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Do Video Games Make You A Better Or Worse Driver?

Realistic racing simulators. Faster reaction times. Shouldn't those that play video games, especially racing games, be better drivers? The answer goes deeper than just a simple yes or no. While there are benefits, there are also some drawbacks as well.

Jori Hamilton, Blogger

August 4, 2020

5 Min Read

Image Credit: Unsplash

In years past, video games have unjustly been given a bad rap by certain people and groups who propose that video games can be blamed for instances of mass violence or that they are even satanic in nature. It isn’t just first-person shooters or bloody action games that take the heat for societal problems that existed long before video games were even around; even bad driving is now being linked to racing games. However, unlike video games that rely on a high degree of fantasy, racing games are fairly realistic and someone could potentially try to mimic in-game behavior on the road. While aggressive driving techniques can be beneficial to a player’s time on the virtual track, techniques learned through racing games can be dangerous to both the driver and those around them.

The Positive Benefits Of Gaming

Despite the multiple attempts to cast video gaming in a negative light over the years, there is actually a lot of sound evidence that shows that video games can actually be quite beneficial to those who play them. Video games are stimulating and highly interactive which, combined with the fact that games are highly task and goal-oriented, make gaming a novel yet effective educational tool. 

Video games have been shown to improve basic visual processes, vigilance, attention, executive functioning, multitasking, and mental flexibility, all of which are necessary when piloting a vehicle. Additionally, studies indicate that job training conducted through video games is particularly effective in professions that require great hand-eye coordination, quick decision-making, excellent working memory, and a high degree of attention. Again, all skills that are essential when driving a car.

With this in mind, it would seem that racing games, more specifically racing simulators, would work as a fantastic tool for bolstering a player’s understanding of the fundamentals of driving and improving reaction times that are necessary on the road to make important decisions in a split-second. Some areas of the world have already started embracing digital education and training, such as using virtual reality technology to prepare doctors for difficult surgeries, so why haven’t we decided that racing games are a valid substitute for driver’s ed?

Video Games Can Offer Low-Stakes Training

Driving simulation games give gamers the chance to effectively learn a whole host of vital driving skills depending on the nature of the game in question. Sure, playing Grand Theft Auto Online is fun, but you’re not likely to learn important defensive driving techniques when your vehicle is equipped with explosive rockets and the goal of a race is to win at any cost. However, more in-depth driving simulators like Forza might be more effective as they do not reward violent or brash driving. Instead, realistic driving and racing simulators place a huge amount of importance on attention, quick-decision making, and mastery of control. 

A huge benefit of learning to drive or improving driving skills through video games is that they have incredibly low stakes. Simulations can teach drivers to stay calm under pressure and improve their decision-making skills, putting drivers into dangerous real-world driving situations without any of the dangers that come with actually being behind the wheel of 2,000 pounds of steel going 80 miles per hour. Traditional driving courses can tell students a thousand times how to react when their vehicle begins to hydroplane on a wet road, but video games can actually show drivers what it might be like and give them a hands-on opportunity to put defensive driving skills into practice.

Video games can also be effective in educating drivers on what not to do in certain situations. For instance, the U.S. Army in collaboration with the University of Calgary has developed and implemented a game called Booze Cruise, a drunk-driving simulator, into the training regimen of new troops. The goal of Booze Cruise isn’t to train troops to be able to drive under the influence but to show them the immense dangers and difficulties that come with impaired driving in a low-stakes scenario.

The Disconnect Between Reality & Video Games

One of the main reasons that driving simulation video games have not yet been adopted as the norm for driving education is the disconnect between driving in video games and driving in reality. In a survey, drivers who regularly played racing video games admitted to believing that they take higher risks than non-gamers while driving while simultaneously believing themselves to be more skilled than non-gaming drivers. This is an incredibly dangerous combination as it results in drivers making riskier decisions while behind the wheel while maintaining confidence that their time spent playing MarioKart will give them the necessary skills to avoid losing control of their vehicle.

Not only does this put drivers at legal risk, potentially losing their license due to risky driving practices, but also puts themselves and those around them on the road in serious danger. While getting a suspended license reinstated can be difficult and time-consuming, taking someone’s life due to dangerous driving practices almost always results in not only years in prison, but the inherent mental and emotional toll of ending someone else’s life.

While driving games improve reaction times in the individuals who play them, there is something to be said for the innate need for precautions when learning to drive behind the wheel of an actual car. Learning to drive using the real thing drives home the importance of safe driving practices and can make clear how devastating a misstep behind the wheel can be.

So, do video games make you a better or worse driver? It really depends on how you approach them. If you simply assume that because your lap times crush the competition you’ll be an excellent driver on the road in the real world, video games probably aren’t teaching you much. However, if you understand how effective video games can be as an educational tool but acknowledge the limits of that tool, then you’re likely to reap the benefits that racing and driving simulators can provide.

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