Game Review: Train Simulator 2018

Two Thousand and EIGHTEEN

Written by ritabuuk
Posted on November 11th 2018

As you may already know, Rosy and I really enjoy looking at the ads that come up on Steam whenever we log in (especially when they are for the Football Manager series). One day, we logged in and saw it was the middle of a free weekend for Train Simulator 2018. And we thought, we've noticed the ads for it before, but we're not entirely sure what sort of game Train Simulator actually is -- we mean, we assume there are trains and we assume they are simulated, but how exactly? Are you a railroad baron buying tracts of land and designing routes and schedules? Do you get to make your own trainset diorama but in infinitely zooming digital rather than in 1:48 scale in the basement? We don't know, and, hey, we like trains, and we like simulators, and it's free to try -- so let's find out!

After an hour or so of some hefty downloading and installing, Train Simulator was up and running. We have no idea what we are doing, so let's start with the tutorial.

The dashboard.

We find ourselves at the literal control panel of a meticulously replicated train -- the game even went so far to tell us the exact model number of this particular train that we would be doing the tutorial in, though we don't remember. There are gauges and dials and switches and number read-outs and oh my god. I have no doubt it is exactly like the inside of that precise train they told us this was. It has everything down to even the little flick-switch to turn on the windshield wipers. This is... this is a lot.

Our first tutorial is just driving and braking. I have no idea, but enough switches were involved in just this action that I am convinced this is authentic to driving a real train.

Later we need to get out of the train to pull a lever on the ground that will change which fork in the tracks we will be taking. It's at this point we realize that there is a train driver standing inside the tutorial train, and when we are driving the train we are viewing the controls from inside the train driver, but when we get out of the train to go pull the lever, we are actually a disembodied entity that moves out from inside the 3D model of the train driver, getting a creepy view of the inside of his head, and we leave him standing still inside the train. We, the player, are actually a separate entity from the train driver... unless the train driver is like, doing astral projection in order to pull the lever without needing to go outside. Maybe that's it. In any case, the person driving the tutorial train is a man, and so I take note for my character survey, and then we return his soul back to his body and resume driving the train.

We get to the tutorial on coupling cars together, which requires millimeter precision. Every time I try to back up to hook the cars together, I am way too careful and stop too short. Every time Rosy tries, she goes full speed and derails the entire train. I believe this would be the true situation if you gave either of us the controls to a train with this level of preparation in real life.

In any case, we finally get through the tutorials, and we are starting to fear that this game might be just too real for our tastes. But let's not judge yet, let's try the actual gameplay at least. Let's drive a passenger train so we don't have to do the thing with loading the freight cars or any of that. Okay, we'll be driving a train along this precise route that I have no doubt really exists between the specified towns in Europe, with this specified timetable. Let's do it.

On my computer, it took quite awhile to load with a bullshit loading bar, but finally, it came up. This is a different specific model number of train, and the switches and gauges and everything are all not quite the same as before, but, okay, here are the controls for releasing the brake and going forward, alright.

But, before we start, let's check who the train driver is for the survey. We astral project out of the train and...

The horrifying-looking train driver.

Well, I guess it's not his fault he looks so terrifying without his soul.

This driver is also a man, but not the same man as the man who was driving the tutorial train. Hm, I wonder how many different train drivers there are? But hold that thought, we have a train to drive!

We had just enough time to register how lovely everything looked and how much we would be sure to enjoy driving this train in this lovely scenic route between those two specified towns in Europe... before we went blaring past the station we were supposed to pick up passengers from and got an immediate game over for messing up all the train schedules. Meep!

Yeah, okay, this game is a bit too real for our personal tastes. The load time was way too long for us to get hit with such an immediate game over, and we didn't really have the will to wait through all that loading again. Ah well, at least we tried out the game, and I feel like I really did learn something about how driving a train actually works. That's cool. I just don't think I personally go for the gameplay in this case. Too bad.

I'm still curious though, how did we end up with a male train driver both times? Is there an option we were missing? Surely there are also female train drivers in the game?

Well, I looked it up.

Every single train driver in Train Simulator 2018 is male.

Let me get this straight. The controls of multiple types of real life trains are replicated down to their windshield wiper switches. The interior of the train is shown to be upholstered in public transportation fabric (you know the one). The physics of coupling and decoupling freight cars and driving and braking and derailing the train is all fully simulated. The routes and timetables and stations and scenery of real life railways are all there in the game, and apparently, they're all accurate. The level of detail is astounding.

But all the train drivers are male?

Why did Dovetail Games consider the accuracy of the public transportation fabric more important than the fact that female train drivers exist?

I was able to find statistics on the gender representation of British train drivers. The UK's first female train driver was in 1978, so this isn't news. As of 2016, 9% of train drivers in Britain are women. While I agree that is an unfortunately small percentage, it's not zero. I am not sure how many different male train drivers appear in Train Simulator 2018, but at least one of the possible train drivers should be a woman.

The biggest reason that female representation among train drivers is so low, according to the director of the London Underground, is simply because of stereotypes. British people are still apparently surprised to see a woman driving a train, women are less likely to think of applying for jobs in the rail industry, and when they do, they tend to get pigeon-holed in service-type jobs rather than actually being the one driving the train, even though there is absolutely no reason a women cannot do the job -- and many women do indeed do the job.

By not having even one single female train driver present in Train Simulator 2018, whether intentionally or not, Dovetail Games is feeding into these very stereotypes and reinforcing the expectation that train drivers are men -- making it that much harder, in the year 2018, for there to be equality in this area. And that's really poopy.