For the past few weeks, fires have erupted across the western states in historic proportions. Of the 20 largest fires in California history, six have been from this year alone. We are barely halfway through this fire season and its already seen the most acres burned on record at 2.2 million. It’s not just California either—10% of the population of Oregon has had to evacuate their homes due to encroaching flames. Things aren’t just bad in the west, they are cataclysmically bad. But If you do not live on the West Coast, it may be hard to grasp the sheer scope of this fire season. Microsoft Flight Simulator is giving players the chance to actually see the scope of the fires first hand.
First pointed out by Reddit user u/branham7761, the West Coast fires are now fully rendered in Flight Simulator. Flight Simulator is a unique game in that it uses real world data to create a fully modeled and scaled Earth for players to fly over. One of the lengths developers went to is the inclusion of real weather data to form cloud formations and set wind patterns in game. The game’s ability to display weather data was put to the test recently when players discovered that they could fly through Hurricane Laura. The game uses Microsoft’s Azure AI to interpret the Earth in real time, relying on data from places like the Swiss meteorological service Meteoblue for weather patterns. But it seems that the West Coast’s current predicament has been misunderstood by the game, as the smoke is being rendered as thick foggy clouds.
Between representing Hurricane Laura and the West Coast fires, Flight Simulator has shown itself to be uniquely positioned to help players understand the actual scope of natural disasters. But for those who want to use Flight Simulator as a way to escape the fires rather than further experience them, the game offers the option of turning real time weather off. In either case, Flight Simulator is sure to continue offering players a digital look at real events.
Nicolas Perez is an editorial intern at Paste and opinion co-editor for New University. He’s rambling on Twitter @Nic_Perez_.