Real life / Synthetic life? 

Words and Photos: Quentin Wilson


Quen33.jpg (55244 bytes)After a weekend racing my newly purchased 125cc racebike, I sat down and contemplated what made the experience so much fun. I get the proverbial "rush" from just thinking about racing motorcycles. Imagining the melee from full stop to the first corner, to braking late to get into that corner first, to fending off other competitors with elbows and knees, to accelerating to each subsequent corner gets my juices flowing. This keeps the pangs of anticipation at a high level until the next race. It is something I have not been able to replicate in any other way. I get a good rush from lane splitting on LA freeways, but that rush is usually dampened by the threat of possible death. I have become such a slow street rider that my exploits in the mountains and canyons above my home do not provide me with much satisfaction. I have too much fear.

Some of my colleagues find that video games provide them with satisfaction that rivals that of their own vehicles. These people don't ride motorcycles, they just ride along in cages that hold them safe and complacent. One person even related to me that since he started playing one of the more intense car racing games, he started speeding more than usual. Another cage-driver used to race cars when he was in his early twenties, and now that he is older and wiser, he gets kicks by sliding the rear end of his street car out at every given opportunity, but does not roadrace in any way. Both of these pundits have played the latest World Superbike video game and find it rather amusing. Since they do not ride, they can only imagine what a real bike is like and that screen is the closest that they will probably get to actual racing. Either one of them could be happier with Quake 3 or Starcraft. 

When I was adolescent, especially right before I could ride/drive, I was ensconced in any video game that I could get my hands on, anything from Sim City to Test Drive. I was a  computer geek to some people, even though all I did with my computer was play games. Just because I had a smart father who used real computers I had access to a PC rather than some stupid Sega Genesis or Nintendo so I was labeled as a nerd. I am part of what I consider the Nintendo Generation, yet I have never played a game of Zelda or Super Mario Brothers in my life. I did have access to a Game-Boy, but all I played was Tetris. To this day I can get a rush from sliding my four-block-long tetra into a big stack and getting the jackpot points. 

My gaming pretty much stopped once I started riding the motorcycle and driving. I would play Doom and to this day I still find a thrill in first person shoot-em-ups, but everything else I play is fun for the first couple of days, then it gets old. 

I have only tried a few different games as of late, and some of them do show promise. Racing Rally cars through the Auzzie outback while sitting in front of a 9ft horizontal projected wall with a steering wheel and pedals does get me broken out into a sweat. The rare opportunities that I get to do this are well worth it, but is buying a multi-thousand dollar projector? Could I have the same amount of fun with a keyboard and a 17in monitor? No, I have tried. 

MechWarrior III looks like a wicked game, and I can pretty worked up just watching someone play it, but again this is projected on a wall that really does simulate real life more than any monitor could.

Alien versus Predator is no holds barred the scariest thing I have encountered in my young adult life. Watching Aliens for the first time was a traumatic experience for me in the first place. I remember having to have my dad shut it off. I watched it in full the next morning and it has ended up being my favorite movie of all time. That, along with my love of the Predator adds to my enthusiasm for this particular game. Again, watching someone else play it, even on a small screen, can startle me. Playing it leaves me worrying about the walk to my car. Why should I buy a VooDoo 3 3000 graphics card to run that on my own computer when I could buy a set of tires and a clutch for my racebike?

All of these games, even the more intense ones, leave me empty. I am searching for the real thing. I am not desperate enough to join the military or the postal service, so real life combat is not something I will be able to enjoy in the near future. Aliens do not exist, and even if they did they would be chlorophyll based humanesque forms that receive energy from sunlight, not bounty hunting soldiers or parasitic demons. My chances of fighting the good fight with one of H.R. Gigers bad dreams is nil, and if eight-foot-tall Rastafarians existed they would
probably just be too stoned to aim their triangle laser dots anywhere near my peaceful melon. Sim City, Age of Empires, and the like are just simulations of day to day life if you think about it, and I choose to devote my mental energy to organizing my own life, not some pixels on my computer screen. 

So this leaves me with motorsports. I am 22, I have disposable income, an I have more balls than brains, so motorcycle racing is just the ticket. Cars are overly complex, expensive to buy tires for, and numb in comparison to a good motorcycle ride. Racing a minibike around a .6 mile go-kart track nets me more enjoyment than an equivalent session behind the controls of any video game, so roadracing a Honda 125 is like Fat Man and Little Boy going off next to a hand held sparkler. 

The fiery intensity of late braking into a 90 degree left hander, sliding the rear tire while simultaneously trying to avoid the slower rider in front of me while also trying to pass him on the inside is an experience that no video game could ever rival. The shriek of a high tune engine at above 10,000 rpm requires earplugs in most cases, do I want that inside my home? The smell of 100-octane race gas burning at a ratio of 30:1 with Castor oil is a smell that could not be duplicated to any amount of accuracy in a computer friendly environment. The vibrations and G-forces that are transmitted to the rider would take thousands of dollars in hydraulics to replicate. One time while traveling up the front straight at 110 mph , I poked my head above the windscreen bubble and was met with such a force of air that it threw me back. I am sure not going inside a wind tunnel to play a video-game. 

In this numbing world of computer animation and static thrills, a dynamic day at a racetrack shines like an equatorial sun. I like technology and I look forward to the day when the racing environment can be properly duplicated. This would allow normally scared and boring humans attempt to do things like race cars or rock climb or windsurf. Until that day comes, I want the light so bright it burns my eyes.