Two racing games and a rotary engine

rotaryengineanimationI find that the start of any Civilization game is always the most exciting. It’s the excitement of anticipation, of mystery, knowing that there’s a whole  world out there to explore. There is still a palpable giddiness that comes with your first military unit, your first settlers unit, your first granary, and of course your first wonder of the world.  Finding your path – a unique path – through the “new world” is an exciting experience no matter how many times you’ve done it.  But no matter how dynamic and unique each play through of Sid Meier’s anthropological epic is I start every game exactly the same way, leaving my fledgling town, nay civilisation, undefended as I go in search of new frontiers for my nation.  It may be a habit, and in some cases a bad one that leads to crushing defeat within minutes, but it’s a habit that has come to define my relationship with the series.

While on face value it seems an entirely different proposition, I have a similar relationship with the Forza series, or perhaps more accurately console racing games of that scope generally.  Like Civilization, every first in Forza is the sort of moment you remember every time you boot the game up, from the first time you hope in your favourite Group B rally car to your first lap around de Barcelona-Catalunya in an open-wheeled monster, the first time you accelerate off of the grid is a moment to remember and cherish.  But regardless of which beasts I pilot throughout the course of the dozens upon dozens of hours I pour into these motorsport masterpieces, line-up permitting, I always start exactly the same way.

Ever since Gran Turismo found its way into my Playstation way back in the late 90’s, introducing me to the wonder of Japanese sports cars in the process, I’ve had an at times obsessive but always irrational love of Mazda’s RX-7.  Growing up Australia’s roads were always chock full of Australian built cars, from the Torana and the Commodore to the Kingswood and the Falcon.  Even when low priced and high quality Japanese cars not only hit but took hold of the market, it was the still the Aussie beasts that ruled the road.  We were so patriotic in fact, that when the Nissan Skyline “Godzilla” had an almost untouchable run in the Australian Touring Car Championship in the early 90’s, a regulation was changed to force them out of the competition.  You had to live in a cave not to know your GTR-XU1 from your SLR-5000 or your Dick Johnson from your Peter Brock.  It was the Australian way of life, and even those who had no reaction to that awfully sweet roar of an Aussie enlarged Ford inline 6 or a Holden straight six 202, at least had an appreciation of our unique car culture.


But as soon as Gran Turismo hit – almost overnight – the roads were populated with the curvaceous beauty of the latest monster from the land of the rising sun.  Amongst them was Mazda’s long-lived sports car series, the rotary masterpiece that is the RX-7.   First built in 1978, the RX-7 went through three major design changes in its almost twenty five year history.  The first generation box look took the car through to the middle of the 1980’s, until the second generation of the RX-7 introducing a sleeker and more streamlined design the car became known for, which finally culminated in the ever-modern look of the third generation that was manufactured through to the discontinuation of the model in 2002.  While the continual evolution of the cars’ design undoubtedly made for a more aesthetically pleasing, not to mention more powerful and well-rounded sports car, each and every model of the car has something unique about it that makes it hard not to love.

I can remember the first time I saw a 1998 Mazda RX-7 Infiniti in real life, sitting regally on the floor of the Melbourne International Motor Show, glistening in an absolutely unreal way.  Being taters deep in Gran Turismo at the time, and a second-hand RX-7 being the first car I’d bought in the game, it was like seeing my wildest video game fantasies manifest themselves in the real world.  That was the moment I fell in love with the RX-7.  And there was something about the rotary engine that someone once described to me as a ‘triangle going spastic in a box‘ that really clicked with the mechanically curious part of my brain.  The RX-7 wasn’t just a car to me, it was my first, the first Japanese designed and built car that I really fell in love with.

Fast forward through almost 20 years of video games, and call it a habit or call it an attempt to evoke some sort of nostalgia of that first video game experience, but where I can I still make sure that the RX-7 is the first car I buy when I embark on the journey through an expertly curated and designed history of motorsport.  Sure the path through every Gran Turismo and every Forza is different, as I build my collection of cars and with it trophies, trying out new cars and new tuning settings, all in pursuit of shedding a couple of milliseconds here and there off of the lap time on any given track.  But every journey invariably begins with Mazda’s beautiful metallic beast with a heart of rotary gold.

It may sound trite, or perhaps even overly and unjustly romantic, but my little ritual is a chance to relive that ‘first love’ over and over again, the chance to get behind the wheel of a car that I’ve harboured such adoration for for such a long time, and the chance to show what the car’s got when the rubber meets the road.  But it’s more than that, it’s about celebrating one of the ways that video games have enriched my life, and introduced me to a whole new world of motorsport.  And like much like Civilization, I have a ritual that I stick to, and one that has come to define a significant part of my enjoyment of these games.  So when Forza 6 presented me with the ability to choose my first car the choice was obvious.

And so there it sits in my garage where it will remain until forever and a day, my beautiful Series 1 RX-7.