Can Playing Racing Video Games Make You a Better Driver?

Racing video games tend to act as a “gateway drug” whether you like cars a little or are a bonafide car enthusiast. With everything from the excitement of building your dream car and dream garage to working your way up the ranks and winning races, a good racing game can make you feel like Lewis Hamilton as you speed past your opponents. However, with all of the button mashing and driving skills that you learn while playing games like “Gran Turismo” and “Forza,” can they actually make you a better driver in real life?

It’s all about your visuomotor control

The next time you find yourself playing countless hours of your favorite racing game, don’t feel bad thinking that you wasted time finally winning that trophy you worked so hard for. According to a study done by Psychological Science, gamers who play racing and action games can have greater visuomotor abilities than non-gamers. In case you’re wondering, the term “visuomotor” refers to the “coordination of movement and visual perception by the brain,” according to the trusty old Merriam-Webster dictionary.

“Our research shows that playing easily accessible action video games for as little as 5 hours can be a cost-effective tool to help people improve essential visuomotor-control skills used for driving,” said researcher Li Li of New York University Shanghai. The actual study that the university conducted consisted of gamers playing either Mario Kart or Roller Coaster Tycoon from five to 10 hours per week, over a six-week period, in order to ultimately test them on a driving simulator and see if there are any differences in how gamers from each group performed.

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 17: Sam Mitchell from the Hawthorn Hawks takes his turn on a Playstation at the AFL Premiership 2005 Sony Playstation launch at the Telstra Dome August 17, 2005 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)

Testing driving abilities

The test consisted of a simulated driving experience in which the participants were tasked with steering a car down a virtual lane and straying as little as possible while trying to compensate for crosswinds that affected the behavior of the car. According to Psychological Science, “Experienced action gamers showed much greater precision in keeping to their lane, and showed less deviation from the center in the face of increasing headwinds when compared to the participants with little to no action video game experience.”

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Animators gives instructions to children playing video games during a free summer Esport course for youth in Boulogne-Billancourt on July 22, 2020. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP) (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)

Can playing racing games make you a better racecar driver?

Now that we know that playing racing games can theoretically make you a better driver because they increase your visuomotor skills, we had to wonder if they can actually make you a better driver on the race track. According to Popular Mechanics, “playing video games can essentially rewire the brain. In tests, participants playing a first-person shooting game were up to 50 percent better at identifying, locating, and tracking objects—skills that are also critical in real race driving—than non-gamers.”

But that doesn’t mean that you can go from playing Gran Turismo on your 32-inch TV to rubbing wheels with Lewis Hamilton overnight. You’ll still need to get real experience in racing before you can even think of doing that. However, you can still obtain some useful skills playing that game as it is billed as a real driving simulator, meaning that the vehicle behaviors and race track contours are as realistic as they can be.

VARIOUS CITIES, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 08: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) (EDITORS NOTE: This image was computer generated in-game.) Scott McLaughlin driving the #17 Shell V-Power Racing Ford Mustang leads the field through the first corner at the start of Race 3 during round 1 of the Supercars All Stars Eseries at Monza on April 08, 2020 in Various Cities, Australia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Gaming versus reality

Just remember to get a gaming steering wheel and pedal set with force feedback so you make the experience as real as possible. And while most racing games currently on the market are very realistic, try not to do anything crazy with your Honda Civic in real life when you make a trip to the grocery store for more Mountain Dew after you’ve played for 10 hours. After all, they are just games, not reality.