The end of 2016, following the US presidential election and Brexit, will probably be remembered as one of the pivotal moments in public discourse. It was the year when the lexicon “echo chamber” entered the public conscience, and while it has been a word levelled at the public, it also serves as a sobering reminder for the media to examine their role in, and relation with, society.
There is no doubt that the media played a huge factor in widening the divide in public discourse, and judging by the doubling down on their viewpoints, many are still far from being clearing out their own collective opinion. One particular segment that is in danger of being drowned up by the haughtiness of their own significance is the motoring media, as recently demonstrated by MOTOR’s opinion piece on driving simulators.
Written by one of Australia’s best and most astute motoring journalist, David Morley, the piece is a magnificently written tirade on his recent encounter with a driving simulator racing competition on the telly. His observations on the breathless enthusiasm of the commentary and participants wearing flame-retardant Nomex gloves in the air-conditioned comforts of a non-flammable indoor arena is an absolute treasure of literacy. His description of the event as nothing more than a 21st-century Dungeons and Dragons hits the nail on the head, and he could have stopped there at the absurdity of it, or at a mate’s folly of relating virtual laps of the Nürburgring with the actual experience of lapping “The Green Hell”. Unfortunately, he didn’t. And this is where he veers back into his “echo chamber”.
While his opinion of driving simulators delivering sedated experiences that are nowhere close to the visceral excitement and physical involvement required in hustling a real car around a circuit is correct, he commits to a common and major faux pas that is guaranteed to exclude future readers. First, he confined people to an identity group, relating those who enjoy video games as “millennials” and then go on to berate them for not “being real”. Bad optics for a genre that is facing an uncertain future with the younger generation.
Indeed, it is true that no matter how advanced your simulators are, there is just no substitute for getting behind the wheel of a real car, where one gets to experience the g-forces, the rush, and having their synapses firing wildly as they are being catapulted towards the horizon at speeds their caveman’s brain knows is wrong.
However for the commentary to mock the whole activity as delusional reveals a fundamental hypocrisy of the whole piece. If the core tenant of any motoring enthusiast publication like MOTOR is about the passion and enjoyment of the drive, one must ask why do we place so much emphasis in its enjoyment? The act of diving is ultimately a mundane function of everyday life, but enthusiasts seek cars that lift the very act from the mundane, the ordinary and compels us to seek the extraordinary in adventure and new experiences. The defining quality that makes driving an unexplainable passion for some, is that if it serves as a form of escapism to the enthusiast. So too are video games and the driving simulators that are part of the genre.
This is an example of where the motoring media is in danger of eating its own tail and isolating its audience. Having access to test cars to drive once in a while, or for some, frequently, fosters an unrealistic myopia of the common man’s reality.
Not everyone will have the luxury of owning more than one car, or even switching cars on a regular basis, which not only goes to explain why many pundits cannot comprehend the proliferation of SUVs and crossovers, it also explains why many would rather splash their hard-earned dough on a full-on driving simulator rig than stump for a go-kart or a track-day banger. Binning your car or blowing an engine isn’t the bank-busting expense it is in the virtual world.
Think of driving simulators as a gateway drug for people to get into the passion that is driving – the “first taste is free” for motorsports involvement. If it gives those who never grew up with the fortunes to get into actual racing at a young age, like nearly all professional racers, a chance to hone their skills and be good enough to get their foot into professional racing, isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that what most motoring media types strive to see? To be inclusive to enthusiasts of all walks and stripes?
Not only that. Not everyone will have the chance to afford a ticket to petrolhead heaven – otherwise known as “The Green Hell” ironically – or be given the opportunity to get behind the wheel of something as exciting or exotic as the many cars the motoring media has the privilege of sampling every now and then. Driving simulators offer enthusiasts of all ages and income groups the opportunity to get their dose of escapism and to experience just a fraction of what real cars on real tracks could deliver. No matter how you cut it, that is an admirable level of enthusiasm and can we blame them for such dedication?
To lambast such people as being out of touch with reality is a critical oversight of the motoring media’s own function in the grand scheme of things because, in truth, a show of such disdain is just to stare themselves in the mirror.