Stiff competition and new addictions lead my experience with sim racing.
I always wondered how it felt driving in one of these things. As I stood unknowingly in front of what I would later classify as a rig, the worried-looking guy beside me started talking. “Make sure your hands aren’t greasy anymore – I’ll kill you if they are!” With these words, I was kindly introduced to the world of sim racing. I am Marvin. At the time I was 19 and totally not a sim racer yet. I understood there were people who mimicked “real” racing in these things, but that was about it. I knew nothing about the rest.
My friend Felix was tense as I sat down in front of his holy wheel, anxiously waiting to beat me up if I ruined his rig. I put my non-greasy hands on a rather expensive wheel and sat on nothing more than a measly folding chair. An odd combination that I didn’t understand at the time. His cat was constantly trying to get our attention as he tried to tell me a million things about this Assetto Corsa thing. She was probably looking to protect me.
I told Felix that I am a professional and proceeded to mash buttons on the keyboard until I was set to do a drive. I would love to be able to put my shortcomings on his cat or my greasy fingers, but I was simply terrible. As you’d expect from a newcomer. But something in me changed. I wanted to do another lap. And then another. I was hooked. That day started my sim racing journey.
Addicted to diamonds
My mind was made up even though I seemed rather naïve. I thought the necessary peripherals would cost a couple of hundred dollars to put together. The moment I realized anything under $1,000 would be a DIY project, was the moment I understood how close I was to being executed when I first tried to drive in a rig with greasy fingers. This also explained the miserable chair. My mate was simply out of money.
Sure, you don’t NEED to buy the best build to be good at sim racing. But if you have a NASA-like simulator, you enhance the experience tenfold. Nearly everyone starts with a Logitech or cheap Thrustmaster wheel, but if you ever race with a Simagic or a FANATEC you immediately feel the difference. I remember Felix used to have a FANATEC and it was the one I used for my maiden drive. In my opinion, it is the way sim racing is supposed to be done. I learned I was essentially addicted to diamonds. My hobby of choice was a shallow grave for money.
After I had done everything but sell my body to acquire what I wanted, I was ready to roll. I had semi-professional equipment and managed to put it together without getting it greasy. Felix meanwhile had an upgraded chair. We both thought this was the time to turn into the sim racing Senna.
The communities of sim racing are different, yet similar at their core. They are really open to newcomers and love to share knowledge. I experienced hardly any insults when I was just a new player. People are just eager to be taken seriously. In my experience, calling sim racing a game is unholy for some hardcore fans. They think of GT and Forza when you say “game”, but something like iRacing or rFactor are completely different in their eyes. Gatekeeping is still very much prevalent in sim racing. There is a clear cut to what is and what is not sim racing.
What fascinated me was the determination so many had to improve with each drive. It didn’t feel weird to watch highlights of races for five hours at a time, because I knew others would do so as well. Sim racing has the most hardcore fanbase of any hobby I have ever seen. Maybe the high entry fee prevents casual racers from totally committing to it. Or maybe some can’t handle the intensity of competition.
Needing the fix
In my prior gaming life, I figured out that I hate losing. After the age of 16, I stopped blaming outside factors for my mistakes and took the blame on myself. This made me hate losing even more. I have gone through about 30 controllers while playing FIFA. Now imagine Felix being like that, times five. Now imagine him sitting behind a wheel. Now imagine his poor cat.
Sim racing stimulates my competitiveness like nothing else in the world. No matter where you start in a race, there is always a goal, always the need to be better than where you were last time. It is a feeling that can probably only be compared to real-life racing. My heart races as fast as I do when I attempt an overtake. Sometimes I just sit there after a race thinking about the next one. Then there are the moments when you first drive a newly-acquired car that are truly magical. Cars like my favorite one: the Ferrari 488 GTE
At the same time, it means the same (if not more!) to your competitors. Especially to people like Felix, who probably take it a little too seriously. These people aren’t hard to identify. You usually notice them when your eardrums shatter after a collision with them on iRacing. I have never heard one of these competitors take the blame for a crash either. Maybe they just hate losing even more than I do.
What my addiction taught me
While I think of sim racing as only a game, it has taught me more than any other game. Firstly, money can buy happiness. If you don’t believe me, you shouldn’t try to either. It’s better for your finances than being sucked into the black hole of buying new equipment every year.
Probably the most pleasant thing I noticed was that a community of hardcore fans can also be inclusive and welcoming. You would expect newcomers to be at the bottom of the totem fall, but most of them are welcomed with open arms. Although you shouldn’t try to redefine any terms, because that could cause a backlash.
I also learned that no matter how competitive I am, I will never have the perseverance some drivers show. To many, sim racing is more than a hobby. It is a passion. To some, it might even be a drug. The adrenaline of an overtake or the joy of claiming your personal best can be as addictive as anything.
Sim racing has drastically changed my life to the better. I have learned much more than I could have imagined sitting behind the wheel of my friend three years ago with my greasy fingers.