Ringside Seat: playing games

The off-season is a chance for me to disconnect from the world of motorsports and fast cars. I can chill with the family and forget about apexes, lines and braking points.

Or so my long-suffering wife would like to think...

Dale gets down to some essential training
Dale gets down to some essential training
The reality is that as my ability to rack up real-life Nurburgring laps begin to dwindle, my virtual laps simply increase. It's an addiction that started when I was just 11 years old (Test Drive on the Atari ST, anybody? ). For me, cars and computers have always gone together. Gran Turismo was the impetus to buy a PlayStation and Forza Motorsport the only reason why I have an Xbox gathering dust in the attic. And don't get me started on the PC games like Live For Speed, Grand Prix Legends and the like. If I added all the hours together I could have had a second job and a new life, I'm sure.

Of course, an admission like this isn't as nerdy or socially awkward as it used to be. Big computer game releases now make Hollywood blockbusters look like charity productions. Computer games are mainstream, and they help drive our whole petrolhead addiction.

Well, if you can't do it for real...
Well, if you can't do it for real...
Last summer I spent some time at Silverstone working on the Gran Turismo Academy. It's an incredible thing to see from the inside. The GT Academy sifts through regular folks, most of whom have never driven a car on a real track before, and finds those with the reactions, skills and talent to become a race driver.

So, just by playing a game, you can end up being a professional factory race driver. My mind still boggles, but some of the folks that have come out of that system (Jann "the man" Mardenborough and Lucas Ordonez) are absolute stone-cold professionals that live their life in the zone.

I will admit, as a frustrated racing driver, I was insanely jealous of the 12 guys I helped look after. Just by playing a computer game, they were getting a shot at the dream life.

So with that in mind, I vowed to put some hours in the PlayStation3 this winter. And I managed to lay my hands on the official Thrustmaster T500RS GT5 wheel to help me too.

Gaming takes on new level with a wheel
Gaming takes on new level with a wheel
This 10kg chunk of alloy and steel is a £425 PlayStation controller. Gulp. It's also a full-size 300mm steering wheel with force feedback that will make your shoulders ache. It might sound trite, but a steering wheel of this quality opens up a whole world of possibilities.

It transforms GT5 from an arcade game to a home racing simulator. Maybe the finest points of tyre slip and wheel torque aren't 100 per cent perfect, but the way you have to concentrate your mind, judge the line and eke the most from your car are more than convincing enough. And the lift-off oversteer, the biting point of the tyres, it's damn near 95 per cent realistic in most regards.

Still, when I couldn't perfectly correlate my real-life experience with the version GT5 was offering me, I went in search of the ultra-realistic and signed up for a three-month trial of iRacing on the PC. Wow. iRacing is serious. Really serious.

Things have come on since the Atari ST
Things have come on since the Atari ST
At first I was like a novice, I couldn't control the mildest slide or oversteer. A few weeks later I could fight for the podium, but I realised it was so tough and needed so much practice and setup time that it wasn't actually fun for me anymore. I wasn't looking for a new hobby, I just wanted to dip in for an hour once a week and race.

So now I'm back at GT5 with a vengeance. I don't think I'll ever qualify for the GT Academy, but the new wheel means I've been doing rather well fantasy racing my mates and having fun. Which is what a game is supposed to be. And it's why I'm still waiting patiently for this celebrity baking thing to finish and my wife to go for a soak in the tub...

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (45) Join the discussion on the forum

  • florian 25 Jan 2013

    A little bit off topic:

    This device will totally change the gaming industry: Oculus VR, a low latency stereo headset with a wide field of view. Was successfully crowd funded on kickstarter.com with 2.5 m. USD. Development kits are set to ship in March 2013. Check out the video - looks amazing!


  • Agoogy 25 Jan 2013

    Or sit in an attic with a projector and big screen in the dark with one of these:


  • SturdyHSV 25 Jan 2013

    Glad to hear GT5 is in use while Forza is gathering dust. I just don't think Forza handling is difficult enough to be realistic.

    It would've been the only reason I bought an XBox, and after trying Forza3 out on a friends XBox, the fact I could magically drift perfectly with the controller with all the aids apparently off within about 20 minutes, just didn't quite ring true...

    I've got a VisionRacer with a G25 for my set-up, although since 'she' moved in, it's not had as much use beyond the odd boy's night. Must sort that out. Good old Live For Speed too, that has some epic handling, felt much better than GT5, which given the whole team is 3 people, is pretty impressive.

  • VladD 25 Jan 2013

    Agoogy said:
    Or sit in an attic with a projector and big screen in the dark with one of these:

    I've got one of those, love it.

  • Loplop 25 Jan 2013

    A lot of people laugh at me when I say the amount of experience I've had on racing games helps my actual driving. I'll never for one minute insinuate that even the best racing simulators give a 100% real life experience, because no matter how a simulator is you're still safe in the knowledge that if you bin it, you're not gonna die.

    But racing games have taught me a lot, Forza Motorsport 2 taught me about apexes, Live For Speed in combination with my trusty 6 year old Logitech G25 taught me the joys of opposite lock and with the Historic Rally Cars mod for rFactor (A must by the way) sending me into a spin every time I got behind the virtual wheel of a Ford Escort I had to learn Heel & Toe through necessity.

    When I actually started driving, the line between games and reality became far more bold and clear. Grip, the feeling of weight and inertia were chief among the differences I instantly noticed. But stuff I've 'learnt' in the virtual world can translate over into the real world, mostly my spatial awareness.

    I'm itching to have a go in a proper track car at a proper track just to see how well it translates in a proper environment!

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