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Opinion: Driving simulators are nothing like driving

By David Morley, 24 Nov 2018 Features

Opinion Driving simulators are nothing like driving feature

Virtual realism is no substitute for the real thing

At first I thought I must have gone to sleep and woken up on April 1. There just couldn’t have been any other explanation for what I was seeing on the TV.

A group of young blokes who should have been out making nervous small talk with the girls in the front office and bolting cold-air intakes to their V8s were sitting in rows of four, each row back-to-back and each bloke sitting in front of a monitor. Instead they were sitting in high-backed bucket seats and holding a steering wheel.

Sounds like a fun half hour in the local arcade, in between chat-up sessions, doesn’t it? Yep, but guess what? This was being taken very, very seriously by the commentators. Commentators? Yep, this was a televised round of some godawful driving-sim championship. Or something like that. By now I was laughing so hard I was crying. And, no, you couldn’t make it up.

Now, there are a couple of things wrong with this. The idea of taking a video game seriously is whacko, just for starters. But then, to formalise a championship where there are winners (not easy when the room appeared to be full of capital-L losers) is seriously taking the piss.

Then there’s the concept of televising it complete with commentators. And finally, there’s the horrible mistake of presuming that I might be even remotely interested in watching what amounts to a 21st century version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Let’s get something straight right from the off here. A driving simulator is not actually anything like driving. Unless you’ve got the NASA-spec one with the 360-degree view and full gimbal movement that can reproduce acceleration, deceleration and yaw forces, you might as well be sat at the kitchen table with your laptop.

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Yes, yes, I know pro drivers use sim programs to ‘learn’ tracks, but that’s more to do with memorising a mind’s-eye map than trying to predict a lap time or calculate fuel burn.

And yet, here we were, with the commentators breathlessly reporting on overtaking moves and wheeling out the old faithfuls about the high-horsepower cars stretching their legs on the main straight.

Memo to microphone guys, there were no cars involved in this. There was no horsepower. The only acceleration was common old gravity and that was only there to stop these dweebs floating out of their seats and closer to me. The only movement was a bunch of electrons lapping a silicon chip. That’s all. Over.

It’s about time the millennials got real. A mate of mine was telling me the other day that a colleague (in name only) of ours had told him all about the Nordschleife and where speed could be gained and lost. Interesting, replied my man, I’ve never been there myself. Thing is, I didn’t know you’d been to the Nürburgring. Oh, says Old Mate, I’ve done over a thousand laps of the joint. On my PlayStation. Again, true story.

And this is how this lunacy gets a foothold. One minute, you have a gronk confusing a trip to Germany with sitting in his loungeroom in his jim-jams and a joystick, and the next thing you know, there’s a TV show where such delusional behaviour is actually being rewarded. Like I said, time to get real kids.

Now, I know that Nissan has dipped into the gamer well and pulled out a few proper race drivers in recent years, so, obviously, there’s some crossover in the two skill sets. Reflexes, judgment and hazard perception most probably. But actual car feel is not one of them. Car feel is reserved for cars. Hence the name.

And here’s how I knew this must have been some glorious piss-take. Despite the fact that the only way to get burnt driving a sim is if you’re watching it on a Samsung Note 7, at least one of these palookas was wearing – wait for it – Nomex gloves. I was laughing so hard I almost had to be resuscitated.

Second opinion: Driving simulators are valuable tools