Game Theory: Wandering the Fringes

Game Theory: Wandering the Fringes

The past few months have been pretty thin for new PC gaming releases, leaving me wandering the web in search of new and better ways to waste my time. The Troy mod for Rome: Total War did the trick for a bit, but it ultimately sent me looking deeper into the wonderfully weird world of fringe gaming.

There are entire subcultures of people on the net using computers to simulate strange and possibly illegal things. Pure flight sims have always baffled me. I can't understand going through the trouble of taking off and landing an aircraft without killing someone or blowing something up in between. Various train sims sustain a loyal online community, which I guess is a logical extension of the rail-fan hobby. I still spend most of my train time channeling Gomez Addams.

But trains, planes, and automobiles are mainstream compared to Ship Simulator 2006 and 18 Wheels of Steel, which cater to folks with a secret need to sit at home and pretend they're either a water-taxi captain or a long-haul trucker. These are jobs I wouldn't do for all the cheddar in Vermont, but somehow, reduced to a screen's size and given simple but effective 3D graphics, they leave the realm of the banal and become quixotic little adventures.

Both feature gameplay that largely revolves around picking stuff up, bringing it someplace, and then dropping it off. They're not likely to sustain the interest of people without a passion for the subject matter, but they don't have to. They're made by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts, and they can still provide an hour's diversion for the mildly curious.

Strangely, these games gave me hope at a time when I was down on PC gaming. These games would never exist on consoles. Fringe gaming, whether weird text adventures or historical battles or bike messenger sims, are solely the domain of the PC. They bubble up from below, driven by the enthusiasm of fans and programmers and show us that PC gaming is a vital well that's far from dry.

Tom McDonald has been covering games for countless magazines and newspapers for 11 years. He lives in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.




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