Zen and the Art of Euro Truck Simulator 2

Simulation games were big in the 80ies and early 90ies. They went away together with adventure games and real-time strategy games. But now they seem to be on the rise again. The first mainstream gaming reaction to games like Farming Simulator was ironic in nature. 360 NO PLOW has turned into it’s own meme. But more recently, titles like Euro Truck Simulator 2 seem to genuinely strike a chord outside of their niche.

“It may sound like a joke that so many people are piling glowing praise on a trucking sim, but Euro Truck Simulator 2 is the real deal.”
- Jim Sterling

It certainly stroke a chord with me and with some of my podcast colleagues. For a brief period of time this summer we found ourselves completely immersed in virtual trucking. Here are some results:

The fascination of Euro Truck Simulator 2 is difficult to explain. Nevertheless, here are some of the pieces of the puzzle:

  • Failure is fun – In most games, being successful is usually the part where the game is enjoyable while failing is usually undesirable. When looking back at the parts of Euro Truck Simulator 2 that I wanted to preserve for posterity, it was usually some sort of mishap, accident or bug. Failing in a game can be funny, but failing in a simulator is often hilarious. The reason for this may be the contrast between a simulator’s serious, dry setting and a potentially spectacular accident portrayed in it. Mayhem in Farming Simulator is simply astounding while Mayhem in Saint’s Row is just par for the course. However, this seems not to be the whole story. Some simulation games like Kerbal Space Program use a cartoony setting. Yet, accidents in that game can still have an exceptionally comedic effect. Perhaps this humor is also somehow fueled by the open-ended, exploratory nature of those games.

    In any case, as a player the result is a win-win situation. No matter if you succeed or not, the game is always enjoyable.

  • It is relaxing – One thing that is difficult to convey to people, who haven’t tried Trucking Simulator is how relaxing it can be. Driving a racing car around a track as fast as possible is exhilarating. I have been doing my 4-hour GT5 marathons. Afterwards I had to peel my cramped hands from the driving wheel. Trucking Simulator, on the other hand, is something I could be (and have been) playing for hours on end. Steering a truck down the autobahn usually requires a much lower level of attention and interaction. There is a timer like in a racing game, but it is presented in a far less pressing fashion. There are stretches of time where you can look around to enjoy the scenery.

    Of course, from a conservative gamer’s perspective, this would be seen as a sign of design failure. But let us consider recent developments in gaming culture. In a world dominated by commented YouTube videos and live game streams with audience interaction, a game that leaves players with some attention surplus actually makes a lot of sense. When recording some of the above videos, I had just enough time to occasionally check out the stream chat or to verbally comment on what is going on without immediately crashing into a wall. So as Let’s Play videos become more relevant for games marketing, we might actually see more games as relaxing as Euro Truck Simulator 2.

  • It is life-relevant – A term I tend to harp on is “Life-relevance”. With that, I mean a situation when elements from the game refer to something outside of the game and/or when ideas and skills from the game can be applied outside of it. Most games have little actual Life-relevance. Aligning yourself with established genres, settings and brands can be seen as a substitute for Life-relevance. For an audience constantly immersed in those escapist settings, it can be enough. Simulators are different. Life-relevance is at the core of what they offer. They depict something that actually exists. This has tremendous consequences for the experience. Each in-game element taps into a wealth of real-life knowledge. It is like making a game with the largest lore repository we will ever know – real life. Trucking through virtual Europe I recognized and remembered the different countries and cities I visited along the way. I was also able to discover and experience parts of Europe I haven’t been to yet. I now instinctively identify the various truck brands I see on the streets. And the next time a truck blocks a lane on the autobahn, I will be probably more relaxed about it. After all, I have been practically in that guy’s position myself.

  • There is a traditional game underneath – Finally, the game offers a lot of the trappings of traditional games. There is an RPG leveling system to upgrade your driver and access more challenging hauls. You additionally earn money which you can invest in upgrades for your truck so you can truck harder. There are cities, roads and various special buildings waiting to be discovered. It is here where Euro Truck Simulator 2 made me consider: driving a truck may seem like a queer choice for a game, but why is that so? Why do we have such an easy time to see the value of playing a soldier, yet such a hard time to see the value of playing a trucker? If driving go-karts or stacking blocks can be worthwhile, why not also hauling some trailers across Europe? To some extent, the themes we consider established and unusual are just arbitrary choices defined by precedence. Call of Duty may not seem so weird as a topic for a videogame, but that is only because of all the military shooters that came before it. In a parallel dimension, we have been doing nothing but trucking all this time.

There is a lot to learn from Euro Truck Simulator 2. And I have a lot more I have to say about it. There are other reasons why simulation games may become more important in the future. But I will be discussing this a different time. Meanwhile, don’t let the unusual setting distract you from what is an exceptional gaming experience.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

Comments are closed.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


follow Krystian on Twitter
follow Yu-Chung on Twitter
follow Daniel on Twitter