man playing a video game in an arcade
May 2, 2019

7 Essential Driving Tips You Can Learn from Video Games

Imagine you're driving a normal car on a normal trip to a completely normal place that you normally drive to; a typical, everyday occurrence that is in no way out of the ordinary. Suddenly, a black van in oncoming traffic swerves into your lane (oh no)! A collision seems imminent, but at the last second, with catlike reflexes, you carefully swerve out of the way and continue down the road.

Meanwhile, the van has been forced to the side of the road and was full of ninjas who had kidnapped the President's daughter and now there are FBI helicopters with SWAT teams surrounding them and over the next week you are hailed as a national hero on the major news networks.

How did you gain this incredible (and totally real) driving ability? The answer lies in your past: your teenage years in the arcade. Back in the day, you probably spent some time in a video game arcade or two. Or maybe you had a home console. While your mom was nagging you to spend less time in front of the screen, you can tell her you were actually preparing for a future of driver safety with these life-changing lessons.


The arcade taught us that driving can get expensive, a quarter at a time. (That doesn't seem like a lot of money now, but back then, you could buy several dozen snap bracelets or a whole tube of POGs with a single quarter.) You couldn't afford to wait ten minutes in line at the OutRun machine, pop in your hard-begged money, and slam down all the way on the accelerator only to immediately crash on your first turn.

Because now that shiny red virtual Ferrari is in the dirt and the words "Game Over" are flashing on the screen, endlessly blinking, while the other kids in the arcade laugh at you for your dumb *dumb* mistake. (Their faces will continue to haunt you years later.) That’s why, whether you're talking about the costs of collisions, speeding tickets, or maintaining wear and tear on a vehicle, smart driving saves money.


Speaking of staying on the road, you ever notice how you never drive off the road when you need to get somewhere? Thank the legion of racing games like Crusin' USA and Mario Kart that taught you that maintaining a top speed means staying on the road and avoiding hazards that can slow you down and damage your vehicle. Upgrading your wheels to handle the course and weather you'll be driving doesn't hurt either. Just remember to maintain control; nobody wants to get fished out of a pond by a smug hipster turtle in a cloud.


Before you even get started, you have to pick your ride. Are you a High Top Speed/Low Acceleration driver, or is a Low Top Speed/High Acceleration configuration more your speed? Do you prefer the ease of an automatic transmission, or the control of a manual stick shift? Heavy or Light? Knowing how your vehicle handles and how you react to dangerous situations is important no matter where you're driving. So if you try out a new vehicle (lucky for you, Zipcar has a huge variety to take for a spin), take a couple slow practice laps around the block to get familiar with its quirks before you hit the highway.


All the fancy gadgets and upgrades in the world can't correct inattentive driving. Sure, you might have those turbo boosts handy, but if you're all over the place, you're not going to get a chance to use them. Likewise, make sure you set up your GPS, radio, and phone before you start driving, so your items help (and don't hurt) your driving.


Your metaphorical trophy might be just one more hour of driving away, but if you begin to succumb to drowsiness, or become distracted by the "star field effect" of falling snow at night, pull over and live to drive another day. Just like when your mom tells you to stop playing “that space game” (it’s F-Zero, Mom) because you have a paper on Moby Dick for your English class due, sometimes you just have to muster the discipline to give the driving a rest.


In video games, you’ll learn that sometimes letting other drivers pass you is beneficial—that's when you tag them with a red turtle shell or hit the corner of their rear bumper. In real life, that same strategy allows traffic to move naturally and create openings for you down the road. It's like roadway "car"-ma (bad-joke groan).


Though it was never officially released (save for a recent mobile phone port), Penn and Teller's Desert Bus still managed to develop a large fan following and teach us that long road trips are only inherently fun in principle; an easy feat for a game that has you making the lackluster eight-hour drive from Tucson to Las Vegas in real time. (Doing so grants you one point before you have to turn around and drive back.) So, before you start that "Totally Epic" 22-hour marathon drive from Dixville Notch, NH, to Clarion, IA, make sure you're prepared for the long-haul with snacks, a variety of audio treats (music, podcasts, audiobooks), and most importantly, a "Player 2" (‘cause switching off driving duties makes the ride so much more enjoyable—and doable).