The month of performative wokeness is upon us, but I shouldn’t have to tell you that. It’s easy enough to deduce by merely signing into your social media account of choice.
Your favorite sports team, video game developer, and restaurant will all spend the next four weeks rocking a tacky, rainbow-flavored variant of their logo, while alleging to work with marginalized groups in pursuit of social justice goals that they can’t quantify beyond ambiguous terms like “acceptance.”
What does their utopia look like? What are they fighting for? In some cases, internal strife prevents these groups from even agreeing upon a uniform common goal, though our outside criticisms will be undoubtedly weaponized against us anyways; there seems to be a disproportionately high concentration of folks who can’t control their emotions within these marginalized communities.
Especially confusing is how this aggressive backlash to simple questions or concerns is often done against the backdrop of hypocritical and confusing doublethink – such as Formula One’s insistence on racing in the notoriously-backwards country of Saudi Arabia while simultaneously painting rainbows on all their cars and claiming We Race As One.
It’s hard not to see it as all a bit frivilous, especially as younger and younger sim racers have opted to climb aboard the bandwagon and make this ambiguous struggle a core part of their identity.
Eleven years ago, fresh out of high school and part of sim racing’s younger demographic, I found it relatively easy to make friends. Casual discussions on Skype or TeamSpeak were almost never politically charged, and most of the guys you raced with had a very normal-appearing presence on social media. I watched as a couple buddies got swept up in the My Little Pony Fad, sure, but it was never this all consuming monstrosity – lasting only a handful of weeks before most people grew up.
There’s been a tangible shift over the last few years. We’ve seen an influx in the number of pride liveries, miniature multi-colored flags or a bizarre list of alternative pronouns adorning their twitter bios, and individuals hiding behind custom female avatars that only tangentially resemble their real world identity – and seemingly can’t even get the gender right.
It’s all done in the name of, as mentioned above, ambiguous goals that these individuals fail to quantify. We’ve heard claims of sexism, racism, or homophobia that are supposedly present in sim racing, but despite the sheer volume of Twitch streams and people running Shadowplay in the background, nobody has managed to produce any evidence of this beyond the mundane shit-talking that has long been a staple of online gaming.
Even with iRacing’s otherwise draconian rules package that can see you earn a week-long vacation for calling a guy an asshole one too many times, we haven’t seen a single instance of homophobia go viral on the service.
The thing that frustrates me, is that these kids have their hearts in the right place. Their intentions aren’t malicious. They want sim racing to be a more inclusive, open, and enjoyable place for all.
They’re just opting to direct their energy at a perceived issue, one which allows them to role-play as strong, virtuous heroes, rather than make a genuine difference.
If you want the straight, white male audience to have your back, you’ve gotta tackle the big stuff first to get everybody on the same page.
And you’ve been oddly, oddly silent.
This, right here, is far more of a problem than juvenile post-race beef or snide comments about a pride livery ever will be.
The man behind the RaceSimCentral Twitter account is none other than Tim Wheatley, a 25+ year veteran of both the sim racing community, as well as the sim racing industry.
Like many discovering sim racing in its’ infancy, Wheatley became fascinated with early titles such as Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, and dove head first into the hobby before most people even saw it as a hobby. Wheatley’s passion resulted in him creating a massive, thriving forum for the hobby – RaceSimCentral – a highly useful stomping ground back in the day as outlets like Reddit were still years away from centralizing online discussion with the click of a button.
Wheatley’s dedication eventually netted him jobs with iRacing, Image Space Incorporated, and even Studio 397. When it comes to a hypothetical sim racing hall of fame, Wheatley goes in first, no questions asked. He is every bit as important to the growth of our hobby as David Kaemmer and Greger Huttu, helping turn a quirky set of video games for race car nerds into a global community before giving over a decade of his professional life to help further the cause.
You’d think this would be a cause for celebration and Tim would be able to ride off into the sunset, watching the fruits of his early labors manifest into what we see today.
Wheatley notes that behind the scenes, he was so distraught at how he was treated by those inside the industry, he began saving screenshots just to prove to himself that he wasn’t going crazy and the industry was a toxic, confusing mess, eventually leaving altogether and struggling with mental health issues afterwards.
A pillar of the community was railroaded out of working on these games professionally, and not one website or YouTube personality bothered to draw attention to these public comments.
The crowd that had established themselves as the most likely to stand up against any sort of bullying while simultaneously fighting for inclusion, acceptance, and tolerance, were also uninterested in what in any other industry would be a pretty big story.
They continued to instead paint rainbow-colored cars and role-play as heroes, remaining silent when an industry veteran came forward and basically said “these companies aren’t exactly the greatest to work for and it really messed with me.”
Wheatley wasn’t the only canary in the coal mine.
Though the video is now privatized, a Google search of “Why I Left Inside Sim Racing” will generate several hits to a controversial piece uploaded by the late William Marsh of Sim Racing Paddock.
At one point, Will was a beat writer for one of the oldest sim racing publications in the hobby, before venturing off onto his own channel and cultivating a loyal set of followers until his untimely passing in the spring of this year.
