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There are fiction books like Harry Potter, and non-fiction books (like a Biology textbook for example), but I think all of the games I've ever played were fiction.

So are there any non-fiction games?

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    What exactly do you mean by "non-fiction"? Right now the answers are addressing all possible types of games this may apply to, but this arguably makes the question a bit too broad. – NotThatGuy Feb 22 at 11:15
  • @NotThatGuy I was thinking like the difference between a biology textbook and a harry potter book, but it could be about any topic such a history – Gimme the 411 Feb 22 at 15:59

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On top of the genres others mentioned - simulators and historical strategies - I think another genre is worth mentioning; gamification of real-life problems.

Probably the most prominent example is Fold.it. It's a protein-folding puzzle game, where the process of folding proteins (a task machine AI is pretty bad at, but humans can be quite adept with enough training) was "packaged" into a puzzle game format, and players are tasked with folding accurate models of real-life proteins, producing actual, valuable results to be used in advancing genetics and medicine in the process of progressing through the game.

Such gamification of real problems can lead to significant results. Search of archeological sites in satellite imagery, search of new asteroids in telescope photos of the night sky, hunting security vulnerabilities in popular software products haven't been turned into actual video games yet, but have enough of "gamification" environment to create a competition - and generate significant progress.

Similarly, real environments can be "gamificated" - GeoGuessr is a game that takes place over Google StreetView. You're dropped into a random place on Earth and your task is to find the location on the world map.

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    "a task machine AI is pretty bad at" is rapidly changing. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AlphaFold (which, to be fair, isn't made to simulate / predict the process of folding, only the end result, but still). – Arthur Feb 22 at 15:47
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One category that comes to mind are simulation games, for example Microsoft Flight Simulator. Although I have not played the game, I'd imagine the joystick controls, terrain and available aircraft would be quite realistic.

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  • I’d argue that simulation games are fiction – more realistic than some other fiction, but still fiction. – user3840170 Feb 28 at 9:36
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Most games contain a certain amount of fiction, but there are definitely games out there that are based on real world events. A lot of games set during WW2 cover real battles from the war, for example.

If you want a different term for non-fiction games, you can look into historical games. A lot of these cover historical events from our own nonfictional history, and while some of them might go down the fiction path for specific events, they generally are based on the real events that happened at the time.

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    A game like Verdun is also very much glue to a real battle in WW1, but since its a multiplayer game the events are not 'based in reality' – Fredy31 Feb 22 at 14:32
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The most common type of non-fiction games you might encounter are simulators. You can go on your favourite storefront and browse a bunch of janky simulators to get an idea of the range of subject they brush.

Beyond that, there's a subset of games called serious games. These are typically made for enterprises or schools and designed for teaching and training, but some are also commercially available. Educational games can be considered serious games to the extent that they're designed to teach you things (e.g. language, geography, the circle of life, and such), and they'd be the simplest example of a commercial serious game.

A real life non-commercial example I played is a game where you control a character in an industrial site and must do simple tasks while observing dutifully all safety rules. You get dinged if you don't look both ways before crossing the road or if you don't put your PPE (e.g. gloves, ear-plugs, helmet) for instance. The idea is to teach the basics of safety to new hires, in a much more engaging format than a 4-hour powerpoint presentation.

It's debatable whether simulators fall into the category. Some probably do, others probably don't. It's not an interesting debate to have anyways, and they would all still be considered "non-fiction".

Where's there's a distinction to make is between some Garbage Truck Simulator (which I assume is something that exists) you can buy on Steam, and one made for actual waste management professionals. The difference is on what it simulates. One could be about the fun life of garbage collecting and driving a physics-defying truck across town; another might be an introduction to managing a fleet of vehicles, personnel and buget, with maintenance schedules, work shifts, and fun stuff in the mix.

Likewise, there's a marked difference between a Microsoft Flight Simulator and an actual flight sim. Another real example here, I've seen a military flight sim, and it simulates just one type of plane. The controls are a simple cockpit replica with the actual flight stick straight from the manufacturer, rather than some off-the-shelf HOTAS, but the output is just a standard TV. The graphics are a bit rubbish, most of the focus is on the physics (with e.g. air drag being affected by weapon loadout). And of course, there's a whole tactical aspect you won't see in a hobbyist flight sim.

