There is something disturbing about racing games, especially simulation racing games.
Burnout Paradise was the source of many jokes about how there were no humans visible in the game. This decision was obviously made because the game is all about horrible car wrecks, and they didn’t want to simulate gory eviscerations-by-windshield, so they left people out of the game entirely to preserve their rating. Nonetheless, seeing your car in glorious high-definition graphics, drifting through turns and doing barrel rolls off ramps, with absolutely no one in the driver’s seat – it was unsettling.
My favourite scenario was a post-apocalyptic vision of a city, perhaps a whole planet, where humans had disappeared, leaving their cities empty and lifeless, and the cars were the only inhabitants left. Maybe they had taken over; maybe they were just waiting. It’s not important. All that’s left is driving. It looks like most of the city’s cars just drive in circles, following a purposeless routine, but the burnout cars, the racers, they seem to have developed some kind of sense of fun, even aggression and rivalry. They don’t care about the human city or human needs or human routines anymore – they care about going really fast and breaking shit and doing sweet jumps. They are free from the limits of flesh. It is a bizarre scenario that I can’t help but rehearse in my mind every time I play the game. It also reminds me of that Stephen King short story where the cars come to life and start murdering people and forcing them to work in factories to make more cars.
If Burnout Paradise is a vision of the liberation of the automobile from human tyranny, then F1 Race of Champions is an alternate vision – the same loneliness, the same absence of life, but no city, no other cars, just this one car and the qualifying round and a clock. Is this what the car has been dreaming of, for all the years it waited in garages and autoshops? Did it just want to drive around, and around, and around the track, shaving off fractions of a second, forging the perfect lap? Maybe it’s finally free to live out its only purpose.
Or maybe it’s doing this because it knows nothing else, or it has no choice – it can’t stop itself, or it is unable to even conceive of other action. Maybe it can’t leave the track because that’s all there is. There are no more humans to tell it what to do, to grip and force its wheel to turn, but they might as well still be there.
Or maybe it’s just afraid they’ll come back.