Marsh had filmed a video in which he explained the former owner of Inside Sim Racing had approached him with the idea of Will either taking over or potentially outright purchasing the site for himself, yet seemingly flipped on him overnight and berated him for his perceived immaturity and potential spectrum disorder – which, I’m not sure what else the owner expected from somebody as young as Marsh was at the time.
Will was left frustrated and a bit embarrassed as he had first-hand experience that one of the oldest and most respected content creators in the hobby was a massive wanker when the camera wasn’t rolling, and to grow the hobby we couldn’t exactly afford to have those kinds of people around.
This really didn’t generate the larger discussion it probably should have, with half of viewers offering Will a bit of sympathy, and the other half labeling it petty drama that was best kept under wraps.
By my count we’ve got at least fifty different sim racing channels, all of whom bounce between racing footage and commentary bits. Not one of them even thought to amplify this story to a larger audience.
Those looking to make a difference in the community and supposedly willing to stand up against toxic behavior, should have been asking questions about how widespread this behavior was among content creators and other industry reps. It instead generated a very half-assed witch hunt against someone who was already on their way out of the hobby anyways and didn’t really care what people thought of him, one way or the other.
They continued to paint rainbow cars.
My own ugly mug surfaces in this intricate puzzle as well.
While I very obviously can’t share the details of everyday life at Slightly Mad Studios, certain exceptions fall outside of that.
The CEO of at least one major sim developer will text you pictures of yourself calling them “cute”, before giving you his personal cell phone number and asking to “get close.” These screenshots sat on my public Facebook page for the better part of five years.
If I’m a woman, this guy loses his position immediately.
This somehow wasn’t worth talking about and remained an obscure post on my wall that only a couple of eSports guys across a couple of games even knew of.
About a month and a half ago, I upped the ante. I have proof that Slightly Mad Studios, or at least their CEO, bribes content creators into pulling articles that rightfully criticize their games or their conduct on their official forums – because I was one of those content creators. I have provided an admission that they harassed at least one professional driver with thinly veiled legal threats after he criticized their games, dispelling the myth that only iRacing engaged in this conduct, and it was instead quite possibly an industry-wide thing.
As were higher ups in the scene deciding they can diagnose you on the spot with a variety of spectrum disorders, footage of which I gladly provided and was subsequently threatened about leaving up.
With a growing portion of the sim racing community being quite vocal in their quest to stand up for individuality and stamp out toxicity, somehow none of them deemed this fit the bill.
Apparently neither did a certain pizza delivery driver.
The reality is that within the iRacing community, y’all spent years sitting inches away from disaster. This could have been a lot worse than it was, and you simply got lucky.
You willingly shared your real name, location, and social media accounts to a guy who would get so angry and agitated if an online race didn’t go his way, there was a chance he’d track you down and call your employer.
The results of this phone call would be dictated by your current career choice. If you worked for a mom & pop shop or a golf course, they laughed at it and had a beer with you. If you climbed too high up the food chain, your HR department might see your “online racing encounters” as a liability.
The guy was attempting to lure young kids to his house for sleepovers and a couple stints in his sim rig, beating up on his girlfriend when the cameras weren’t rolling.
This guy was threatening to kill his middle school teacher, and blaming random eSports drivers he hadn’t raced in a decade for his porn addiction.
This was all known for several years, pockets of information occasionally trickling out on Reddit or Facebook groups indicating the problem was much larger than weird YouTube streams and some cringey custom firesuits.
The group that pledged to combat online toxicity the loudest, making it a core part of their identity, remained silent, instead passing the hot potato as did everyone else.
People have lost their jobs and their livelihoods because of this guy, and only two individuals have even addressed this situation publicly. We can’t even get his game of choice to comment on it.
Others kept painting their rainbow cars, convinced this would move sim racing forward.
The point I’m making is this.
The pronoun squad, the LGBT squad, the social justice warriors of sim racing, actually possess a lot of positive qualities.
Unlike previous generations, they’re willing to aggressively draw attention to perceived injustices when others would merely act as bystanders, and stand up in situations even knowing full well they’d be ostracized to a level most people wouldn’t be able to tolerate.
We actually need people with those qualities.
Our hobby is going through some very strange growing pains. Long-standing community pillars are confessing on Twitter that they were chased out of the industry by megalomaniac co-workers or superiors. Content creators are eschewing their typical works in favor of vlogs that detail strange treatment from industry reps. We’ve even got some good old fashioned bribery and stalking going on.
Thanks to a hefty dose of cultural marxism, our hobby was inadvertently gifted a wave of hyper-vigilant kids who openly advertised themselves as being able to make a difference on this front.
Yet the group that claimed to be against this stuff the loudest, made no effort to even acknowledge its’ existence.
Instead they indulge in a narcissistic display of wearing pronouns, sexualities, and alternate identities akin to sponsors on a fire suit. Only jumping into the fray when it was convenient for them, usually coinciding with the potential to further their perpetual victimhood and prolong the fight against an enemy whose existence was questionable at best.
All while we have much bigger problems to deal with.