I am worried that if I got used to pulling the 'stunts' one would pull in video games with the same physical interface of a real car, it could lead me to bringing the same 'stunts' on real streets. Ugh.

Is there any research on this topic? Do you have experiences to share? Please bring more to the table than just your opinion.

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    You might want to try and grab Ivo Flipse from SU when he's back from his trip. He may have a good amount of research on this kind of thing.
    – Grace Note
    Commented Oct 8, 2010 at 19:22
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    The only thing I can add here is that when someone is driving slowly in front of me, I get a strong urge to shoot a red shell at them.
    – Wikwocket
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 18:39
  • I'm also interested in knowing if driving in a 'left-hand traffic' game like Sleeping Dogs will affect those driving in countries with right-hand traffic in the real world. Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 3:21

6 Answers 6


Having done a lot of driving various racing games with a wheel and pedals, I'd say "it depends".


  • The game can give you experience in scenarios that are rare in real life, but where a split-second decision can mean the difference between walking or driving away - or worse. For example, Grand Prix Legends gave me experience and confidence that I could then apply to winter driving. The "natural" reaction in a skid or slide is to hit the brakes, which only makes things worse. Instead, a gentle counter-steer and judicious use of the throttle (and maybe a touch of trail-braking - but just dragging the pads, not stomping on it!) will keep you on the arc of the corner and in control of the vehicle. (See "four-wheel drift")
  • In general, the games will teach you to anticipate and "look ahead" for trouble. A common problem with most real-life drivers is that they only look at the car in front of them. Instead, you should be looking as much as 1/4 to 1/2 mile down the road - through the car in front of you. This is especially crucial at higher speeds.


  • Things will normally happen a lot faster and with greater intensity in the game than in real life. The problem comes when you start to crave or seek that intensity.
  • Related to the previous point, in most games the goal is to drive as fast as you can and there are no significant consequences for the minute mistakes that such speed is bound to produce. In real life the consequences are much more dire and there's no "Restart" option.

I'd say that, if you find yourself starting down the path toward problems - driving aggressively, regularly exceeding the speed limit, etc., you need to take a careful look at yourself. In my personal opinion, racing games have made me a better driver. But then, I don't text or talk on the phone (except with a hands-free setup), drive at excessive speeds, etc. The influence of the games has been on my observation and anticipation of trouble ahead, and knowing with some degree of confidence how to handle that trouble.


There are two main things to consider when comparing real driving and game driving.

The first is that there is feedback from the car through the steering wheel and suspension about what the car is doing in response to your actions. Even with power steering there is resistance to turning which you need to overcome - unless you have very good force-feedback wheel you're not going to get that effect from a game.

The second is the actual motion of the car both forwards and around corners. Your body is very good at detecting this and compensating. Even with the best simulators the effect isn't quite the same so unless you are totally immersed in the simulation you will be able to tell you're not really moving at high speed around a track.

On BBC's Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson set a laptime in Gran Turismo and tried to beat it (or even match it) in real life; on the same track and in the same car. He was unable to even get very close to his game-time, highlighting the differences between racing games/sims and real-world driving.


I get motion sickness when in a car. I don't get motion sickness no matter how ridiculous my golf cart is tumbling because my brother slammed me with his bulldozer on the NASCAR track. I also don't get motion sickness in those arcade machines which shift about to simulate as if you were actually turning.

I'm the kind of gamer who leans out of the way when dodging attacks, or flinches and even cries "Ow!" when taking a hit. But even if I turn my arms in the same fashion as driving a car, the feeling is different than in a car because there is a literal disconnect between my actions and what is playing out on the screen. Using a steering wheel in a game still feels like I'm giving input to the game; using a steering wheel in real life feels like I'm actually moving the car.

The interface is going to be similar, but the overall atmosphere and feeling is different. In a racing game, even if I'm using a pedal to operate gas and brakes in a similar fashion as with my car, I'm not actually moving in my seat. My viewing field doesn't actually change as I move around, and 75% of my environment remains identical. If I'm playing a third-person-view, then there's also a difference between how I connect the motions I am doing with what I am seeing. As well, damage sustained by my vehicle for failure to perform a stunt do not cause physical harm or any loss of real money.

When you're in a car, it's a lot different. The car hits a bump, you move in your chair. You brake and you shift a bit and have to fix your seatbelt and rearview mirror. The wheel and pedals are attached to one giant chassis and you have restriction in your movements. The ambience, visual and auditory, of the environment changes around you instead of staying static. When you turn the wheel, your actual car is moving. And the background music playing is from a fighting game instead of a racing game.

This disconnect is what largely helps in stopping you from pulling stupid stunts in real life. The very start of the motions in real life will feel different enough from the motions you use in-game that the stunt stops before you can really start it.

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    As an aside, it's possible for your experiences with games to leak into your real life habits in the same fashion that the reverse happens (and why real drivers tend to always flop their first time trying out a racing game). But unless you're really engrossed in the fabrication, or just really irresponsible, reality will typically snap you out of it. It's similar to how people who might become more violent in real life due to playing violent video games.
    – Grace Note
    Commented Oct 8, 2010 at 19:37

Something to watch out is to not pickup bad driving habits from games. Probably the worst one is using left foot for braking, and this is how most people brake in games as it is faster.

I think the only useful thing racing sims taught me is how to choose the best trajectory around corners. The rest is too different to relate to real life experience. Just like playing shooters doesn't have anything to do with war.

  • 1
    Although left foot braking is actually a required skill for many forms of track racing in real life.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented May 7, 2011 at 12:22
  • your left foot is for the clutch! Commented Dec 19, 2011 at 1:27

I don't have any pointers specifically for racing games, but there is quite a lot of general research on the subject, the scientific term being the "Tetris effect".

The Tetris effect occurs when people devote sufficient time and attention to an activity that it begins to overshadow their thoughts, mental images, and dreams. It is named after the video game Tetris [but] can occur with other video games with any prolonged visual task (such as classifying cells on microscope slides, weeding, picking or sorting fruit, flipping burgers, driving long distances, or playing board games such as chess or go), and in other sensory modalities.

I have suffered from this effect a lot after playing Burnout for a few days in a row, as well as after playing too much with the Rubik Cube.

Here's a recent quote from BBC Future:

The writer Jeffrey Goldsmith was so obsessed with Tetris that he wrote a famous article asking if the game’s creator Alexey Pajitnov had invented “a pharmatronic?” – a video game with the potency of an addictive drug. Some people say that after playing the game for hours they see falling blocks in their dreams or buildings move together in the street – a phenomenon known as the Tetris Effect. Such is its mental pull, there’s even been the suggestion that the game might be able to prevent flashbacks in people with [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder].

That last link is to Psychology Today that offers further reading.


If playing racing games causes you to have the urge to push your vehicle then may I suggest doing precisely that (in the proper environment of course).

While I am a huge fan of racing games I must say that no game, no matter how realistic or how extreme the interface (chair, wheel, pedals, etc), No game compares to actual automotive racing.

Google "scca solo near -insert your city and state-"

Go to www.scca.com/solo

Find an event near you and go check it out. You don't need a fully prepped race car, just a decent car and decent tires with correct air pressure.

If you love racing games, I promise Autocross will make even the very best racing game seem like nothing more than a weak tease of what you really want.


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