Of course they can?! Wait, those punctuation marks are probably superfluous. But it's telling that even Nissan is still finding the urge to use them, a decade after it launched its GT Academy, which began in 2008 and has been putting its winners - who entered the Academy through their competence on the PlayStation game Gran Turismo - into real-life races ever since. And it works: Lucas Ordonez, the winner of that 2008 competition, has twice finished on the LMP2 podium at Le Mans.
Still it goes on, too. The video below shows, yet again, former gamers at work in real racing cars. It was uploaded this week by NISMO, Nissan's performance arm, and although is of last year's Dubai 24h race, it's still a decent watch.
There are lows, there are highs and, alright, we're not talking Paddington 2 levels of inducing a tear to the eye here, but he makes his mum proud and it's evident that with the lows can come consequences. Nissan is in the business of racing real cars so it can win races and flog road cars, and the Academy is a meritocracy. If you're slow or you crash a lot, that's unhelpful. I've seen the training in action and it's good; there's world-class analysis and support, but it's honest, too. Even if you win the competition but it turns out you're not up to the job, they won't keep you on as a 'NISMO athlete'. And, unlike most of the rest of motorsport, you can't buy your seat.
GT Academy's success has made it the highest profile racing eSport, but there are other competitions, too. Next month's Race Of Champions will have a sub-segment for five winners of the world's biggest eSports racing competitions, and the winner of that race-off will get to compete in the competition-proper where I suspect, without the kind of training GT Academy provides, they'll get a kicking. But we'll see.
And while gamers are not exactly dominating the world of motor racing, it's telling, isn't it? eSports are on the up, and real racer numbers are on the down. During the past decade, the number of MSA race licence holders in the UK has decreased by 3,000, or 10 per cent, and almost 90 per cent of those who have a licence are over the age of 21. Racing can be cripplingly expensive, you can spend £100k a year doing a junior karting series, and motorsport, unlike most youth sports, isn't founded on the principles of finding and nurturing young talent: race teams exist primarily to make a living. If the kids you've got in your karts happen to be quick, so much the better, but their ability to pay the bills is the most important bit.
Motorsport, though, was always thus. It has never been very democratic or meritorious, but we all know and accept that. And no matter how inexorable the rise of eSports, that will probably not change, as the fact that Nissan still needs to headline its videos 'can gamers race?' suggests. But it does make the nature of real racing ever more uncomfortably obvious.