For most Australians, 2020 and 2021 was defined by not being able to go places.
I’m from Melbourne. At the start of the pandemic I was sad about not being able to go on the holiday to Portugal we’d been planning for years. Then it was not being able to see my friends in Sydney. Then it was not being able to see my parents, only an hour away.
Then literally any restaurant. Everything was off-limits.
During the city’s second lockdown, Microsoft Flight Simulator came to the rescue. When my laptop wasn’t melting try to melt, Flight Simulator let me drift across the world and imagine I was anywhere else. My wife and I made themed snacks and drinks, flying around and pretending we were in first class or landing somewhere, sitting in the French countryside.
But Flight Simulator is a very difficult game to master, and it used a lot of PC resources. After a while it became impractical to play, and I moved on.
This past weekend, stuck in Melbourne’s fifth lockdown, I played the Xbox Series X/S version of Flight Simulator. Launching to the public from tomorrow, that feeling of freedom returned.
I flew over the island in Portugal, where we were going to visit last October. I roughly flew over my cousins have been living in Spain. And just after today’s announcement that Melbourne’s lockdown would be gradually easing — but not enough to visit anyone — I flew over my parents’ home and cried.
Flight Simulator isn’t meant to be emotional; there’s debate over whether it’s even a game. I remember playing the older versions at my uncle’s house growing up, and later in the computer labs at high school.
And yet, when it’s the only way you can go anywhere, seeing the AI rendering of your childhood home, or that theme park you went to five years ago can mean so much more than it would have during the Before Times.
People use Flight Simulator for all kinds of reasons: pilots keeping their eye in, aviation nerds experiencing the joy of trying different kinds of planes, and for me it’s all about that zen of feeling like you’re in the clouds. I miss flying and travel so much, perhaps thanks to the rose coloured glasses of not having experienced 16 hours of economy for 18 months.
But it was that quiet time of being in-between and not having anything expected of you beyond surviving and staying calm for a set amount of time that made it magic. Flight Simulator can’t quite emulate that in the way it can emulate being at the controls in the cockpit, but boy howdy does it get close enough for at least a little while.
The other great thing is being able to fly anywhere and tell stories about what we’d be doing in those locations, and see what strange things we can discover. It sounds lame, but Flight Simulator can be such a good way to make up stories, adventures and daydreams with the appropriate visual accompaniments.
I’m not naïve enough to think that this was our last lockdown, we have probably another year of cancelled plans and missed opportunities, and it’s comforting to know that there’s always a way to explore the world without combat, borders or danger.
The beauty of it now being on Xbox is that more people can have these unexpected moments of overwhelming emotion for themselves. Although it is a shame that the game can’t run on the more ubiquitous Xbox One, it’s hard to imagine how much blood magic was needed just to make the game runs this beautifully on the Xbox Series S and X.