Where did you fly first in Flight Simulator? I’m intrigued by the question because I think it reveals so much. Did you fly home? What does home mean to you? Did you relive a trip? Why? And what happened when you did?
I didn’t go where I thought I would. Eventually I did – I flew over Brighton Pier, over my hometown, a flight I’ve been lucky enough to do in real-life, albeit in the back of a tiny plane while my brother flew it. It was a present for his birthday (we’re twins so I got to go along). He didn’t get the whole plane by the way! Just a lesson.
And I tell you what: those small planes get buffeted around by the wind a lot, don’t they? Oh, and don’t do what we did and get an instructor who thinks it’s hilarious to let go of the controls so those young lads on board get a thrill. It’s not hilarious. I practically shat my pants.
I didn’t fly to Brighton first, though. I went to Bulgaria, which surprised me. I went there because that’s where my partner grew up, and I know she misses it, so I thought I’d surprise her by flying over her home (a lovely town called Teteven). And it worked: she was glued to the screen. She began narrating the journey like a tour guide. “Look, there’s suchandsuch!” And “Oh I love these mountains.” And “There’s that bridge we went over in the coach!” And we did go over that bridge on a coach. But whereas I saw two journeys, she saw a whole lifetime.
Something struck me about Flight Simulator at that moment: it struck me how worldly the game is, which I know sounds a bit silly and obvious but let me explain. Many games recreate parts of the world, but they tend to be focused on a rotating list of the same famous places: New York, Paris, Tokyo, London, etc. Time and time again, entire countries and parts of the world are left out. But in Flight Simulator you can fly almost anywhere in the world and it will be more or less as you remember it.
I know some locations are more detailed than others, but the important bits are there. The roads are where they should be, the landmarks are in place, the buildings are roughly the same, the environments look right. You can look at the place and tell it’s home, or whatever it represents to you. And for people whose homes are often overlooked by games, which is probably most people, that’s a really powerful thing. I think it’s part of the reason I chose Bulgaria first, just to see if it was all there, and it was. It makes Flight Simulator truly a global kind of game.
It also gives the game an almost peerless power to appeal to spectators – something magnified by the recent Xbox Series S/X (and Game Pass) release. You put that game on the big TV in your house and I bet you can suck in almost any bystander. They’re watching something they fundamentally relate to: their world. And what a big world it is. I don’t always realise it living in the boundaries of my world day-to-day, but there’s a big world out there. And with no super-speeds or shortcuts in Flight Simulator, you really feel that size. It’s awe-inspiring.
I never would have thought an idea like using real-world map data in a game would strike me quite in the way it has, but there is something quietly, mesmerically, profound about Flight Simulator, and it makes me urge you to try it out. Question is: where will you fly first?