Niche interests of flight sim fans: The conflict over theaters of operations

For years, flight sim communities have had passionate debates about their areas of interest. This should come as no surprise to anyone who spent a little time in a flight sim related forum. But there’s something I don’t fully understand and I want to lay it out here: Why is it that some fans are so fixated on just one theater of operations within the World War II time-frame?

Dividing up fans

Something that has become clear to me over the years is that people like different things. It sounds like an obvious statement but really, I think a lot of people seem to understand the world through their own eyes only, and never really stop to consider the other possible viewpoints. It’s a hard thing to do. I’m going to do my best here but I may also be here with a bit of a sneaky agenda – maybe to change your mind a bit.

Something that is fairly clear for me is that interests vary on the types of combat flight sims people want to play and that there are some clear distinctions between three different categories: World War I, World War II and 1950s to modern day.

Someone who likes the fabric covered bi-planes of the 1914-18 period may have a specific appreciation for that vintage of aircraft and only want to fly that. I can get behind that.

The Camel and the Fokker Dr. I fight it out in the skies of Rise of Flight.

The same goes for modern jets. From the 1950s on to the modern day there are some vast changes but the dawn of the jet age and the types of weapons and tactics are reasonably similar across this area of interest. The gun battles of World War I and II give way to guided missile duels at medium and long ranges and this changes things considerably. So does the systems where the jet age aircraft also tend to come with sophisticated sensors, electronic countermeasures and a mass jump in complexity. So reasons for liking or not liking these aircraft make sense to me.

What I question and what appears to be the case is that World War II flight sim fans seem to have a much more nuanced set of interests compared to the other two areas. Let me explain.

There are those out there who will only fly a Pacific, Mediterranean, West Europe or East Europe scenario. There are impassioned debates about which theater a flight should represent to the point where people say they only fly this one scenario and all others are terrible and should be avoided.

I understand that people have preferences but the extremity of the impassioned debate is interesting to me. It’s not something I fully understand.

F-15 in full burner takeoff
An F-15 in full afterburner takeoff in Eagle Dynamics’ DCS.

I’ve said it before…

You may have read a variation of this from me before but I think it is worth paraphrasing and repeating.

I’m a huge fan of flight sims and in particular I love the ones that are set during World War II. This era of aircraft is extremely fascinating to me and in particular I love the transition between the earliest types of aviation technology right into the jet age. There is great variety while also being an era where the systems complexity haven’t yet reached a stage where you need to understand how to program your navigation computer or use the correct ECM setting to notch that missile heading to you.

World War II flight sims and indeed the real history of that conflict are an inflection point in the technology that civilization has used to fly. In a six year span nations used everything from fabric covered bi-planes to aluminum jet fighters and exotic rocket interceptors. Top speeds increased over these 6 years from 250 mph to nearly 600 mph.

A Yak-1B and FW190A-3 duel it out in the skies in 1CGS’ IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad.

Through all of this I find each and every setting of the conflict interesting. From flying over dense jungles, to barren steppes, to hedgerows, and open waters.

I’m immensely interested in World War II era aircraft of all types and from all nations. From Italy to Japan and Germany to Great Britain, Russia and the United States. I’ll fly any virtual airplane that the developers of IL-2, DCS and War Thunder can throw at me and I find it all supremely interesting knowing that in each case the developers have lovingly crafted and recreated these aircraft for my enjoyment and entertainment.

With all of that fantastic content already available and with so much more planned from all three of these companies over the coming years – why limit yourself to just one corner of this time period and this era of great technological leaps. My goal is to experience as much of it as you can and learn the different ways of flying and flying in combat that these aircraft and nations necessitated.

When games like IL-2 offer lovingly recreated aircraft with stunning levels of detail, it doesn’t matter to me if the next battle is over the Pacific or the endless flat terrain of the Khalkin Gol battle or another frozen steppe in central Russia. I’m interested because of the interest of World War II aviation. I just don’t understand limiting yourself otherwise.

But that’s just me. Everyone sees things from differing viewpoints.

What do you think?


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Pixel Dust says:

    Really, the difference seems to be in the nature of the combat itself.

    From WWI to the end of the Korean war, aerial combat was a simple variation of pointing your aircraft at the enemy’s, in the hope of shooting enough ammunition (of whatever kind) to damage the aircraft or hurt the crew. Only the speed of the engagements and types of guns varied.

    Post-Korea, we evolved rapidly into robotic warfare, with guided missiles of all kinds now doing the killing, often from beyond the range of the launching pilot even seeing the enemy plane. That’s a whole different kind of mindset from the cannons and machine guns of all of the preceding generations of combat. It’s an admixture of viewing screens and computer displays and radio of all kinds actually doing the work of fighting.

    Sure, most of the modern fighters have guns, but they are rarely used, and only then when the pilot employing them is generally in desperate straits.

    That’s the bright line I see distinguishing types of combat.

    Theaters of warfare, however, generally determine which aircraft and weapons are employed, but with a important twist: time is a significant factor.

    For instance, you could have aerial gunnery combat over northern Africa and robotic warfare over the same region, era-dependent. People who want to fly over Egypt will have to choose which time-frame that combat takes place in.

    So I think you have to look at both geography and the time frame in which combat is modeled. That is why it is so jarring for me to see Su-25Ts rumbling around Normandy; that is just an aberration that is so unpleasant as to be repugnant. Sure, sure, I know that missile warfare can take place there, but it is significantly, and historically, the arena of WWII combat.

    The BoX games give you historical context in which to fly; DCSW is really just a free-form sandbox.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Well said Pixel! Certainly the differences in the ages of warfare make a big difference and that is going to determine a lot of the interest level of different people.

      What I still find perplexing is the North Africa WWII versus Pacific WWII versus Stalingrad WWII. The style is very much the same just the aircraft are a little different. I’m personally drawn in by all of these. Not everyone is though… I find it odd, though understandable! 🙂


  2. Joshua Cook says:

    I think for many people it comes down to a particular battle they want to take part in, and I think this is somewhat determined by where someone grew up and what did the culture they grew up emphasize as important in WW2. I’m from the United States and so the theatres that resonate most with me are Western Europe from 43 to Germany’s surrender in 45, and the whole of the Pacific Theatr, and to a slightly lesser extent the Battle of Brittain. It’s a familiar narrative. I don’t need to read much about it to know what’s going on, because it is the part of WW2 that I’ve grown up with. I agree that limiting yourself to just one particular battle or theatre is well… limiting, but, I think that is how may people come by their prejudices. Of course, it is also the fact that I didn’t know much about the air war in the Eastern Front that originally drew me to IL-2, so perhaps it works both ways, depending on whether you want something you can jump right into and know what it is all about, or whether you are comfortable with doing a bit of research.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Joshua Cook says:

    Another reason for the narrowness of focus may be that some people only want to fly certain aircraft. I know of a number of flight sim pilots who only want to fly a P-51s. Others who only want to fly P-38s, and still others who are only interested in B-17s. This will limit somewhat the theatres that you are likely to operate in.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s