Your Car’s Better Than My Car
A brief note on VS Racing which I’ve been playing for the last little while on my iPhone. I started playing it because a good friend in Copenhagen challenged me in the in-game challenge thing and I totally went for it and downloaded the game. So those things work, for one thing. Basically it’s a little top-down racing game where you control a little steering wheel by touch. That’s about it. The mode in which you play against a friend is asynchronous, with you trying to beat their best time on a given track, racing against a little shadow of them. It’s fun.
But it also had a couple of weirdly sobering lessons to teach me. Thank goodness! The first one was that because my friend had been playing for longer and earning the in game “coins” (or whatever they are) he had a better car than me. His car was, importantly, faster than my car. This meant that when I received my first official “race against your friend’s time on this track” it was pretty tough going. In short, the race started and his little shadow car zipped off ahead of my plodding car and that was that. His car was just faster. I’m not sure how to convey how interesting and great that felt to see on the screen. There was nothing I could do about it. Yes, I could learn the racing lines on the little course, and I could be the little engine that could. But I couldn’t, in the end, win.
That’s a powerful feeling and a good one. I think of it as being very connected with sports games, actually (and, I suppose, sports). This notion that it’s not actually fair all the time. In sports, not everyone has exactly the same body and so on, there are advantages and disadvantages involved and they can’t always be resolved by one person just “trying” harder or being “smarter”. In VS Racing you can simply have a shittier car than your friend, and that’s that. Feels good. Not that I exactly went out of my way to experience it more than a handful of times, it does hurt one’s feelings too, after all.
The experience of helplessness and shitty-car-ness led to the second sobering lesson, which is that I am entirely capable of succumbing to “the grind”. That is, of racing endless single-player races in my shitty car just to earn the coins to upgrade my shitty car so it’s less shitty. No interest whatsoever in the race itself, or the joy of control, or whatever, just need coins now. In fact, it got to a point (as I’m sure it does for many) where I would simply repeatedly race the simplest, shortest track (a simple oval) in order to “farm” coins faster into my little account. It was, of course, extremely boring to do this, but it also felt vaguely virtuous. That worries me, actually, that it felt virtuous, as… well, it wasn’t.
But anyway, all the grinding got me a better car and I beat my friend’s time. So that’s all that matters, right? Thats virtuous, in the end, right?