Today I played a demo of an upcoming street racing game called Split Second. Fairly average game, decent racing physics, its claim to fame being that instead of collecting weapons or just running your opponents off the road you trigger hazards on the track to try to smash the opposition. These hazards seemed to get more severe and amusingly ridiculous on each successive lap.
On the first lap I saw a construction scaffold fall on someone. Pretty standard fare for a movie car chase, cool stuff. On the second lap I hit the action button and apparently summoned a helicopter to drop exploding oil drums on people. Weird but cool. On the third lap someone must have hit a big red button because a flaming airplane fell out of the sky and skidded down the tarmac at me, nearly running me over as I swerved through the narrow gap between the body and one of the great engines. I lost two positions from gawking at what the heck just happened and didn’t even care because it was so awesome. Never seen that in a racing game before.
This made me think back to something else I saw when I first booted up the game; a public service announcement warning gamers that real street racing is very dangerous and very illegal, and that folks should follow traffic laws and try not to recreate anything you see in the game. Now that I think about it I’ve been seeing that same disclaimer on just about every street racer these days.
Hopping over the ponderance of how people would actually organize street races in which controlled demolition is used to drop hazards, explosives, and a gosh darn airplane on the drivers, the next stop on the twisted track that is my wandering train of thought is to wonder what strange shennanigans folks would get into if people really did try to imitate what they see in video games.
Some games are physically or scientifically impossible to imitate (for now, at least). Most folks probably won’t be chucking lightning bolts at their neighbors anytime soon, nor are there floating blocks around to be punched or jumped upon. There are of course plenty of realistic games these days that depict real things real people really do. By the nature of how good games are designed we’re made to feel like we could accomplish the things we do in games. One would think that we all know the difference between knowing how something is done and being able to do it yourself, but then again we probably all know more than a few people who speak at length of supposed proficiencies that you know they just don’t posess.
As mentioned in an earlier incomprehensible ramble, games (and our fellow gamers) teach us things. I don’t have any illusions that I’m physically qualified to be on a SWAT team, but after years of Rainbow Six games I understand concepts like flanking, rapid entry, and how to clear stairs. I haven’t even been on an airplane since before my age was double digits but in theory I know how to perform a split-S and the difference between a barrel roll and an aileron roll.
War in video games is often intentionally presented unrealistically because real war is simply not fun. There was a game back in the days of the first Xbox called Full Spectrum Warrior that was a modified version of a tactical training program for the army. In addition to the entertainment-tuned version for gamers it included a realistic version that played the way the real simulator plays. That is to say, it was brutally unforgiving. On average though, few games want to make war seem any less fun than a hollywood action flick because few folks would stick with a game that showed players the real deal.
Are there folks who play Modern Warfare and from it get inspired to go sign up for the real army because it looked so awesome in the game? Somehow I doubt it. Either folks will understand that the real army doesn’t get into snowmobile chases, or if they’re so enamored with the military that all it would take is a video game to get them to sign up they probably enlisted years ago anyway.
Also what’s up with people in the military who play military shooters, especially modern ones? I don’t think I’d want to come home from work and play a game doing the same thing I did at work, especially if when I was at work people were trying to murder in assorted horrible ways. I just don’t get it. But I digress.
So why do street racing games and only street racing games all carry the ‘do not try this at home’ bit? Perhaps because out of all these shennanigans, street racing is something rather a lot of drivers think they could actually do. You already know how to drive, after all, and racing is just driving really fast. I’ll admit that after playing a couple rounds of Burnout I look at the road and I see ideal path by which one would weave through traffic to get ahead with minimal loss in speed.
I wouldn’t try of course because of the high chance of crashy death, but there are quite a few folks who have an unrealistic idea of what happens in a car crash. You probably know at least a few folks who refuse to wear a seatbelt, and whose reasoning includes the idea that they’ll be ‘thrown clear’ in the event of a crash and/or that they’ll grip the steering wheel to keep from smashing into it if they hit something.
Still, I don’t think there’s a particular danger in racing games. Like most imitatable behavior, folks who would get into street racing or the military or killing zombies would do so with or without the games because they already think these things are cool; that’s why they think the games about it are cool. More likely it’s just there to pre-emptively avoid legal reprocussions in case someone tries to play the ‘video games made me do it’ defense. We live in strange times, after all.