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    For those wondering: Yes, Garbage Truck Simulator is a game that you can get on Steam: store.steampowered.com/app/294830/RECYCLE, though with a quite low score. Users are reporting a lot of crashes and poor controls. – Nzall Feb 22 at 12:45
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    I'm strongly reminded of the McDonald's video game. – J. Mini Feb 22 at 15:05
  • @Nzall would you even say that game is... TRASH? – Fredy31 Feb 22 at 19:56
  • @J.Mini That would be a perfectly legitimate example, yes. – AmiralPatate Feb 23 at 6:54
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There are games based on true stories, often personal ones--That Dragon, Cancer immediately comes to mind, and Cibele also says it's directly based on the creator's experience. There are sure to be others, down in the dark caverns of Steam and Itch.io, though any video game is likely to have some level of fictionalization for the purposes of play and entertainment.

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Historical games arent your only choice of games in "non fiction". This might not be your cup of tea, but realistic games like Escape from Tarkov or Arma are a good representation of gun fight scenarios.

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    Something can be both realistic and fictional. This is usually the case for games marketed as "realistic" (such as the examples you listed), and similarly applies to many books and movies that are set in the real world and don't involve supernatural events or superhuman abilities. – NotThatGuy Feb 22 at 9:35
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Other than "games" that are actually gamified work (like SF.'s examples), all games are fictional. Even when based on real-world events, if the player has any agency, any ability to make choices other than what actually happened, then the player's choices make it a fiction.

If the "player" has no agency, makes no choices that affect the outcome, you're talking about a documentary film, not a game. Documentary films are (hopefully) non-fiction. Games cannot be non-fiction and still be games.

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  • The line between fiction and non-fiction works might not be quite as clear-cut as implied here. Even in a documentary, or other non-fiction, you may still need to fill in some blanks to have a coherent story, or choose to omit some important details to make it more appealing. Constructing a (fictional) narrative to string together non-fiction events doesn't obviously cross the line into "fiction" for me, and classifying it as such would probably contradict how many works on others mediums are classified. But that's not to say just e.g. being set in WW2 is enough to make it "non-fiction". – NotThatGuy Feb 22 at 16:39
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Let's not forget about Age of Empires and other RTS/TBS games that contain a story as in some cases the game is written around a real history that happened and giving you (player) a way to re-experience it by the means of the game's genre for example:

  • for RTS you'll control the army/city/empire in a certain historic period and the developers might give you a goal similar/same to the one mentioned as major historical even for such army/city/empite
  • for RPG you'll be thrown into an environment e.g. as a soldier in WW2, monarch/peasant in major empire, etc

Your best bet is to look for games based on some part of history and then for simulators of something e.g. the already mentioned flying and truck simulator, but also games such as Zoo Tycoon and Monopoly which attempt to simulate the environment in which you do your decisions instead of focusing on a single player in a big world.

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An entire different class is of course puzzles. Consider sokoban, mine sweeper, etc. For list of most of the ones I play look at https://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/puzzles/ .

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  • I'd argue - do completely abstract games qualify? Most of real-life games are completely astract; it's hard to call them fictional because they don't tell any story, don't bear any relation to any real-life events, true or not. Football is not fictional, but neither is it realistic; what would kicking the ball represent? By extension, moving them to a computer doesn't change the abstract character, and there are similar abstract purely-computer games. Would you qualify Tetris as fiction or non-fiction? – SF. Feb 23 at 2:57
  • @SF. The joys of philosophy. Admittedly There are no great truths in a game of Tetris, there are also no falsehoods. puzzles as a class are much more likely to relate to some underlying mathematical truth. Tat leaves either non fiction (a double negative) or the sound of one hand clapping leaving us pondering the existence of tables. – hildred Feb 24 at 20:19
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Even if it doesn't pretend to be, the Oregon Trail is pretty close to being a video game rendition of the troubles that the migrants to the west coast had while getting through the americas.

So yes; I'd say there are games that are 'inspired by true events'

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