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Write What You Drive

A showcase of independent motoring journalism and automotive travails

On the Contrary: Videogames Changed the World

If I had to cite reasons why I chose a career in the automotive industry and for my borderline obsession with most things motoring; Gran Turismo would be up there. It was certainly a videogame that changed my tiny 11 year old world in 1998.

Despite this ringing endorsement, there was no mention of GT in Charlie Brooker's recent Channel 4 program, listing 20 games that changed the world in chronological order. In fact, there wasn't a single racing game featured in the entire list. I realise that Brooker's mantra was to list games that have impacted upon popular culture or provided some sort of innovation and advanced the industry but surely there should be at least a nod to one of the most enduring and relatable genres?

Whilst you could accuse racing games of being a fairly un-original simulation of an existing concept; the same is true of playing the guitar in Guitar Hero and that didn't preclude it, and the entire genre of rhythmic button-bashers from mention. In fact, it's a much more realistic aspiration to own and play an actual guitar than it is to own and drive most cars.

Therein lays one of GT's most endearing qualities for the car-geek; the ownership of a huge virtual garage of real vehicles - mainstream, legendary and even those that only exist as one-offs or concepts.

Much of the fodder on show at Japfest or the Nissan Heritage Centre would have a far more limited appeal if Gran Turismo and its troupe of niche Japanese vehicles hadn't arrived first.

It educated a generation; made heroes of the Skyline, Impreza and NSX and ushered in the second coming of the Japanese sports car in Europe (later games pay homage to the first by including the likes of the Toyota 2000GT and Datsun 240Z). The game must surely have helped Japan vie with the USA for the No. 1 spot in car production stakes during the '90s and '00s? Especially by introducing exciting products to foreign markets via the medium of Playstation, whilst the US industry relied mainly on domestic sales.

Perhaps I'm overstating the importance but certainly from a personal perspective, years before I even knew what a Powertrain Engineer was, I was learning how to tune engines. Armed with a few grand I won in the Sunday League - enough to purchase "NA Tune - Stage 1" for my Honda Prelude...

Gran Turismo taught me what "VTEC" is, the differences between NA and Turbo and what playing around with spring and damper rates does to the behaviour of a car. I also learned that getting 900hp out of a Skyline GT-R V-Spec without uprating the brakes doesn't necessarily make it better at going around a track.

If I could choose a world from a videogame to live in; far ahead of filling my house with material possessions, a la The Sims, running/driving around killing people and being endlessly regenerated when I myself get blown up, a la Grand Theft Auto/Call of Duty or even playing guitar to an arena of fans as in Guitar Hero; I would like to live in the world of Gran Turismo.

Surrounded by a city full of car dealerships offering vehicles for sale you couldn't even hope to own anywhere else (regardless of cost) and with nothing to do but buy and race them and then reinvest the prize money in engine and suspension upgrades.

I'm not really a gamer these days, but I would consider the purchase of a PS3 just to play Gran Turismo 6 - the latest incarnation. I almost see it as more of an enthusiast's tool than a game - with each vehicle recreated in painstaking detail, backed by reams of well researched information.

I'm not sure that the contemporary game - as beautifully rendered and realistic as it no doubt is - could ever recapture those halcyon days as an 11 year old when I could see past the blocky graphics and dodgy menu music to hoover up every ounce of information, culture and enjoyment from the original game.

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