAVEL Flight Simulator, one Microsoft’s longest running software product, captures the real joy of flying

Being at home most of the time in our current context brings with it a unique kind of burnout.

Compared to before, when travel (whether a daily commute but with interesting interactions and observations or a dedicated trip out of town) was taken for granted, our bodies would get physically tired, making for deep, restful sleep after getting home or arriving at one’s hotel.

Now, we’re not necessarily tired physically, but there’s a pervasive feeling of being tired mentally, as the traits passed from our nomadic ancestors – sociability, physical activity, and constantly changing scenery – find themselves stifled in the world’s longest lockdown that to this day seems to have no end in sight.

Add to this the fact that school administrators or employers often don’t respect the boundaries between work and recreational hours.

NO TICKETS REQUIRED You are the pilot of your own plane. A first person perspective view of the game in the cockpit

Even the thrills afforded by the usual home buddy distractions—videogames and AV entertainment—seem to have paled after endless binging in this endless quarantine: competition, drama, sex, violence, one can get sick of buffalo wings, too.

Well, as the adage goes, we have to accept what we can’t change and work instead on what we can.

One thing some people have started doing is revisiting a genre of games on the margins of the gaming community, which has gained a steady following even in the mainstream.

Enter the non-competitive vehicle simulator.


The journey is …

The sun’s finally up, just as the flatbed makes a turn around the Alps on the border between France and Switzerland. The highway, unfortunately, is closed for repairs, so a detour is taken, a welcome diversion. Passing a small Swiss town by a lake, a light snow flurry begins to fall, the flakes flying all around the lake as waves lazily lap the shore.

Here, the song on the radio switches to “Tindahan ni Aling Nena” by The Eraserheads. From the wheel, Dyeyyzon914 takes a swig of San Miguel Pale and parks his truck to take in the scenery. His colleagues, in other houses around Metro Manila, sit back on their chairs, and one begins to share how difficult it is to keep students engaged after a year of online classes.

914 has been using videogames like pixel-world-builder Minecraft to teach physics concepts: students submit in-game builds as part of their pen-and-paper quizzes to demonstrate weight distribution, applications of gravity in construction, and tensile strength.

Season 4 Episode 8 GIF by Workaholics - Find & Share on GIPHY

Now, outside of work, he’s using Euro Truck Simulator to unwind with co-teachers. He’s swapped his mic and camera for a USB-attached gamer’s wheel, break, and accelerator and his video feed shows a 1440p European countryside.Meanwhile, some 10 kilometers from 914’s house, media researcher Louie Cortero communicates with a German air traffic controller over a call in real-time. It’s supposed to be an easy two-hour flight from Taipei to Manila, but crowded airspace has given Louie some time to explore the Philippine islands. He circles by the south of Manila Bay twice, glimpsing MOA and the Pasay mangroves in the process.

Where the wind moves water and leaf and the pit-pat of rain proves therapeutic, built cultural landmarks, small towns, national parks, and little-trod forests are rendered realistically for the travel-starved.

Already flying over Taal Lake, he decides to check out Mayon Volcano next but receives an emergency text from his editor. He tells the traffic controller, “Hey, gotta get back to the real world. Work emergency. Can you take it from here?”

You have a nice country, the German nods.

. . . the destination

TRUCK LIFE Drive through the roads of Europe with one of the most popular simulator games, Euro Truck Simulator

Microsoft first released its Flight Simulator game in 1986. It has since drawn not just current and retired pilots and air traffic controllers, but also airline enthusiasts and even casual gamers. The game and similar programs like X-Plane features not just highly detailed views of the earth’s forests, beaches, and cities as seen from the sky but also realistic controls and a gameplay that encourages cooperation between players taking on the roles of either pilot or traffic controller.

Euro Truck Simulator and its sister game American Truck Simulator released their first editions in the mid-2010s but players like 914 and Louie have returned in recent months. These games aren’t the boys’ main games, as they prefer more competitive games like first person shooters, third-person real-time strategy, and online massive multi-player role play.

Truck Simulator games have a simple, straightforward premise: Players complete delivery orders from Point A to B in order to get in-game money to purchase trucks that can travel further, thus unlocking more sceneries to take in.

IN-GAME DRIVE First-person perspective in Euro Truck Simulator. The title helps people become better drivers

Unlike sandbox shooter game Grand Theft Auto, which has similar vehicle mechanics as Truck Simulator but places a heavy emphasis on violence, opportunities to run over pedestrians and shoot cops here are nonexistent. Counter flowing, overspeeding, and featuring in collisions will penalize players, preventing them from getting a cooler truck and seeing a nicer town.

For a generation who grew up following all the installments of Grand Theft Auto, it’s interesting that Truck Simulator games have resonated so well, if the reviews on game download sites like Steam are any indication, all as said generation now enters their mid-20s.

It helps too that the developers and artists of many simulators put extra effort in depicting flowing, natural landscapes, where the wind moves water and leaf, where the pit-pat of rain can prove therapeutic, and where built cultural landmarks, small towns, national parks, and little-trod forests are rendered realistically for the travel-starved.

Perhaps it’s that. Having witnessed the chaos of the real world through a never-ending news cycle while cooped up at home, there’s something refreshing about simply delivering grapes from a vineyard to a winery, trying to stay within the speed limit, while outside, an uncontrollable world loses hospital beds to people who don’t deserve them, to cops who are more thugs than protectors.

Pewdiepie, one of the most famous YouTubers today, playing flight simulator