What do video games get wrong about cars?

What do video games get wrong about cars? Jul, 31 2023

Driving Into The World Of Pixels

Oh boy, let me tell you about the first time I dived headfirst into a racing game. It was my birthday and Ariana had surprised me with, what was then, the latest video game console. I was beyond ecstatic. The game bundled with it was one of those popular high-speed racing titles, filled with flashy cars and glamorous locations. For a car fanatic like me, it was like being presented a box filled with sweets, while Ariana chuckled at my childlike excitement.

But as I started to play, something seemed odd. The cars did not behave as I expected. Now don't get me wrong, I am not a professional racer, but after years of driving in the real world, there were certain 'rules of the road' that these games didn't seem to acknowledge. Throughout my gaming journey, I've seen this issue remain consistent, hence my urge to write this little piece about what video games tend to get wrong about cars.

The Physics Of It All

Most video games appear to exist in a world where physics does not apply. I'm not talking about some fantasy games where you can throw fireballs and turn invisible, but about games that are touted as being 'realistic'. As the digital dove flies, it seems almost every racing game suggests that cars are magnetic things that stick to the track, handling corners at high speed without any concern for Newton's laws of motion.

Take braking for instance. In many games, you can brake from top speed to a standstill in a matter of seconds. In real life, that would give your brakes a one-way ticket to meltdown town or at best, turn your automobile into a highly dangerous projectile. I mean, I've slammed on my brakes before to avoid, say, an errant possum (on a midnight drive, no less) and it's not a pretty experience, neither for me nor for my poor car's brakes.

Hearty Engines and Tireless Tyres

I remember one summer afternoon when I had taken Felicity and Tobias, my kids, for a road trip to the Gold Coast. Now, our family car isn't exactly a racing machine, but it serves us well. About halfway through the journey, we had to stop for a while because the engine was overheating. It's a common experience for many drivers in real life, but not in video games.

In the vast majority of video games, you can push the engine as hard as you want, as long as you like, without it showing signs of stress. I admit it's fun to push the car to its limits in the game, but it's just not realistic. Similarly, tyres that seem to last forever and ever on rough terrains is another omnipresent falsehood. I’ve had to change a tyre after a nasty encounter with a particularly jagged pothole in Brisbane, and believe me, it was no game.

Damage Control and the Lack thereof

If I could bring back every damaged car from the virtual world to our reality, I'd have an absurd number of doomed cars on my hands. Video games often ignore the fact that cars, while built to withstand an astonishing variety of conditions, are not indestructible. If you bashed a car into a wall at 80km/h in reality, you'd be lucky to walk away without serious injury, let alone continue driving the wrecked vehicle. But in a game? Dust off a few scratches and you’re off to the races again!

Sometimes, the lack of realism can be justified for the genre. Arcade racing games may add or take away realistic elements to enhance fun and playability over accuracy. However, for games that boast of accurate physics and realistic experiences, these liberties taken with real world mechanics can be a bit jarring.

The Mirage of Customization

I've been an auto enthusiast since I was a kid, I remember my first car repair project with my old man. We spent a whole weekend under the bonnet of an old rust bucket, and when we were done, it was like a phoenix rising from the ashes - a thing of beauty. Cars are complex machines, with thousands of moving parts, each one playing a specific role. When you change one thing, it often has consequences for other parts of the car.

Many video games will let you add whatever parts or modifications you want, without giving thought to how it might impact other aspects of the car's dynamics. Want to add a turbocharger without modifying anything else in the engine? Sure, why not? In reality you would risk damaging the engine, among other things. Video games make it seem like building a performance car is as simple as clicking a few virtual buttons and selecting the most expensive parts. As much as I’d love for that to be true, it’s simply not.

So there you have it, folks! As an enthusiastic gamer and car lover, this overlap of the two worlds holds a lot of interest for me. While it's fun to escape into the liberating world of video games, remember, they don't always reflect reality when it comes to cars, or anything else for that matter. But, of course, let's not forget - it's all in good fun! Happy gaming!