In writing pieces under the Internet Safety category here at PRC.net, I often find myself questioning just how far off-the-rails this community will become before we hit rock bottom, which will hopefully begin the process of rebuilding everything from the ground up if we ever get to that point. Look, video games are a sizeable portion of my life, to the point where I’m able to genuinely enjoy the day-to-day activities and supplementary income of running a simple WordPress blog regarding my favorite obscure little genre, but there are moments where both myself, as well as my close friends, simply shake our heads at what’s unfolding on the computer monitor. I’ve loved race cars since I was a little kid, and I love the challenges presented by racing simulators both past and present, but very similar to the predicament My Little Pony enthusiasts found themselves in a few years ago, it’s difficult to show off what the sim racing community is about to an outsider, and say“I willingly subject myself to this because I think it’s cool.”
Once a month, somebody sends in a Reader Submission to my inbox discussing the sorry state of the sim racing community, and I have to confess I don’t always publish them – though I do my best to respond in private. We received an Email the other day from a fairly talented Australian karting personality, and messages like the one he had written to us have become so routine at this point it wasn’t even worth posting. If you take a step back and examine this hobby as a whole, there’s some really weird stuff going on. Many of our biggest critics and disbelievers like to claim the outlandish man-children we occasionally profile on PRC.net do not represent the majority of sim racers, but the reality is that you literally can’t help but run into them.
This poses a very real problem, because gaming is no longer an isolated experience. To get the most out of racing simulators, especially the current crop of games which center around the social element of joining online leagues or mingling with other sim racers within the several different online communities, you’re forced to talk to people. And sometimes, you end up realizing these people are exceptionally hard to get along with, or they’re outright delusional. Even worse, nobody seems to have the balls to say “dude, you’re being a bit weird right now, stop this shit.”
If you go on the Assetto Corsa forums and suggest that the console version of the game isn’t very good, PC owners camping out on the entirely separate section dedicated solely for console gamers – whose game was very different compared to the PC version – will jump to the game’s defense, and label you as a someone who signed up just to be a troll. Prior to the release of Project CARS, you couldn’t talk openly about the game’s potential faults without one of the alleged 30,000+ financial investors belittling you and babbling on in an infomercial-like manner. It’s a very difficult environment to feel accepted in; as if you’re attempting to meet new friends at work so you can bullshit about hockey, and every second person is a Jehovah Witness whom immediately try and persuade you to come to Bible study.
And that’s before we touch on some of the more bizarre topics of discussion that arise on a weekly basis, such as how a group of older men from an obscure NASCAR game will stalk you or your female coworkers if you create a better Photoshop template than them, or how an iRacer we’ve been asked not to name listed iRacing as his career when applying for a substantial loan at his local bank. We can’t go out and confirm that story with names – because I can assure you the teller would be fired almost instantly – but yeah, that happened.
It all produces an extremely toxic environment. Yes, most of us have been desensitized to it by now, whether it be due to the numerous PRC.net articles shining a light on all the insanity, or soaking it all in first-hand through monitoring every major message board, but at the end of the day, the community is the reason sim racing isn’t growing at the rate of other genres. The reason I’m not all that excited to introduce any of my close friends or fellow competitors to the world of sim racing, is because most normal people would nope the fuck out of there after a mere glimpse of this insanity.
We had a guy threatening to shoot up his local university because people banned him from an rFactor league. There was once a convicted rapist commentating iRacing events. Some guy put himself in financial peril to build a sim rig he can’t even see thanks to his virtual reality headset. Real drivers are awkwardly approached by individuals seeking a test session in their car just because they beat them in an online race. Guys are auctioning off pictures of their iRacing cars on eBay. To an outsider who just wants to dive into the forums as they would with any other video game, and meet potential competitors the good old fashioned way, this is all really fucking weird; no sane person would willingly subject themselves to this for any extended period of time.
What needs to happen, is a reform of sorts for the sim racing community. As much as you guys enjoy coming here on your lunch breaks at work to watch the shitshow unfold each time we profile someone making an ass of themselves, it really shouldn’t have to come to that in the first place. We’re only doing it because everyone else is too much of a chickenshit to enact basic social moderation policies. There shouldn’t have been a stalking ring over on Sim Racing Design, nor should young adults be listing their career as iRacing when applying for a loan at the bank, but because nobody is thinking long-term about how this could possibly affect people’s perceptions of their genre, and nobody wants to say “bro, you’re being a bit ridiculous here”, suddenly we have an article on PRC.net up about a guy going into the ARCA garage area and handing out pictures of his iRacing car in hopes of landing a ride.
