A question for the ages – where is the lagomorphic philosophy simulator we deserve?
As someone who’s played video games since the 90s it sometimes seems like things have permanently changed. The current rate of creative ideas in development in the games industry, feels so much wider than ever before. With an ever greater form of accessibility (as well as more broadness of what’s considered ‘playable’) there is now an ever louder chorus of different games being designed.
As a player I’ve never felt so spoilt for choice and as a creative I’ve never felt so intimated by the competition. Starring into the palantir of #screenshotsaturday can leave many designers with some anxiety to say the least. At times it feels almost like the industry’s creative chorus will reach a kind of perfect singularity in which all notes that can exist are being sung at once, and that there will soon be a singular constant of concepts that will saturate any potential for new ideas or meaningfully novel premises…
… Despite all of this, so much of human activity is tied into the mundane daily activities and tasks that we all endure, or in jobs, hobbies or other forms of human labour. So much of these activities have never been the basis of a game, or even part of a game. Likewise many popular myths, fairy tales, urban legends, or other popular media have yet to be adapted in ludic form.
In aid of this I’ve created a highly, non-exhaustive, dynamic list of rhetorical shower-thoughts, of video games that are yet to be made. Consider this one big lacuna of game design, of overlooked ideas and unexplored possibilities that would seem like obvious commissions for other creative media.
Some of these gaps may suggest obvious theories as to why they have not been made into games, and indeed the absence of these games do not in themselves necessarily imply a game should be made with this ellipsis as its core concept or mechanic, but simply invites the reader to consider these unexplored possibilities.
Caveat I: I am only including games that feature these aspects in some form of gameplay, not merely a narrative or conceptual conceit that is not in some way ‘played’ with some depth and variety of mechanics and elements.
Caveat II: I highly suspect I myself have made some obvious omissions. Please submit any objections, counter claims or additions to the list in the comments below. Feedback is highly welcome.
Isn’t it weird how there are no games…
… about bird watching or being an ornithologist?
… about running a museum and collecting artefacts and organising them into ways that are appealing or education to the public?
… about being an architect and designing buildings according to a brief? (There are countless wacky physics simulators, or city designers, but these are a distinct concept to actual architect work.)
… about being a beatnik? About using poetry, literature, rhetoric, activism, music or art to inspire a generation into action. Perhaps these abilities grant magical realist powers, or perhaps it’s a high fidelity simulation.
… about building and running an academic University, as well as developing departments, faculties and students? (Whilst Fire Emblem: Three Houses is set in an academy it notably teaches the art of war rather than theoretical pursuits.)
… about running a library, compiling and displaying your collection for the general public?
… about being an exotic botanist – acquiring, growing, pruning and caring for plants under controlled temperatures?
… about working as part of a film/television crew ensuring the required takes are successfully shot?
… about meditation, and successfully reaching moments of deep tranquillity or altered consciousness?
… about creating stain glass windows depicting stories worth remembering for the ages? (There notably is a board game about this , and a video game that uses it as an aesthetic , but no video game about its creation)
… about playing a Shakespearean play? A LARP of something like Hamlet where the story can take different directions and there are many protagonists.
… that ever have you tie your shoe-laces (as in with your fingers and laces in aide of fastening your shoes onto your feet)?
… about being a dance instructor/choreographer/yoga instructor, inspiring other characters through your body’s movement to rhythm, expression or posture?
… about being a real-world astronaut, about arduous training and preparation, accepting risks of injury and being isolated from family members?
… about knitting, about the sensations of clicking, clacking and creating a pattern from thread? (Though a notable near-miss was almost fired)
… about being a barber or hairdresser? About trying to deliver a look someone wants, fighting the complexity of hair, transforming your customer’s appearance.
… about being a singer, but not just by simulating the act via Karaoke simulation, but by finding emotional inspiration, reaching for high notes, training and protecting your vocal chords.
… about being the pied piper of Hamelin, of charming rats and children?
… about being a fashion designer/stylist for the catwalk or for fashion shoots? About becoming your own personal Versace, or Vogue.
… about being an newscaster, covering stories with the right decorum and responding appropriately to changing events?
… about creating a life, as in Shelley’s original novel Frankenstein, and the moral complexities that follow from that? Or about creating cybernetic life and experimenting with Artificial Intelligence systems (as seen in films like Ex Machina, Blade Runner, or in various episodes of Black Mirror   )
… about being a war correspondent or photographer, following the slow drudgery and then sudden violence of conflict?
