There’s something about racing games that just click with me. The act of driving around the same stretch of road, navigating the same corners, and veering through the same chicanes ad nauseam brings me so much inexplicable joy. The hours i’ve dedicated to perfecting my racing line are slightly embarrassing, and my ability to push through severe bouts of hand cramp are damn near legendary, but despite the vicissitudes that come with the pursuit of speed I’m drawn to the simple act of driving around in circles.
And around. And around. And around. And around again. Each lap your relationship and understanding of the hundreds of horsepower that you’re sitting in grows. Every pass through a corner – Turn 1, Turn 2, Turn 3 – you’re edging ever closer to the ideal brake point as you fly through the perfect racing line. The feel of accelerating perfectly out of a corner is unmatched, nailing the apex is a treat, and feathering on the accelerator to negotiate even the most sneaky of chicanes is near nirvana.
I’ve always loved racing games, but my compulsion for constant improvement and pushing cars to their very limit to shave hundreds of seconds off of lap times, started with Forza Motorsport 2. While the career mode was great, and the social aspects of the game nothing short of groundbreaking, it was the sliver of the game dedicate solely to time trials that had me gripping the controller for hours on end while somehow still falling into a semi-hypnotic state. Corner after corner I’d feel myself edging further and further away from the ghost, and lap after lap I’d creep ever-closer to that perfect lap that would yield the perfect time. And when I finally got there my heart would race and – almost uncontrollably – I’d sit back and punch the air with a clenched fist. For that moment I was a race driver.
It’s a wonderful feeling.
There is something paradoxically soothing and calming about driving at 250 clicks, edging close to the tyre’s traction limit, and braking at the last minute to gain that crucial tenth of a second on your opponent. Racing games have arguably been the genre to benefit the most from advances in technology, with everything from the look and feel of the cars to the behaviour of the grid when the lights go out, bringing an unprecedented level of realism to the experience. Sitting trackside or watching motor sport on the telly is one thing, but the ability to partake in those literally breathtaking moments where there are tenths of seconds in it without the need for a super licence, well that’s quite another. And when after 50 laps you’re edging up on the rear of the car in front, mere seconds away from a podium finish while somehow still only a mistake away from ending your race, well they’re the moments you’ll be thankful for those hours poured into learning your car and learning the track.
So if you want to know what the appeal of racing games is, it’s that moment, it’s the pursuit of perfection. And I’m not sure that is something that ever gets old.