Life simulation games are among some of the most unique games out there. Many people forget the incredible depth and complexity that goes into an effective life sim. The genre has several similar entries, so a casual gamer might look at a dozen games and be unable to differentiate one from the other. On one hand, this means that the games are effectively offering players their chance of escape, to leave their lives behind and live a fantasy.
But that doesn't mean all life-sims are created equal. Some are bad, while others are good. But the best? Which are they? For those unfamiliar with online simulation games looking to get into the genre, here are among the best -- the list of essential online life sim games you need to play.
Updated August 1, 2021, by Stephen LaGioia: With social gaming on the rise—and advances in gaming technology and mobile devices, online simulation romps have naturally only increased in popularity in recent years.
Dynamic and expansive efforts like Second Life and the Sims have continued much of their momentum, while lower-budget games like Animal Crossing New Horizons and Story of Seasons have introduced this addictive gameplay to a wider audience. As such, it seemed like a good idea to refresh and bolster this piece with a few more notable online sims.
Birthed from an era where Will Wright's Sims franchise—and other user-generated games—saw a boom in popularity, the Sim creator's hyped new title proved divisive and underwhelming for many. Some critiqued it for its strict tethering to DRM as well as a lack of depth; especially in the late game.
Still, when judged on its own merits, there is much to appreciate in this deep, intergalactic take on the God game. Players could work their micromanaging skills and tactical plotting while simultaneously flexing their creativity using an impressive palette of tools, buildings, and custom creatures at their disposal.
17 Farm Together
Players can join up with friends and family to tend to the virtual land in this charming 2019 farm sim by Milkstone Studios. The game takes a low-key, whimsical approach in its presentation and gameplay, making for a great introduction for new sim players.
At the same time, there's ample depth for those who seek it, as the gameplay offers a rewarding progression system and plenty of freedom to grow different crops, plant trees, and take care of various cute animals.
16 Two Point Hospital
Being a spiritual successor to the fan-favorite Theme Hospital, this build and management sim by Two Point Studios had quite a lot to live up to—and in the eyes of most, they managed to deliver. With its charming aesthetic, deep-yet-accessible gameplay, and a light sense of humor, Two Point Hospital grabs ahold of players and rarely lets go.
The amount of freedom and variety is impressive to say the least, as players tackle various tasks ranging from patient care to building expansion to wealth and employee well-being. And the game builds further upon the already expansive foundation with its addictive co-op and competitive online play, along with the recently added Freeplay mode.
If you played Roller Coaster Tycoon and enjoyed the intricacies of building your own theme park and, more importantly, epic roller coasters, then you should look into buying Parkitect. Between Parkitect and Planet Coaster, Parkitect is the more highly-praised of the two.
Many players have said that Parkitect gives you more to do and more room to work with than Planet Coaster, plus it helps that this satisfying romp is available on multiple operating systems. It's very similar to Roller Coaster Tycoon, but it introduces some new amenities like staff-only areas and buildings. It also includes an elaborate branching map system.
14 Cooking Simulator
If you love cooking, or you just love cooking games like Cooking Mama, then you should definitely try your hand at Cooking Simulator. It's available on Steam and has great reviews from gaming critics and players.
The game offers a realistic and life-like experience in the kitchen as you make more than 80 different recipes and try to maintain your kitchen while keeping things clean and orderly. There are different modes depending on your playstyles and more than 140 different ingredients that you'll need to chop, stir, sauteé and more.
13 Kim Kardashian: Hollywood
Even if you're not a Kardashian fan, you should consider checking out this Hollywood life simulation game that allows players to try and build their celebrity status from the ground up.
The game is free and involves some role-playing elements as you navigate the celebrity world as an E-lister, with your eventual goal being to make it to the top of the A-list. You'll need to gain fans by booking jobs, building relationships, making appearances, and much more.
The game released several years ago but is still quite popular.
12 Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing became an instant sensation when it was first released on GameCube, now all these years later, it is a global phenomenon. The newest game in the Animal Crossing series further builds on the appealing foundation of the series while maintaining a simplicity that's accessible and fun.
New Horizons on Switch tasks players with setting camp on a deserted land and building up their own island paradise, all while gathering goodies, decorating their homes, and socializing with villagers as well as friends. The game proves simultaneously passive and in-depth, offering endless replayability with its real-time gameplay and customization.
Players can show their creativity by sprucing up their islands with an endless range of items and decorations while being able to directly manipulate parts of the land for the first time.
11 Story Of Seasons
The Story of Seasons games, which were formally known as Harvest Moon, became very popular thanks to the creative freedom granted to players as they navigated running their own farm and trying to settle down with their bachelor or bachelorette of choice.
