(if you lazy, jump into "Question arises" part)
I don't know how many simulator-players are hidden in this community, but I certain that most know what these so called simulator games are. If not counting roleplay simulations, these games rarely feature common thing called a character. Being that either the player, or NPC.
This is mostly apparent in "cockpit simulators" which include car simulators, flight simulators, ship simulators, war simulators, etc etc. Characters are usually missing from business simulation games as well. With characters in this sense I mean entities that are either NPC or player controlled which have plausible "life" and reason for their existence. I am playing with idea of bringing roleplay elements to simulators. For example, you could have Fallout 3
style mechanics in simulator game. While in Fallout your goal might be successfully to finish the story line of the game, in simulator your goal could be successfully finish the given task/objective which is the actual simulated element of the game. Question arises, what is the point of the character in such game?
This is what I have been thinking. It is not something that such feature should be added just for sake of it, but because I personally feel that simulators lack something. At his point, I have always felt that the lacking feel comes from not to be possible to have any sort "real life" human interaction. Simulators often are all about real life anyway. So what kind of interaction would be enough, what would it need to be to seem or feel meaningful? I will address this challenge through racing simulations which is most close to my personal experience. (I'm certain that same mechanics and ideas can be applied to other type of cockpit simulations as well)
In a imaginary racing sim, you as a player play your character who is the driver of the car. (This example is about offline racing sim, not multiplayer.) In a basic form it should include track and a pit area. Pit area is where the cars are tuned and repaired, and where most of the drivers and team staff are staying and sleeping for several days (normal race weekend). This is where RPG style character interaction happens. Of course there is no story in a normal sense, there is just objective of making the best out of the upcoming race.
So what is the goal of the interaction? I can quickly come up with two major meanings, one is psychological "warfare" with fellow competitors (NPC) and one is tuning the race car with team staff. Example: you just talk with your staff how the car feels and what could be done better, and they fix it. Surely, this is not as accurate as if you would do it yourself. But then you really need to know about how to tune the car. And of course, everything needs to be time restriced because there is only that many hours in day.
There is other interaction possibilities as well like possible strategy planning with crew chief and just regular small talk, which only purpose is to support the immersion. You can also give media interviews, sign autographs. And these are of course dependant on your success or actions at the track. In other words, the simulation is not restricted inside the car, but also around this. Then, major feature
: It is possible for you character to injure himself, or in worst case, die. If death, it is game over then. You have only one life. Depending on injury it is possible to recover to race again with that character. Other important feature
: All fellow competitors are NPC's with personalities and traits which are shown on and off track. Your actions towards them affects their actions towards you. Of course we must try to avoid over exaggarating because this should be realistic racing sim, not Ben Hur. And all NPC drivers are dynamic and they have history. They develop, or not. And they can die too... Etc. Possibilities are limitless.
I feel that such elements would grow the exceptions and anxiety towards the actual race situation a lot, thus simulating what real life drivers feel. Not to talk about constant possibility of injury or death which you have to deal with to be successful driver.
I really would like to see simulators to be expandend into more immersive and realistic experiences.