If there isn’t a collective effort to reform the genre and make it approachable to newcomers, you’ll end up with a collection of stories even more embarrassing than these, and those contemplating becoming involved in this genre will refuse to touch it with a ten foot pole.
Though he’s not a household name by any means, Nick McMillen is one of several drivers campaigning for Team RJN in Blancpain GT Series, with his weapon of choice being none other than the GT3-spec Nissan GTR. Unlike many real world drivers who grace the iRacing service with their own lengthy introduction article and subsequent fanfare welcoming them to the online racing simulator, McMillen quietly signed up for iRacing on his own free time, as any computer geek and past GT Academy champion curious about hardcore sim racing would. Rather than an endless stream of nerds gushing over his mere presence on the server, the 2014 Silverstone winner was instead met with immense hostility from elitist armchair race car drivers, who demanded him to be removed from the session – completely unaware of the impression they were making on Nick.
This isn’t to say that Nick is sitting in his mansion now harboring an irrational hatred of the sim racing community, but scanning his Twitter feed, I sure don’t see any positive discussion about how much fun he had sim racing a few evenings back – only that the community instantly tried to chase him away without even getting to know him.
What kind of message does this send to real race car drivers looking for valuable practice time during the off-season?
Yes, you read that right. Some guy on iRacing, who doesn’t even run in a major online series with five-figure payouts, but is just a random sim racer like the majority of you reading this post, is mailing out an autographed picture of his iRacing car as a Christmas gift. This is the equivalent to an avid flight simulator enthusiast making the trip to the Caribbean Islands on VATSIM, and sending his Grandma a custom post-card with a screenshot of his 737 landing at Princess Juliana in X-Plane. I mean, it’s just… There really aren’t words for this sort of thing because your average person doesn’t do this stuff and therefore we don’t need a word to describe it, but yeah. Let me put it this way – not all real-world auto racing teams go out of their way to print hero cards, even at the higher amateur levels where there are tons of kids that come out to the track each weekend and really love collecting them. It’s seen as this optional marketing thing that caters to a very specific group.
Now it’s one thing for a Star Wars buff to have a replica Anakin Skywalker costume that he busts out on Halloween, or a rec league basketball player to proudly display a Vince Carter Toronto Raptors jersey in his mancave, because those are pieces of memorabilia that actually hold some value to them. Star Wars is one of the biggest movie franchise in the history of Hollywood, and Vince Carter was the first real star to have played for Toronto, and it’s the same when it comes to racing. A Jeff Gordon pennant from 1994 means something, because it’s motherfucking Jeff Gordon and you have a piece of history.
But autographing pictures of your iRacing car and then advertising on Reddit that you’re mailing them out to people as if you’re some sort of rising stock car phenom, makes the sim racing community all look like the six year olds who come out to the pits during post race autograph sessions and say things like “I’m gonna grow up and drive a race car just like you!” Now don’t take that the wrong way, I mean, some of these kids very well do grow up to be race car drivers, so it’s actually kind of cool to have that conversation with the younger audience, but grown men living out these fantasies to the extent of creating their own line of fake memorabilia is just weird – the kind of weird matched only by some teenager reading her Ashton Kutcher fan fiction at the school talent show.
Gamers aren’t going to willingly participate in a genre where you can pop on Reddit, and the top post in that community for the day is of a guy creating fake memorabilia of himself and acting like it’s this totally cool, normal thing.
But enough with ripping on fake iRacer memorabilia, because we can actually take things a step further. I honestly don’t mind when people brag about their accomplishments in video games on social media, because we’ve all seen impossible feats on YouTube by gamers who are freaks of nature when it comes to Battlefield or Call of Duty, and it’s nice to know someone on a personal level who managed to get that good via practice and determination rather than ram hacks and exploits. For example, a buddy of mine who I’ve been close with since high school is one of the best in the world at the EA Sports line of NHL games, and occasionally he’ll throw up pictures of whatever leaderboard he’s climbing on Facebook just to dickwave a bit. Personally, I think it’s cool to know someone who’s that good at a game tons of people play, and I enjoy listening to him rant about the NHL series from time to time with the same level of in-depth knowledge as we talk about sim racing here on PRC.net.