… about being an optician, a dentist, or other medical specialist?
… about being a chiropractor, masseuse or someone who physically manipulates the human body to improve their patient’s/customer’s well-being?
… about the specific founding of a video-game company? i.e. Not a player customised game studio as in Game Dev Story, Game Dev Tycoon or similar, but a specific retelling of the early days of famous company such as Squaresoft/Lucas Arts/Nintendo or an equivalent in the tabletop world e.g. Dungeons & Dragons/Fighting Fantasy etc.
… about being a real ship sailor, about the feeling of being totally against the open sea, with strict coordination and teamwork being essential to surviving? (Wind Waker captures this feeling brilliantly in a fantasy setting, but you are a one-man ship and this is quite distinct to most sailing with a crew.)
…. about being a school teacher, responsible for the progression and development of young children?
… about being a make-up artist or costume designer? About creating the right kind of beauty, or pageantry required for the job.
… about being an old timey toy maker, carving characters from wood, or designing simple games/activities for children? Or about being a noveau toy mogul (as seen in documentaries like this).
… about being a great philosopher, or political economist? Mapping big ideas through theory, then predicting and subsequently changing history in many ways e.g. Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Robespierre, Kant Ricardo, Marx, Freud, Sartre, Foucault, etc.
… about running an indie cinema which chooses which films to screen and which audiences to target?
… about running an artistic correspondence society, like the Dadaist/Surrealist/Lettrist/Situationists etc?
… about being an expert of cryptozoology? Being the smart obsessive geek who collects lore and then advises the heroes on the tactical genius moves of how to defeat the monster of the week.
… about having a sexual addiction or other addictive problem? About the difficulty to control desires and maintain a normal life whilst having destructive tendencies?
… about being a travel writer, or other experiential journalist? Capturing your feelings and impressions based on what experiences you unlock in the field.
… about being a neuro-scientist, studying the human mind, making (fictionalised) discoveries and running experiments?
… about being a zoologist, ensuring animals in captivity are well cared for and protected?
… about the experience of losing a limb, sense or other form of disability?
… about being an air stewardess, about maintaining a calm and professional atmosphere amidst turbulence and security concerns?
… about being a mystical sidekick or guiding figure, an Obi-Wan, the Blue Fairy, or Navi?
…. about being a therapist, responsible for helping people recover from trauma or improve their lives and mental health?
… about being a political cartoonist, about capturing something biting, satirical and funny?
… about being a music producer, and giving creative direction to a musician?
… about being a taxidermist, and making artistic expression out of carcasses?
… about working for local government as a low level employee? (Animal Crossing: New Leaf lets the player become the mayor of the town but this mainly is framed via narrative, as mechanically this merely allows the player to chose which building to unlock next. Many city simulators offer a similar narrative conceit. None of these examples meaningfully show the limited, contested and sometimes petty nature of low-level government)
… that capture the filthy, grimy, grainy feeling of a Ralph Bakshi cartoon?
… about reading fortunes through palm/Tarot/aura reading? Or about being an old-fashioned mystical seer or oracle? About combining ‘real’, fake or manipulated readings to effect the the future.
… about being a master survivalist? Meaning, in the same way that many action games turn the player into a God of death and destruction, this game turns the player to someone who’s knowledge of outdoor wilderness survival would make Bear Grylls weep.
… about being a modern fantasy novelist? About creating a secondary world without having to actually write thousands of words, but perhaps instead by making choices, drawing maps and creating a fake timeline of events for algorithms simulating audience/fan reactions.
ADDENDUM – Ludic Innovations
On a less negative note it seems worth praising the games that in a nearby parallel dimension would easily otherwise be on the above list, were it not for accidents, good fortune, or their creator’s commitment to going beyond the obvious. What follows is a list of novel concepts that perhaps deserves greater recognition for their conceptual innovation.
Obvious caveat: by including these games in this list, this is not an white-wash of the that specific game’s approaches or content, merely an acknowledgement of their commitment to unique premises.
It’s kind of cool how …
… there’s a game about being a mortician.
… there’s games about being a prophet.
… there’s games about being a metaphor for revolution.
… there’s games about being a janitor/cleaner.   (But these are highly removed from the real-life experience, though Viscera Cleanup Detail admirably applies high levels of mechanical fidelity to a otherwise darkly comical scenario).
… there’s a game about running a removal business.
… there’s games about being a priest. 
… there’s a game about running an ant colony.