Apparently, when I was a child, I liked to play a game called ‘Traffic Jams’. I would arrange all of my little Matchbox toys on the floor in a big, long line and every now and then inch them forwards. I was quite happy sitting there ‘in traffic’, so to speak.
These days, I’d rather plough through the middle of London rather than sit, helplessly atop the Dartford Crossing, marooned between a Latvian truck and the Jones family, caravan in tow. Not that London ever moves at more than four miles per hour, mind.
Being a petrol-head is defined by a steady progression, from Hot Wheels, making garages out of old boxes… to playing Gran Turismo, a game so beautiful and so addictive I could waste days speeding round a virtual Nürburgring. Finally, you end up in proper cars – what you’ve always been building up to, you tell yourself. But it’s a bit of an anti-climax to be honest. You’ve spent your teens smashing up Ferraris on the TV, and then all of a sudden, you’re being taught how to perform a three-point-turn, or who has the right of way at a roundabout in a Focus 1.6.
When you’re learning to drive, there comes a point when you get just a bit too cocky. I’d just returned from Le Mans one week, and spent the entirety of my next driving lesson trying to imitate Tiff Needell. For some blokes, that period lasts far longer than it should, until you find yourself upside down on the hard-shoulder, with the DIY subs in the back of your Saxo still thumping away.
I’m not a boy racer. I can drive fast, but only because I’ve been taught how to in real life. I’d never be so stupid as to imitate the gung-ho attitude I adopt on the PlayStation. The danger with young drivers comes when the line between the virtual and reality blurs. Video games bolster your confidence; just because you can drift an Evo through Marble Arch on your sofa, whatever you do, don’t think the skills are in any way transferable to the road.
On the track can be a different matter. The Gran Turismo Academy, for example, encourages gamers to compete for the fastest times on their consoles. Eventually, the winners become certified racing drivers after training and competing in a series of challenges both online, and in the real world.
The racing line, throttle control and a great deal else are faithfully represented in these games, but, no matter how realistic they are, under no circumstances should you confuse reality with a game.