Much has been made about racecar driver Jann Mardenborough learning to race cars by playing a video game. He’s not the only one, either. Mardenborough and about 90,000 other racers went head-to-head playing “Gran Turismo” in a contest to find drivers with the potential of going pro, according to MotorSport Magazine. You already know the happy ending for young Jann: a Formula 1 with a Red Bull sponsorship. Not too shabby for someone just out of his teens. But this Cinderella’s story has spawned the debate anew as to whether it’s a good thing for kids to be learning so many real-world skills from video games.
Anyone with a kid and a Playstation can’t deny that there’s a lot to be learned from video games. In a TED video, author Gabe Zichermann ties playing video games to increasing grey matter in the brain, explaining that mastering video games creates a pattern of continual learning which builds problem-solving skills. When you narrow it down to look specifically at driving games, kids can learn about attention to surroundings, identifying and avoiding danger, consistency in performance, steering input, acceleration control and spatial element recognition. The value of purposely using video games to teach kids these skills isn’t lost on driving schools and car manufacturers, who have taken to offering virtual driving games such as the ones found at driving-tests.org to give kids a chance to practice and do it over and over in a safe environment.
Often video games that simulate driving involve fiery crashes, speeding and opportunities to purposely smash into buildings and other vehicles. In the games, there is no responsibility, accountability or consequences, and you can immediately get behind the wheel again. These elements may give kids a false sense of immortality and a distorted sense of reality. A study commissioned by the British company Continental Tyres found that people who play video games are more likely to take risks on the road and more likely to crash, too. Gamers were also prone to:
- clipping other cars
- bumping into stationary objects while parking
- driving one-way streets in the wrong direction
- experiencing road rage
- running red lights
- operating mobile phones while driving
The study also revealed that gamers think they’re more capable behind the wheel than they really are.
The Truth: The Jury is Out
The truth about whether learning to drive from video games is a good idea or a bad one isn’t a black-and-white answer. For every study that comes out touting the benefits of video games, one will come out advising of their dangers. Even the Continental Tyers study concluded by saying that driving games can develop safe driving skills such as concentration and risk awareness, but that admission was qualified by saying that balance is necessary for driving video games to be useful. The reality is that it depends on the individuals. Parents know their kids better than anyone and should be able to determine if their teens are the type to learn valuable lessons or develop bad driving habits from video driving games. In his article for the Daily Herald, Burt Constable grudgingly admitted that he recognized that video games had made his teen-aged boys better drivers than he was at their age. So take a spin around the virtual block with your teen and make the call for yourself. Who knows: he — or she! — may be the next Jann Mardenborough.