Over the last few years, the franchise has become less popular, especially with new games like Stardew Valley being released which many people feel is a better game overall. However, if you ever get tired of Stardew Valley there are numerous Story of Seasons games for you to check out.
10 The Sims (Series)
When anyone asks for a recommendation for a life simulation game, the definitive answer is The Sims. Later Sims games allow you to play online, so this absolutely counts as an online simulation game.
Whenever talking about anything simulation-related, this groundbreaking series remains one of the most important games in the gaming culture. Chances are, you already know all you need to know about this life simulation game, so it might seem redundant wasting too much time discussing it.
Especially when there are so many other games out there offering players a different experience.
VRChat is the new kid on the block, but arguably the most immersive online simulation game around. The reason for this? Virtual Reality. The game allows you to create a digital avatar that you then enter via your headset and motion tracking devices, and interact in real-time with other players in their own digital avatars (most of which are characters from some form of pop culture).
The surreality of VRChat, however, can only be experienced if you have a VR Headset of some kind. Meaning you need to spend a pretty penny to get your hands on this game. Once you have it, however, you can expect an immersive, incredible experience.
IMVU is one of the more refined clones of Second Life out there. The game is focused on creating an avatar and socializing with tons and tons of players in a massive setting of pre-made environments.
While the game lacks as many creation tools as Second Life, it is a very effective game that offers players a hugely immersive gaming experience. Oh, and the game has a pretty sizable user population, so you'll find a chance to interact with tons of other people in your digital neighborhood.
7 Farming Simulator 19
There is certainly no shortage of farming simulation games. What makes the Farming Simulator subgenre so effective and arguably so popular is its slavish devotion to creating a realistic farming experience.
Farming Simulator 19 might not be the best-selling game in this series, but, as of now, it is arguably the most well-designed and well-made, offering players the most realistic farming experience you can possibly hope to experience. After a while, you can swear you almost hear the tractors driving circles in your room with you.
6 Gaia Online
Gaia Online started as an online social media site drawing inspiration from anime, which, at the time, was rising in popularity. From there, it became an online simulation space in which gamers could interact in a light-RPG-inspired setting where player choices make a real impact.
While it has much in common with Second Life in terms of gameplay, what Gaia Online offers players is a far more anime-inspired, cartoonish aesthetic. This will be the core appeal for some players and the core turn-off for others. Depending on your tastes, this might be the online simulation game for you.
Twinity was built as a clone of Second Life. While it never escaped Second Life's shadow, it offered players an opportunity to visit real-world locations that most people can only dream of seeing.
The ability to craft realistic avatars through a special application called Photofit only adds to the nuanced, realistic feel of Twinity. For those interested in exploring the expanse of the world from the safety of your homes, Twinity might offer you a chance to explore brave new worlds the likes of which you never saw before.
4 Garry's Mod
While it may be a fairly obvious example, Garry's Mod is the ultimate online simulation game. It offers players anything they can imagine, straight at their fingertips. Though many use this to create outlandish, wild scenarios, players can just as easily use it to create a realistic scenario to live out in.
Garry's Mod is a multi-applicable God Simulation system. Players and their friends can no doubt find tons of uses for the seemingly endless tools available at one's fingertips. Create a fantasy to live in. Or just blow everything up. The choice is up to you. Garry's Mod is truly a virtual sandbox.
3 Second Life
Second Life is often regarded as one of the greatest online simulation games of all time, allowing players to live vicariously through a digital avatar of their creation. The game allows players to wander around a digital environment with other players, socializing and communicating with others.
At its peak, Second Life sported over a million users, all of whom enjoyed the digital space as a means to meet and interact with whole new people in ways they could never previously imagine. However, as the game's popularity waned, the number of people on it also waned. Still, the game stands as a unique experience in the gaming ecosphere.
2 Flight Simulator X
Flight simulation games date back to the dawn of the internet. Some of the earliest games around were flight simulation games, offering players a chance to fulfill their fantasies of piloting planes out in the open sky.
Flight Simulator X is just one of those games -- taking the mechanics of your typical flight simulator to new heights. The game boasts some of the best graphics you can hope for in a game like this, offering players a real chance to vicariously enjoy their fantasies of flying planes.
1 Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley is one of the most beloved independent games ever made. Being ported on every major console around, this farming simulation game offers players a chance to live on a farm, go on adventures, and fall in love.
While the game was at first a strictly independent experience, as time passed and the game was updated, players received their chance to play over multiplayer. This function allows players to more than ever fully immerse themselves with their friends in this simulation game, sharing the joy of Stardew Valley with any number of friends. NEXT: Roblox: Best Simulator Games