Published on August 28th, 2013 | by Shawn Long, Features Editor
Driving Video Games: A New Learning Tool?
As many of our readers know, I am a bit of a car aficionado. Racing games are my forte, and I love using my Logitech G27 steering wheel to really have a better sense of driving rather than what a standard controller can give you. However, I must admit something. I can’t, and never have, driven a car with a stick shift.
I’m in the market for a second car, and I’ve been looking at the Porsche 944S as the one. It’s not super quick, but it has excellent weight distribution and it is awesome in the corners.
The only problem being is that 95-percent of these cars are stick shift, or what’s referred to as a manual transmission, and that would mean learning how to drive it. I’m not exactly the most coordinated person in the world. So, I figured I had two options: Find a friend with a stick and destroy his clutch, or simply find another way to learn.
The other way was in the form of my Logitech G27 racing wheel — more specifically, one that had a “clutch” and a “gear box.”
Getting behind the plastic wheel
I figured that it wouldn’t exactly make me a pro, but it might help me in the right direction of what to expect: How to feel for the gear shift and everything else I assumed was standard fare for a manual transmission. I spent about an hour just driving on straight away courses in Gran Turismo 5. Most of the learning was accomplished using low-end cars, while I attempted to get the feel for everything. After a while I reverted back to the auto gearbox setting, figuring I wasn’t doing much in the way of learning.
A friend recently had to drop his Mercedes in the shop for a sunroof issue, and he brought home his grandfather’s Isuzu Rodeo, with, guess what, a manual gearbox. At first I wasn’t exactly thrilled about using it for my needs, but after a few, “Come on dude, just do it,” speeches, I decided to give it a go.
We headed to a little parking lot area and I was ready to give it a try (well, not before we did a little “ghost ride the whip” for a bit).
Surprisingly, I felt like I was playing Gran Turismo 5 at home, and after a quick lesson, I started on my voyage. When switching gears for the first time — instead of stalling like I figured I would — I shifted flawlessly. After about 20 minutes of no real issues of driving the Rodeo, I took us home.
So what am I babbling about? Simply put, I credit the wheel and Gran Turismo 5 for not only being a great combo of game and accessory, but as teaching tools. I literally had no clue about driving a stick shift and switching gears, but the tools I had used prior actually helped me more so than anything else might have.
How can this be used for driving education today?
Imagine a driver’s education class that instead of just an instructor handing out the basics on driving, you are put in a simulation where you can take a digital vehicle around the block.
Well, some schools do have this, and I know that at my local community college one day they had a set up where it was a drunk driving simulation (which I aced!). In this situation, students are asked to sit in a “car” with actual pedals and a wheel and drive in a simulation setting.
I’m not saying we should put a Logitech wheel and GT5 in front of a bunch of 14-year-olds and say “GO FOR IT,” but the basic idea is sound.
As I mentioned above, there are some schools that provide simulators. However, what if a teen who wants to learn isn’t given the option for a school with fancy equipment?
For the at-home driver
There are tons of PC simulators, such as City Driver, that are excellent games that put you in a real-world setting. How costly could it possibly be to have a laptop with this program, a $300 steering wheel and a display to show it on? Would you rather have inexperienced drivers heading to take their driving tests, or someone who is is practiced in driving first?
It would make learning much more interesting and remove some of the anxiety that you have when you are driving with the instructor and two other kids in the car for your “test” to pass.
Driving is something that many people at some point must do in life, and learning at a young age can help out tremendously. I have witnessed firsthand how a simple wheel/game setup can help a 28-year-old adult, and I imagine someone half my age with a desire for the open road would learn even more than I could imagine.