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The Most Niche Simulation PC Games We Could Find | PCMag

Most games hang their hats on their stories or feats of button-dancing reflexes, but the humble simulation will always have a place at the table. Sure, you can enjoy the most realistic flight simulator ever created, or you can relax and (perhaps) enjoy some far more unusual offerings.

Complex simulations and PC gaming go together like bread and butter. People of a certain age will no doubt recall the many Sim and Tycoon titles that let you control a complicated system or an organization from a macro level. Zoo Tycoon, for example, tasked you with creating a financially solvent zoological park. RollerCoaster Tycoon was similar; just replace “dangerously weak fences on the tiger enclosure” with “untested high-speed roller coaster.”

But this genre has always had a streak of the bizarre. Will Wright, creator of simulation genre defining titles like SimCity and The Sims, also tackled the microscale with SimAnt, the agrarian with SimFarm; the state of the US healthcare system in 1994 with SimHealth; and the complexities of Chevron oil refineries with SimRefinery.

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Escaping Escapism

Even when created to critique or raise awareness, entertainment is escapism that lets us explore new worlds and experiences. In video games, we can explore the roles of soldiers, fantasy warriors, and goats.

That’s just one kind of escapism, however. Games like Microsoft Flight Simulator are grounded (pun intended) in their realism as much as their spectacle. The thrill comes from accessing a world that is true to life, but out of reach for the average person. How many people can claim they have flown the Concorde on a transatlantic run? Even SimCity taps into a fundamental human desire to create and to see our efforts bear fruit. While not everyone has aspired to pontifhood, the forthcoming Pope Simulator(Opens in a new window) is sure to find some kind of audience.

There’s also a lot to be said about the flow of simulator games. When playing Stardew Valley, for example, it’s easy to fall into a soothing rhythm of caring for your crops: harvest, sleep, repeat. Far from being boring, this kind of repetition creates opportunities to think creatively about efficiency and strategy. The same kind of obsessiveness that drives a person to, say, complete a challenging platformer can easily be turned to managing a soccer team through the financial and social uncertainties of Brexit.

Beyond that, there’s something sweet about an extreme hobbyist who spends months perfecting a model train diorama or guiding trucks safely from Lindz to Berlin. It’s lovely to remember that while bang-bang shoot-shoot titles like Fortnite might grab the spotlight, the humble Football Manager is also enormously popular.

With that in mind, we present a (far from complete) list of our favorite extremely niche simulator games. Some we’ve played, most we just marvel at from afar. All of them are weird and beautiful in their own way.

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Matt Buzzi contributed to this story.

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