Microsoft Flight Simulator Screenshots
Is Microsoft's Flight Simulator a Simulation or a Game?
If we ask the dictionary what a simulator is it will tell us that it is "any device or system that simulates specific conditions or the characteristics of a real process for the purposes of research or operator training". A game is defined as "an amusement or pastime diversion or a contest with rules, where the result is determined by skill, strength, or chance". Using these definitions, we'll try to answer our opening question.
Microsoft's flight simulator program is used by many flight schools to teach the basic principles of flight. It also uses the simulator to familiarize the student with the various instruments and operations of an aircraft. It even allows them to learn how to communicate with air traffic controllers and create flight plans. Even though they are flying an airplane on their computer screen, they are simulating a real process. And it's this real process that makes learning to fly at your computer a simulator.
Some people take their flight simulation very seriously. It's these people who are looking for an "as close to real" experience. These people don't see it as a game mainly because there is no "chance" involved. The results of their experience will definitely depend on their skill, their knowledge and their ability to follow the rules of flight. This also means following the rules of the road, so to speak, from an air traffic controller.
Another reason why these people don't see Fight Simulator as a game is because there's no opponent. Whether they are flying a predefined mission or have created their own mission, they are usually flying solo. Their enjoyment level is most often defined by how well they fly the flight simulator and achieve the goals of their mission.
Many computer games require more than one player. In the early days of Microsoft Simulator, it was difficult to fly with someone else in multiplayer mode because the Internet was so slow. Dial-up connections weren't fast enough to provide a realistic experience. Today, with high-speed Internet, multiplayer mode can be more easily achieved. 1, 2, 3 or even more desktop pilots can get together and do a fly-in. One of the participants can act as the air traffic controller at a specified airport and manage or marshall all the other participants about safely. It's really kind of cool! And, it's as close as it gets to being a game because there are multiple participants. However, these participants aren't playing against each other. Rather, they are working individually to achieve a collective success.
And now, let's take a look from the gaming point of view.
For some, flight simulator is an amusement or pastime diversion. I can't count the number of days I would be working at my desk and have the flight simulator flying from airport to airport. I would create a flight plan, verify the flight plan with ATC, follow the ATC instructions to take off and then put the plane on autopilot. Every once in a while, just like in the real commercial airline business, I would make flight adjustments and radio frequency changes to keep the flight on course. ATC would advise me to start the aircraft descent as we approached our destination airport. By following the headings and altitude requests from ATC, I would land at the airport and taxi to the gate. If time permitted, I would make a new flight plan and do it all over again. So for me, it was a diversion from my day-to-day work and it amused and occupied me. It was great fun!
Gamesmanship is defined as the "art of winning games or defeating opponents by clever or cunning practices without actually cheating". As a gamer, flight simulator doesn't offer opponents to challenge. You are actually challenging yourself more than others. However, from a gaming point of view, you can do things over and over and not pay the price of actually crashing an airplane. When it comes to the laws of aerodynamics there is little forgiveness. If your plane is not flying, then it's like any other object that will eventually succumb to the law of gravity. And, it's much less expensive crashing a computer model than the real thing.
As for clever or cunning practices, flight simulator does allow the user to practice and refine their flying technique. Like any other skill, the more practice time you put in, the better you will become at that skill. The more time you put in on takeoffs and landings the more proficient you will become. That's why pilots in training do circuit after circuit practicing their takeoffs and landings.
I believe that flight simulation software is not a game. There are no real opponents and "chance" is not involved. In fact, it is the "as real as can be" experience that makes flight simulator so enjoyable for me. I remember when a new version was released that added jetway movement. It was so cool because when you landed and pulled up to the gate you could use a keystroke to have the jetway move to the door of the plane. It was such a simple thing and yet it was so cool.