171: Late Braking, Fast Laps and Other Life Lessons

Late Braking, Fast Laps and Other Life Lessons

"It's true that racing games by definition simulate the exact type of behavior that drivers are supposed to avoid, like resisting arrest by nudging pursuing police into oncoming traffic. Even serious racing sims like Papyrus' IndyCar Racing seem to have little relevance to someone whose primary automotive ambition was to borrow Mom's car for a trip to the mall. That said, the driving experience I racked up on the computer was worth a great deal more than any time I spent in a classroom or out on practice drives."

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Brilliant article, and I'm glad to find somebody else to claim that racing games have helped them to drive. Gran Turismo was my first racing game. It was punishingly difficult for my ten-year-old self, especially the licence tests - to this day, I can't complete the International A licence because of the vicious oversteer from the TVR Griffith.

Not only did the Gran Turismo series improve my knowledge about cars and their real-life behaviour - indispensible information when it came to driving later on - but it also helped to reignite my younger childhood love of cars, something which had been slipping away through the years. I'm part of a motorsport family myself - we've got a painting of a Porsche 917, Gulf colours and all, hanging over our stairs - but without something to feed the passion, the interest may have slipped altogether.

Now, I'm a simulation racer, throwing Caterhams and grand tourers around Monza and Imola in GTR Evolution. You can never be too prepared for what that sort of game will throw at you, but it's the sort of challenge which has its own real-life analogue, unlike the majority of computer games. You're learning something every time you get behind the steering wheel.

One of the first memories I have of auto racing is getting into a race-ending pileup on the front straightaway of Talladega 150 laps into a 500-mile race. I blame it on digital Jeff Gordon, seeing as he got loose coming out of Turn 4 and plowed into digital Dale Earnhardt, setting off the whole chain reaction. Well, that and the truly abysmal clipping distance in Paypyrus' original NASCAR Racing. Made it awful hard to see the wreck until too late.

I didn't learn a whole lot about driving from NASCAR, though, except maybe to obey the speed limit on pit lane and keep an eye on tire temperatures. I cut my teeth on the early Need For Speed series. Sitting in my basement, four years before I'd even get a learner's permit, I was discovering how to apex a corner, how to look ahead and anticipate the next turn, recover form a spin, avoid a wreck, all those little things they'd never teach you in driver's ed.

It's truly frightening how many drivers there are out there whose entire understanding of vehicle dynamics is that gas makes you go, brakes make you stop, and the wheel makes you turn. Worse still, these are the people who are most likely to be paying more attention to their cell phones than the road. When something goes wrong, they *will* get in an accident. They aren't focused enough to anticipate it or in tune enough with their cars to avoid it. I can think of any number of situations I've been in where the awareness and car control I'd learned from games kept me out of an accident in the real world.

My steering wheel controller broke ages ago, and I've since moved on to real-world motorsports. These days I do autocrossing. I'm not much good at it yet, but it's fun as hell and offers that extra thrill that driving a real car at its limits gives you. Depending on how far into it you want to go, it can even be only a little more expensive than gaming. Whatever the avenue though, I always encourage my friends and family to learn more about cars and driving than the driver's license exams require; it's one of those things that could genuinely save your life someday.

"Son, there are two kinds of people in this world. People who can drive and people who can make a car go. I'm going to teach you to DRIVE."

--My father to me, at age fifteen

Great article, Hoss. Now, if I could only get my wife to play those games...she's definitely the latter...

I've also come to realize that half of the second group THINK they're in the first, and the other half have NO IDEA.

Interesting read.

I actually learned to drive at high speed in a racing sim.

Full size V8 supercar replica, Pistons to replicate cornering and the like and a Screen replacing the Windscreen. Spent 50 bucks and got 20 laps of Bathurst. Awesome.

That being said I am still learning the finer details on my learner licence. (can get it at 15 and I'm elegible for my restricted [drive on my own in hours of daylight] at the end of november)

Well written, and nice driving. I was under the impression, though, that most of Wisconsin used sand instead of salt. Perhaps that's more of a rural thing--or a hippie Milwaukee thing. You're all kind of kookie to this FIB. ;)

The only driving games I play are the Burnout series, and given the weak sound design of Paradise, I doubt it'll be helpful in any real life situation. However this article has inspired me to perhaps try Gran Turismo again.

Interesting article.

I know that my time with Forza has improved my driving in those rare situations.
Practising things in a video game, that in real life are highly dangerous, is the way forward.
Perhaps they should add a driving simulation to the current driving test, using in game physics to test people in the ice and snow. Anyone else think that's a good idea?

This article rings true. I too honed my skills on racing games, and could thread a needle into a narrow parking spot on my very first try. This is why I've never been in an accident despite driving so fast that neither of my parents will let me drive their cars with them in it.

I can truly say I learned something from this article. Thanks.

Being a long time racing simulator fan myself, I don't really think that the simulators themselves teach you the car control themselves. There is simply a large amount of nonexistent feedback that you otherwise get in a car that is lacking in a home simulator, plus a few detailed but important aspects of tyre physics that are rarely done right even in some celebrated simulators.

What the simulators are excellent for, however, is learning about basic car physics and behaviour and to see what works and what not. This understanding helps one to better practice the driving or racing of actual cars. No amount of simulated driving is a substitute for the real thing.

In that way, simulators made me a better driver. They made me appreciate the details of car handling and why the cars react they do. It's the inspiration that the simulators give that one is then inclined to learn more about the subject that is the decisive factor here.

The point about driving in the snow is also an important one; in the dry, I am usually amongst the faster drivers in the twisty bits. In the snow, I tend to get passed a lot by other cars. A lot of people simply drive in the same way regardless of conditions as they just have no concept and handling of the physics involved.

Great article! You could definitely have pulled it from the pages of my life. I've learned more about driving and control of my car from racing games then I ever would have just driving on my own. I live in Lafayette and driving down here is like driving through and elephant stampede, a bunch of GIANT gray things darting around who don't really care if you're already in the lane they want to be in. I've been literally pushed off of the road three times this year by soccer moms and dads in giant trucks who SEE that I'm right on the side of them but don't care. Driving and racing games have definitely helped me survive with a clean driving record. Oh and that Camry you have isn't so ignoble as you might think. My smoke black, 2000 model is surprisingly sprightly on a tight track if you can keep your speed above 35 or so during turns. Of course it helps to have stiffer, lower springs, 17x7 wheels and tires, AEM intake and HKS exhaust, and front and rear sway bars. You can actually get most of those pretty cheap for the 2000 Camry (I don't know what model year you have but it's probably similar. Thanks for proving that there's more than a few of us who picked up some skills from videogames.

Just wanted to point out that my driving instructor actually encouraged us to go to the local Pizza Hut and play the arcade racing game if we were having trouble driving.

And my parents actually drove in an actual "driving simulator", before being allowed to drive a real car. And this was 35 years ago.

I still think Porsche Unleashed is one of the all-time greats. In fact, I still fire it up now and then and it's amazing how well it has stood the test of time imho. So, it was nice to see it mentioned. Great article!


Sometimes when I'm driving IRL I remember many things Gran Turismo taught me, in different situations. It helped me alot into understanding how a car responds and that if you want to DRIVE, not just get from A to B , you must be one with the car and make every move in a flowing manner, think about what you want to do before you do it, not like a robot.


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