Pilots in a plane

Can Simulations Fully Prepare You for the Real Thing?

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Computing power and software is at a level where we can now make sophisticated and realistic simulations of almost any real-life activity. If you’re a gamer, you may be convinced that you know how to fly a plane or race with Lewis Hamilton in a Formula 1 car. But is it the case that the ability to perform well in a simulation equates to being able to do the same in real life?

Can you fly?

If you have played any flight simulations released over the last decade, you’ll know how incredibly realistic they’ve become. You can choose to fly any commercial or even military plane from takeoff to landing and everything a flight entails in between. Does this mean that you could then go into a plane and fly it without supervision? Of course, the answer is no. You would still need to undergo some training at an aviation school with an instructor.

There would a different type of pressure to deal with when flying a plane for real. Making a mistake during a sim is punishable by a restart. Making the same mistake in a real plane could cost your life as well as any passengers.

You would also have to become accustomed to how a plane felt during flight. Sims used to train pilots can indeed recreate the physical movement, buffering, and sound of flying a plane, but again, this is in the context of the pilot knowing it is entirely safe. It would be easy enough to forget checklists you’ve done many times in a sim, once in the seat of a real plane.

Can you compete in F1?

F1 racing team

Another comparison can be seen in driving a good simulation and competing as a Formula 1 driver. Can someone who is a great gamer become a great Formula 1 driver? Again, the answer is no. Lewis Hamilton commented that you neither feel the speed or physicality of driving a real car.

Games marketed to F1 fans have another disadvantage. These sims have a competitive element; it’s a race, after all. As such, F1 game designers can tweak the game to make it easier or more exciting for people who can’t drive. It can be argued that Formula 1 itself has been making it easier for drivers with a raft of driver assistance technology. If this helps drivers at the elite level, they can drive pretty quickly and safely around a circuit.

There have been attempts to make the crossover from simulation skills to real-world applications. McLaren, a prestigious name in Formula 1, hired the best Formula 1 gamer but only as a simulation driver, and the driver has had a long history of actual Go-kart racing. No champion or even contender has emerged from e-sports.


Simulations are now an excellent way to prepare yourself for the real thing, whether it’s to fly a plane, drive a car, or even perform surgery. They are at the level of sophistication where there is some value putting in the hours into a sim. However, it seems that practicing with the real thing with an instructor is something that will always be required to become competent in any real-world activity.

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