Foundering On The Shoals Of Reality
By Chip Barber (9 December 2009)
Wow! Another Christmas/Holiday Season is upon us. Where did the time go? I swear I don't know what I'd do without the changing seasons in Flight Sim! I figure by the time I see the snow on the ground outside the flight deck, it must be time to take in the hoses and do the final lawn cut of the season.
So, in keeping with the Christmas spirit, The Boss, my son and his girlfriend and I took some time to go into New York City to enjoy the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show, with the Rockettes. How wonderful! It has probably been more than forty years since I last saw that show, and it was bigger and better than I recalled.
But the thing is, I managed to score seats in the third row, just to the left of center. The only time I ever get third row seats is when I am late to a movie and end up with a crick in my neck from gazing up at the stupid screen. But this was entirely different.
It's a funny thing, getting the "good seats". Surely, mention that you've got third row center seats to anything (except movies), and the response is usually "Oooohhh, lucky you!" Things are really, really close. It feels as though the performers are singing and dancing just for you! It was an incredible experience, and one which we all will remember for a long, long time. But as with most things, there are two sides to this story.
I swear, I could tell you which of the dancers were sporting an injury. Beneath the tights, one could see the ace bandages. The makeup, which usually enhances the appearance of the wearer, was obvious. And from that close, well, let's just say that it appears true that all that crap on your face does on occasion cause acne and/or skin eruptions. I looked really closely at all the pictures of the dancers, and not a blemish was apparent. Airbrush? Sure, the dancers and performers were beautiful, the men all dashing and terribly attractive as one would anticipate from those whose vocation takes them to the New York stage. But zits?
Being close is wonderful, but I just couldn't help but notice a variety of things that would not have been visible were I in the seats that I commonly occupy. You know, mezzanine and back. Nosebleeds. From there, all look perfect. Tiny, but perfect. And I suspect that from there one could appreciate the precision of the dancers as they are appreciated as a whole. From up close, I was treated to the huffing and puffing of the girls who, I believe, must be smokers. And I also could point out which girls were nursing some type of injury that wasn't severe enough to keep them off the stage, but was uncomfortable enough to cause a crack in the otherwise dazzling stage smiles that were sported by each of them. My jaw hurt in empathy! And you want to talk about teeth whitening?! My eyes watered every time they grinned! I swear I could hear my pupils slamming shut with the brightness of the spot lights reflecting off those babies!
I was terribly disappointed to receive visual confirmation of something that heretofore, I only suspected. You know when performers rise off the stage and zoom hither and yon? Well, from where we were sitting, I could see that they use wires! Can you believe it? Had I been back further, they would have been as they were so obviously meant to be: invisible. And my wonder at the magic of the stage would have remained unblemished. Damn.
So, this really is related to flight simulation. It occurred to me, as I sat doing some flight or other, that perhaps we've all been moving our seats forward as we enjoy our simulators. That just maybe, we're no longer in the mezzanine, but in fact are moving closer to the stage. And I thought, well isn't this sort of pukey? I mean, think about it. Compare FSX or FS2004 to, say FS98. Just for giggles, try to recall those stupid green things that passed for scenery, or the numbers that were presented on the monitor that we all thought were perfectly reasonable representations of the panel of our imaginary, digitized aircraft. Can you imagine how you would have felt, ten or more years ago, if you were suddenly presented with today's hardware and software including GoFlight and stuff? Make you have to change your shorts.
But here's the rub. I am thinking that we are coming to a point of diminishing returns. We have software that, by yesterday's standards, make one swear he is a passenger in a 767 looking out the window over the flexing wing. We have hardware the likes of which may be found in any real world Boeing flight deck. We even have motion thingys that respond to the position of the yoke. Simply amazing! But you know what? I'm starting to see the wires.
Yes, it is true. I'm feeling that the closer the hardware and software gets to the real deal, perhaps the more obvious it is becoming that, in fact, it is a simulation after all.
Why is this? I suppose it is not unlike the age old argument between reading a great book and then seeing that book transposed to the movie screen. One's imagination may never be matched by that which is reproducible in the "real world". At least, not mine. I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And let me tell you, the movie series was amazing! But somehow, the movie I created in my head as I read the pages was better. Can it be we are reaching the same thing within our digital flight world?
I have invested in a couple of pieces of hardware in my quest for FSNirvana. I now sport yokes, joysticks, throttles, rudder pedals, and a couple of panel pieces: one that simulates the MCP of a Boeing 737, a couple that let me manually tune any radio, manipulate the transponder, fiddle with the GPS controls and all kinds of other really cool stuff. I love them all! But damned if, while enhancing my immersion into my digital flight decks, at the same time they serve to remind me that I'm diddling around with some hardware that some rich genius flight sim enthusiast put together and convinced me to buy (bless his pointy little head and bulging wallet...). And somehow, I can see that my MCP has begun sporting a fairly significant case of acne.
I'm hoping what I am experiencing is merely a transitory moment in my development as a Sim Pilot. I mean, I have become entirely comfortable with my PMDG 737 series, and find myself gravitating toward them when I wish to do a flight without giving it too much thought, but wish something more challenging that a default GPS-guided flight as defined by Microsoft. Not that there is anything wrong with that! I also find myself more often gravitating towards the default birds in FSX, as they offer so much more than the old default birds, but still may be flown with the minimum of mental expenditure.
Maybe I'm in that awkward stage between having too much software and hardware to permit the entire suspension of disbelief, but not quite enough to allow me to thoroughly disengage from the real world and step wholly into a world filled entirely with digitally created scenery and missions whose completion take precedence over all other priorities.
I have no idea. But, just to be safe, I intend to hedge my bets. I think I need to look into one of those full motion jobs attached to one of those amazing home-built flight decks that, with perhaps only a wee amount of prescription medication, will permit me to step into our digital world entirely, and in so doing, look beyond the wires, caps and bandages.
Merry Christmas, my fellow Sim Pilots, and a very Happy New Year! Aww, nuts. I just have to:
Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good flight!