On a recent cloudy morning in Wolverhampton, England, Wesley Appiah was in his bedroom, examining a flight plan to the Canary Islands, listening to an R&B playlist, and greeting his “passengers”.
Appiah, 20, is an accounting and finance student at the University of Warwick, but he’s also an aspiring pilot who streams virtual flights on Twitch, the Internet’s most popular destination for streaming video games.
His favorite software is the new Microsoft Flight Simulator, released in August.
“You can go anywhere in the world,”
Appiah is not exaggerating. In addition to a wide variety of airplanes to fly, the 2020 simulator offers what is generally considered to be the most realistic and complete digital representation of the world that has ever been made available to the public. It includes 1.5 billion rendered buildings and enough data to fill 1.7 million DVDs. For digital tourists, a trip to the Grand Canyon or Mount Fuji is now a flight away.
Like the real world, it is dynamic. The virtual planet updates continuously, complete with weather. When Hurricane Laura hit the US Gulf of Mexico coast, people playing Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 chased the storm. The smoke from the recent fires was also in the virtual world. There’s wildlife too, spurring something of a digital safari niche on YouTube. Other people have recreated famous flights from the movies.
This means that flights around the world can be a long haul. Two streamers even sat for around 16 hours to recreate the journey from Los Angeles to Dubai, UAE, which is one of the longest commercial flights available.
“I can go from Birmingham to Dubai, real flight time. So that’s seven hours. I sit for seven hours, ”Appiah said.
Mandy, another Twitch streamer named TeaWithMandy, said the simulator offered a crucial respite during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We literally toured my stream,” said Mandy, who asked to omit her last name as many video game streamers do to maintain privacy. “It was the perfect thing to do during a pandemic when no one can travel.”
Microsoft has been building its signature simulator since 1982, predating even Windows, to make it the company’s longest-running product. As Microsoft has grown and evolved, the simulator has grown too. The latest version uses Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing services, which are now an important part of the company’s business.