The line between reality and fantasy seems to be getting thinner and thinner. I realized this while playing the newest version of Forza on an Xbox One gaming system. The experience of “driving” the virtual car was so realistic. Where I was playing had the whole control deal, too, with an actual racing seat and force-feedback steering wheel. Even the pedal arrangement and shifter (paddle shifters) felt right and the physics of how the pixelated car responded were realistic. Hit a rumble strip and you could feel it through the steering wheel.
And this wasn’t even close to some of the higher-end setups out there where the whole seat is on a gimbal that pitches and yaws in sync with the screen so your brain is even more convinced it’s real. But it isn’t. Sure, it might even get your heart rate up a bit, but it will never replace taking a real car onto a real track (or even road). Why? Because even though it may seem real, your brain always knows the reality (or lack thereof) of the situation. That virtual guardrail puts virtual dents in your virtual car and that shake in your force-feedback steering wheel isn’t going to put you in the hospital. And, since your brain knows it’s all smoke and mirrors, it lets you push harder than you would in real life. After all, if you blow it you can start over with a press of a button. Not so in the real world where real guardrails put real dents in your real car. That’s why when you nail down that hot lap in the real world you feel a sense of accomplishment you can never achieve in the virtual one.
Failure in the real work carries real consequences and this risk is why the reward feels so much richer. The guy who drives his virtual car to a 7:16 lap time on his virtual Nurburgring track will never feel anything close to the accomplishment that Chevrolet driver (and engineer) Bill Wise felt when he did in it real life wringing out the 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE. And the virtual guy would soil himself if he tried to replicate that 7:16 virtual N-Ring lap in the real world even though he’s a rockstar in the virtual one. Yeah, the virtual racetrack can help you learn the course, but it can never replicate the risk factors in real life lap times.
So, if you’re ever tempted to live out your reality driving rasterized cars around tracks made of 1s and 0s then do yourself a favor and go try the real thing so you can see, and feel, what you’re missing.