Futility in 8 seconds or less

I always wanted a BMW M3. Then that morphed into an M5 when I became a father – for the extra space and doors. There’s something that has been imprinted into me from countless advertising billboards that says a BMW represents quality and luxury, and that putting an M on it makes the luxurious affair delightfully daring. Having borrowed an M3 and struggled to get from 0-60MPH in under 3.5 seconds – something that at the time sounded impossibly faster – marginally slower than an Ariel Atom – I now want more fasterer. I want 0-60 in under 2 seconds, something I achieved in a BMW Z4 GT3 a few days ago in Spain.

This astonishing realization came about as now, I got game. While in Europe I read a book by Neil Strauss about pick-up artists – The Game. It’s a riveting read about the tactics that funny looking men can use to collect phone numbers and bragging rights that he learned while invading the “secret society of pick up artists”. I don’t think I ever used any of the tactics or routines described before I met Mrs. Ron (aside from occasionally wearing shiny pants and colored contact lenses), but one of the many things that rang true in the book was the following line:

“But if you sit the average male down in front of anything halfway intriguing and explain to him that it has a system of rankings that he can get better at over time, he’ll become obsessed. Hence the popularity of video games, martial arts, Dungeons and Dragons …”

So given that I’m out of that Game, I decided to look at popular car racing games and download them onto my automagically file-managed iPad. While no-one likes to think of themselves as Neil Strauss’s average male, I elected to go for popular games. You know, because Angry Birds is good because so many people like it, rather than so many people like Angry Birds because it’s good.

When I was a kid, I got a Commodore 64 as a christmas gift. Before long, my step-father (yes, I was a red-headed step child) had encouraged me to write some wage-calculation software for paying employees at the small business he worked within. I also made my first video game, which I proudly showed off to the family at my grandparents’ house. When you pressed start, a random number was generated, and an asterisk landed on a target on the screen giving you a score, accompanied by the screech of a randomly generated MIDI sound. It was awesome, though hard to play more than once, even for a family member.

Many years later, I realize that the thing the game lacked (aside from marketing and finesse) was game-play. What Neil refers to as a system of rankings and ability to improve over time. But fast forward 30 years, and here I am playing the highly addictive CSR Racing.

I first fired up what I thought might be an intriguing car game, hoping to learn about racing lines and braking approaches. I played it once and was gob-smacked at how incredibly petty it is. When you break it down, the game-play involves two buttons (three later on). One is to control the throttle before your car launches on the quarter mile, and the other is to change into higher gears as you roar down the track.

Get this. You don’t even have to understand or imagine anything about the relationship between revolutions per second and torque to get started. Why? Because a set of four lights shows you when to press the freaking button.Yes, you press the two buttons when a green light comes on. And that controls the drag race. So it’s essentially a reaction testing game. Played by millions. We’re all rats in search of our cocaine-button it seems.

z4 gt3
My Z4 GT3

I was about to delete the miserable excuse for a glamorous C64 newbie programmer’s first stab, but I got distracted. And when I came back to it later that day, I decided to play it one more time. And I got hooked. For a game which revolves around pressing a button maybe 5 times each time a green light flashes, it has a lot of back story. There are cars to buy. Upgrades to fit. Crew-leaders to challenge.

I’ve always wanted a BMW M3. In the game, I drive one. Without having to earn an extra $62,295 in my day job. Somewhere along the last few years, I forgot about suspending disbelief, or rather, believing in an utter fantasy in which I am surrounded by nitrous upgrades, and new intake and turbo systems. I got into video games as a teenager and still associate them with teenage years, though there are certainly some adult-oriented ones I got hooked on in later years.

Now I’ve “done” CSR Racing, I’m wondering whether to delve back into real life and invent my own game, or to stick with a much lower risk approach of on-screen heroics. Ultimately I think the game is analogous to human existence itself. If you take a long hard look at it, it’s just pressing a few buttons when a light comes on, but it gets tarted up with stories and shiny graphics and a sound track and it seems like something more.

So now I don’t just want an M3. I want an Audi R8 GT for $200,150. And with enough mind-numbing algorithmic game playing, I might just fulfill my ambitions.

2 thoughts on “Futility in 8 seconds or less”

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