However, what Tyler doesn’t do, is sit on Facebook implying the Edmonton Oil Kings should give him a shot playing goalie for a few games because he dominated the EASHL leaderboards with his club. Yet this is precisely the behavior exhibited by some sim racers. And while I know some will rip on me for using Lance Gomez Jr. of all people as an example for this subject, we’ve covered this topic previously in a few different articles – there are guys across many different sims who believe just because they managed to beat a real-world driver in some public lobby shitfest, their asses should be handed a legitimate ride.
I’m not going to say the transition is impossible, because it’s not, but the mentality fueling instances such as the post I inserted above speaks volumes about what’s actually occurring here. You have a group of people who think that playing NASCAR on the computer and being somewhat decent at it means they’re cut out for the real thing. This is basically akin to going on a tear in Call of Duty one night, and comparing your kill/death ratio to Chris Kyle on the Facebook page of your local veteran’s group.
Stuff like this makes the average sim racer appear to be no more or less deluded than the stereotypical high school classmate we all had who was utterly convinced he was the next Eminem, and pestered everybody on Facebook to download his shitty Soundcloud remixes. That’s not a good thing in a small genre where socializing with others is basically required to enjoy the hobby. We were supposed to get away from those burnouts upon graduating – no gamer will want to indulge in a genre where it’s common to run into these people.
Lastly, we have more of a personal story than anything, but it just drills home how bizarre this community can be at times. About a week ago, I ran a short piece announcing I had a brief phone call with the President of iRacing, Mr. Tony Gardner, and didn’t say a whole lot about what was discussed other than that we smoothed over some of the animosity between the two entities, and I was satisfied with the result. This angered some iRacers so much, they actually called iRacing’s office in Massachusetts to complain about PRC.net. Obviously the picture is worth a thousand words, and I shouldn’t have to elaborate on what most of you can conclude from the screenshot yourselves, but we’re at a point where old men will call up the headquarters of their favorite simulator at a moments notice to complain about an article they read on some sim racing blog that supposedly nobody in the community cares about anyway.
What happens if you, yes, you, feel like exploring your creative side and making a few YouTube videos reviewing a car you’re not particularly fond of, or a game that isn’t all it was made out to be? How does it feel knowing a group of losers lurking the same sim racing message boards as you will literally call up a company to tattle on your video? Does this sound like a community any gamer would want to be a part of? Fuck no.
And for good measure, they’ll then go and accuse a real life race car driver of cheating on iRacing – completely disregarding his multiple track championships at facilities across the southern United States, which would probably explain his outstanding results in an online racing game – solely because we interviewed him a few weeks back. For those of you keeping track, this is the second real-world driver mentioned in this article the sim racing community have opted to try and chase away for no justifiable reason.
This almost gives some credibility to the rumor that Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to race on iRacing, albeit under a fictional name. No real driver would willingly subject themselves to this environment.
So to the multiple users who Email me with lengthy Reader Submissions expressing their disgust over how utterly bizarre the sim racing community has become: I feel you, and there’s at least a way to try and reverse all of this insanity. When you see some of the stuff above occurring in your own preferred sim racing community, do your part to stop it. Don’t let your bro take out numerous payday loans to buy a sim rig beyond what’s considered reasonable for the hobby. Convince your buddy to try his hand at some sort of amateur race car if he’s shitting up Facebook with posts claiming he’s cut out for the real thing. Refuse to help design a hero card for your teammate who wants to mail out a stack for Christmas. And when a real driver joins the session, treat him not as some sort of idiotic noob or potential cheater, but acknowledge he’s just here to geek the fuck out with the rest of us.
Because as you can see, the four examples I’ve shown above make sim racing out to be this ridiculous cult of cringe, as if My Little Pony fans grew out of cartoon unicorns and latched onto auto racing – and as I’m sure you can probably figure out, there’s indeed more where those examples came from. Straight up, sim racing isn’t growing because dealing with this stuff on a regular basis is a hard sell to folks who haven’t already been desensitized to it. Rather than spinning in circles wondering why the fuck iRacing’s biggest online series only nets 150 viewers per event, and questioning how every other eSport aside from sim racing is exploding, it’s time to address the elephant in the room – every time you don’t actively speak out against the weird side of the community, that side of the community continues to operate as if everything they’re doing is okay.
It’s not. It’s actually making gamers on the fence think twice, and turning them away from what can be a cool hobby, but simply isn’t at the moment.