Written by Phil Bruton Friday, 17 December 2010 05:00
It's winter here in Minnesota and along with that comes everybody's favorite road hazard, snow. Now this past weekend, we received 21.5" of the wonderful white stuff at my home. We received an average of 17" around the Twin Cities metro area. Why is this relevant? Well, although MNDoT (MN Dept of Transportation) is excellent at cleaning the roads around here, they don't always get all the snow and more importantly, ice. We get a large amount of ice on our roads during the winter, as salt is spread by the MNDoT trucks and it will refreeze each evening. Roads can be treacherous and unfit for driving, but as we all have somewhere to be, what choice do we have?
Sunday, as I drove out to work in my 4x4 SUV, I went around a corner and caught some of the infamous ice. I could feel the back end of my vehicle starting to slip away from me. So I did what anybody would do, I turned into the slide, eased on the gas and pulled myself through. It was done completely by instinct without any thought on my part. As I drove down the road a minute later, I thought to myself, "how the heck did I do that?" Then it hit me.
Yes, I truly believe that video games, not 15 years of driving experience, are what taught me how to drive on hazardous roads. The more I think back to my years of being a gamer, small things from all the racing games I've played have stuck with me. Now, don't get me wrong, I learned nothing from Mario Kart. Burnout Paradise didn't teach me how to slam into other vehicles on the road and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit did not show me that running from the police is a good idea. It's much more subtle then that.
Each game, in it's own way, is a driving simulator. There are games like Forza Motorsport 3 and Gran Turismo 5 that do their best at recreating the actual driving experience; putting you in real world vehicles within real world tracks. They have realistic physics, realistic handling and realistic weather. These are the best games for learning how to drive properly. Driving 120 mph coming up to a corner and hammering on the brakes just won't work in these games, you'll crash right into the wall, destroying your car.
Now games such as Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and Project Gotham Racing 4, start to bring you a little farther away from the realistic driving simulators. These games start to put you into an arcade racing style, favoring drift and speed over realism. Need for Speed requires you to especially rely on drifting properly around corners as to not lose speed. This is part of what I can equate my success with the Minnesota ice to. Proper turning and use of acceleration without braking is something that you can use in your everyday driving. You don't always need to brake when taking turns or when you go around a bend in the road. Easing off the accelerator and allowing your car to slow itself down, not only can be safer for you and the drivers around you, but it also reduces wear on your brakes!
Mario Kart, Blur and Split / Second are flat out arcade racers. They are unrealistic, over the top and provide nothing but pure, visceral entertainment. These are the games that won't teach you much about actual driving. There are no red turtle shells, even though you might wish there are. It would be fantastic to activate a power play and open up a faster route to work, but it's not going to happen. I'm very happy that games like this exist, but unfortunately they add little to nothing to supplement your driving skills.
I'm not saying that Need for Speed and the like have taught me how to drive in inclement weather. But, slight tactics that you use in them, can come in handy on a daily basis. I've played enough games, that I'm able to pick up and play almost any racing game that comes along, with much success. I think all of this practice can be easily applied to your own driving; things such as slowing down earlier when coming to a corner when there's snow or it's raining. I believe that not only are racing games fun, but the realistic physics in them might just save your life someday. I know that they might have saved mine.