Make fun of me all you want to, but I really enjoy simulator games. I’m not even going to throw ‘good’ in there, because let’s face it, some of them are truly terrible… but I enjoy them nonetheless.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept, simulator games are any video game that put you in a position to experience any profession or hobby, such as flying, fishing, farming or even working on a car. Driving a street sweeper, too. Yes, really.

People often ask why I just don’t do the activity being simulated in real life – like fishing – but the truth of the matter is that it’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to just fire up the ol’ PC and get casting. There is no packing, no mosquitoes, and – most importantly – no smelling like fish, plus I can stop whenever I want to.

And FYI, the latest fishing game I’ve enjoyed is Euro Fishing by Dovetail Games, in which I hooked and reeled in a 3kg carp… all without getting wet, smelly or pulling a muscle. That’s a win in my book.

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I’m actually an old hand at simulator games – the bug really bit me with Flight Simulator 98, almost two decades ago. Ever since then, I have played every version thereof, and consider myself to be quite knowledgeable on aircraft as a result.

Thanks to playing Flight Simulator X (the latest) so much, I’m fairly confident in my piloting ability. To the point that if the need arises some day (God forbid!), I think I will be able to land a plane if somebody with actual flying experience talks me through it.

After all, I know what all the buttons do and where they are located thanks to my time with FSX, and I’d have more of a chance at success than other people who’ve not played flight simulator games. And yes, the games are realistic enough that they correlate 1:1 with real-world versions of the aircraft they portray.

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The number of simulator games available today might surprise you, but I can confidently say that I have played most of them. Even Street Cleaning Simulator, which comes with all the joy of a Pikitup round minus the wildcat strike action.

If you had to ask me why I play them, I don’t think I’d be able to give you a concrete answer. If I were to guess, I’d say it has something to do with the fact that it all involves activities that I either enjoy in real life, things that I wish I could do in real life, or activities that always sounded cool but which I haven’t had the chance to check out in the real world.

If memory serves, the very first simulator game that drew me in and didn’t let go could have been the first SimCity game, which came out in 1989 and was the brain child of veteran PC developer Will Wright. He went on to design the ultimate life simulator game, The Sims.

“But Charlie,” you may ask, “what is the best one to play?” Well, that is a difficult question to answer. That depends entirely what you like. For me, my go-to is Flight Simulator X and the latest Flight School from Dovetail Games.

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In terms of driving, my absolute favourite is Euro Truck Simulator 2. Taking place in western Europe across five or six countries, you have to cart freight around in a huge 18-wheeler truck. You have to drive according to the road rules, refuel intermittently, and even rest at a truck stop.

There are no shortcuts here – if you need to drive from Berlin to London, you have to trek all the way up to the English Channel and make your crossing, exactly as a real-life drive would be expected to. This is going to sound strange but I love the realism, right down to the traffic I have to deal with. The seemingly-dull activity is made all the more appealing by the game’s almost life-like graphics and its all-round brilliant presentation.

For piloting sea vessels, I play Ship Simulator Extremes, and for driving trains there is… drum roll… Train Simulator 2016.

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Real-world driving might seem like an odd thing to simulate, given that we sit in traffic for many hours each month, but doing it in a game is… different.

Don’t get me wrong – I have never had any ambitions to be a truck driver, but it falls into the same category as Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. Well, maybe not entirely, but you get the point.

Simulator games have the very real power to get you interested in a hobby, activity or career path that you would have never otherwise tried.

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I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that you should never knock people for playing simulator games. Yes, most of them aren’t exactly developed to award-winning standards, but they can be hugely entertaining.

Did you know that there is a giant machine that can cut a huge tree down, strip it bare, and cut the trunk into equal length cuts? No? Well, you do now – and I learnt that from Farming Simulator.

Ever wondered what goes into a car’s engine or how to change the oil? Well, Car Mechanic Simulator gave me a very basic overview of how it works. The harrowing world of war and bullet trajectories? That is covered in ARMA – a war simulator in a literal sense, complete with accurate weather, geography and bullet physics.

Thinking back to all those game and what they have let me experience, I can confidently say I’m a little bit smarter than I’d be today without them.

Now, if only I can find the cheat code/unlimited money hack for Real-Life Simulator, that would be great.

Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.