Thursday, June 3rd, 2004
The game plays off the CD, on the screen, and inside the room, where I’m playing. It is real, as is the experience it stimulates, but the experience it stimulates is not the same experience of driving a car.
Most of us don’t have the experience of driving a car over 80 mph into a tight curve. In high school we took a friend’s RX7 up to about 110 mph on a straight road, and that was scary enough. Now, I rarely beat 75 on I84 and mainly keep to a modest 45 mph to and from work to the chagrin of other NE drivers.
But there is something to speed for us, and driving the line over a race track is a way of creating it. It’s about getting beyond the body, stepping out of physical, motile limitations. As Yi Fu Tuan writes in his book Space and Place: the Perspective of Experience
Tools and machines enlarge man’s sense of space and spaciousness. Space that is measurable by the reach of one’s outstretched arms is a small world compared with one that is measured by the distance of the spear throw or arrow shot. The body can feel both measures. Size is the way a person feels as he stretches his arms; it is the experience of the hunter as he throws his spear, feels it shoot out of his hand, and sees it disappear into the distance. A tool or machine enlarges a person’s world when he feels it to be a direct extension of his corporeal powers. (53)
Technology is an extension of the limbs and of the senses (and the perseption of sense input), an extension of human control and physical reach; technology extends the human body outward into and through space, either into the primary areas of our everyday experience (in this sense, experience, space and time, are pretty much one phenomenon) or into simulated space, say the image of a plane flying over massive land, as in the film Out of Africa. Radar allows the sailor to see at great distances. Chalk provides a teacher the magic of making sounds hover above ground. Shovels are hands, telescopes eyes. A plane is a magical body, the arms extended and flapping. Who is flying, however, the pilot, the plane, or the passenger? All technology conforms or casts to some human sense or some aspect of the reaching body, perhaps.
Inside the game I purchase a Mazda Miata and start racing. The track is Mid-Field and Im racing cars similar in capability to mine. A camera bends around the car, lands me in first person mode behind the wheel, and the countdown begins. In front of me are all the other cars and the stretch of track, rearing stands, and rendered sky. Press the X for acceleration. 3-2-1. Go.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what Im doing. The PS2 controllers (there are two experiences with the game: 1) with the controller 2) and with Forced Feedback, that is playing the game with driving attachments, which include steering wheel, pedals, and more) are easy to figure out, but the Miatared by the waymy starter car–isnt. I come in to the first turn, a right curve, at about 80 mph, slip off the road to the left and smash against the barrier. All the other cars zoom by and I sit in the car and on a chair wondering what to do. I wrestle the vehicle back onto the road, regain speed then, after creeping through a shallow S, smash into every other opposite barrier to the in-line of a curve throughout the race, coming in dead last, smashed up, and puzzled. I have no idea what Im doing. And this is one of the simpler tracks.
Cut ahead. A few weeks later, Im winning $1,000, $2,500, $5,000 purses at beautifully rendered Midfield I and II, Rome Circuit, Seattle, Tokyo, Deep Forest, where light streams down through shadow and some of the track is so deep in dusk that you smash through blackness without touching anything but empty space. All in my Miata (and in an RX7 Infinity). Ive juiced up the Mazda, bought softer tires, got all the racing accoutrement, won a few cars (selling two for more money), and have a better feel for how a rear-engine car maneuvers. I take the first and last curves of Midfield as if I had had a feel for them all along, following a tight line and breaking out like a champ. I dont remember the initial problems because Im driving more intuitively: the game space has basically changed and Im no longer the player I was at the start. Now I know that I should qualify for a race because this allows me to learn a track and get a better starting position, third to pole. The games AI, I know now, turns opponents more aggressive the more aggressive I drive, which is good, because they begin to slip off the road too. I make the programming nervous, in other words.
How did this happen? How did I win, and how did I learn? How did I climb inside the world space of GT3 and attune or connect my senses to the system? Im almost ready to go into the amateur leagues, where theres real money to be made. I dont want to go yet, though. I want a few more cars first, more practice. Withal, I have yet to experience an 80 mph curve in my Jeep. In the game, however, Ive done it plenty.