There’s a Dangerous Element of Using Real Names We’re Not Talking About

The idea was to clean up online racing.

Instead we’ve opened a bit of a pandora’s box.

According to iRacing’s sporting code, the use of real names within a racing simulator is intended to “promote personal responsibility.”

On paper, it’s not the worst idea.

When the concept of online accountability in sim racing was first introduced in 2008 – maybe a little sooner if you were an early adopter of Race2Play – Xbox Live was by all accounts a warzone. Call of Duty lobbies were notorious for being an impromptu lesson in racial slurs. Forza Motorsport sessions resembled something more akin to Destruction Derby. NASCAR ’08 races at Daytona or Talladega rarely went more than a lap before half the field would be upside-down, and you’d be forced to watch the same caution flag cutscene you’d already seen hundreds of times prior.

It wasn’t the greatest experience, it was just something we put up with in the hopes that maybe, we’d have at least one race that night which wasn’t completely ruined by people being assholes.

And it was all because at the end of the day, xStonerSniper420x could disappear into the abyss. There was a certain level of detachment that came with playing online games against people who were merely sports team logo avatars and dumb usernames. Psychologically, it was easier to let loose, fuck around, and send a guy flying into the catchfence when you could merely turn off your Xbox and return to the real world with no consequences for being an asshole in virtual NASCAR.

iRacing sought to change that mentality, and a lot of other platforms soon followed to the point where it’s now commonplace in sim racing. Their intentions, I think, were good, and it’s resulted in an environment where most sim racers gladly type in their real world info when signing up for some sort of game or online league.

Has it cleaned up the racing? That really depends who you ask, but I’d say for the most part, it has. Online oval racing is still a shitshow, but in general I can jump into some sort of Assetto Corsa ranked race – whether it be on SRS or WSS – and I’m comfortable around 90% of the guys in the field. Some retard trolling the server with blatant intentional wrecking, or a guy being overly aggressive to the point where he’s the root cause of multiple “racing incidents”, is a once a month thing.

But in going down this path, we’ve let our guard down and forgotten that the internet is still full of creeps.

With such a large sample size to draw from, there are undoubtedly going to be some bad apples in the community. Not everyone on the grid is someone with a wife, kids, a modest apartment, and a steady 9-5 job to help supplement their sim racing hobby. It takes a certain kind of person to fall in love with driving cars in circles for hours on end and become feverishly addicted to games that in some cases don’t even offer any sort of compelling single player campaign mode.

Chad Thundercock – the one who taught you a massive vocabulary of racial slurs on Call of Duty – is not a sim racer. You’re instead getting a very wide, eclectic mix of nerds here. Some of them are quite nice, intelligent people. Others are more akin to Howard Adderly and just don’t give a fuck.

And they now have access to your personal information.

With social media being what it is in 2021 – most of us under the age of 35 have some sort of account on one of the major platforms – that’s really all they need to do quite serious damage.

The first element to this, boils down to how ill-equipped we are to deal with basic harassment.

If some guy you accidentally crash into on iRacing or Assetto starts sending you consistent, somewhat credible threats that don’t stop and go well beyond “bro, it’s just a game, why are you mad?”, dealing with the situation becomes more convoluted than one would expect.

If the harassment occurs outside of the iRacing or the Assetto/SRS forums, game administrators will be reluctant to punish them due to their respective ToS’s not really being written to prepare for such a situation. The block button on social media is an archaic function; new accounts can be made within seconds on pretty much any platform. And as you would expect, platforms like YouTube almost never adhere to reports of ToS violations – seeing how personalities like Onision are still allowed to upload content freely despite almost ten year’s worth of documented questionable behavior.

Going to the police – which should be the best way to deal with things – is not really an option. Even with very tangible proof that you may be on the receiving end of criminal harassment and could likely press charges, online gaming presents a unique challenge in that individuals are separated by hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers – and usually state or international borders as well. You cannot tangibly prove that your immediate safety is at stake, and prosecuting a deranged sim racer thousands of clicks away warrants one of four preset responses that will not accomplish anything:

  1. “We can’t prosecute or do anything about someone that far away.”
  2. “This might fall under civil litigation” – IE, “fuck off and go apply for your own restraining order by flying to their home state or country.”
  3. “Did you report him to the game moderators?”
  4. “Use the block button.”

All of which are responses that indicate law enforcement are generally ill-equipped to deal with this exact situation or have no experience with how much of a wild west the internet has become.

Calling the deranged sim racer’s home jurisdiction to be seemingly proactive about things, will see you met with a response of “report it to your local police first,” thus beginning a never-ending game of phone tag and departments shifting responsibility while, for example, your little sister continues to receive bizarre emails from some guy you spun out in a GT3 race.

In short, there’s nothing actually stopping sim racers from being fucking insane towards you, and we just sort of hope it doesn’t happen to us.

But it does.

The most dangerous element of using real names, however, comes from an unlikely source that is then weaponized in a really devious and nefarious manner.

I think we all remember that period of about five years in the mid 2000’s where all major metropolitan police departments suddenly became obsessed with the phrase “cyber-bullying.” MySpace, Nexopia, and eventually Facebook were a disaster for younger kids to use, as it resulted in these really cruel and unusual situations popping up with striking regularity, all centered around what equates to middle school kids being cunts to each other on social media.

Most states, provinces, or countries jumped on the moral panic bandwagon and hastily passed anti-bullying or cyber-bullying laws that were intentionally vague and intended to be used against sociopathic kids hell-bent on destroying the psyche of their classmates by any means necessary.

The problem is, cyber-bullying has a very vague definition – online behavior meant to shame a victim.

It assumes, wrongly, the victim is always innocent.

Which opens the door for sociopaths to run wild.

For example, some of you around these parts are NFL fans, correct? Let’s take a look at Houston Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson. This guy is in a pretty serious amount of legal trouble right now – no less than 20 masseuses have come forward claiming the guy was a creep towards them. Most stories center around him hiring random girls off Instagram for a private massage, then basically forcing himself on them. It’s bad. It’s really bad.

And as you’d expect, Houston Texans fans, and NFL content creators, have taken to YouTube to air their thoughts on the situation – usually by calling Watson a pervert and hoping he never plays football again. Pretty justified, nobody has a problem with this.

That, by definition, is cyber-bullying. As fucking batshit insane as it sounds, these people are all technically engaging in criminal activity.

However, if Watson walks into a Houston police station and goes after some random content creator for cyber-bullying, he’ll be laughed out of the building.

Police aren’t stupid.

Your HR department, however, is. And it’s by design.

HR’s job is to protect the company’s reputation at all costs.

HR does not want criminals, or potential criminals, working for them. Which, I mean, isn’t the most retarded stance to take on paper, but we’re not done yet.

Because the definition of cyber-bullying is so vague, that the victim is always presumed to be innocent no matter the situation, and cyber-bullying in a lot of first world countries is considered a crime, this opens the door for psychopathic sim racers to mess a whole bunch of people’s lives up up with minimal effort.

All they really need is your name and general location – which you have gladly given them because iRacing told you it would make online racing cleaner.

A deranged sim racer simply saving audio clips of you cussing him out in game, or frequently calling him a dirty driver or an asshole in the forums, could be construed as “cyber-bullying.” Repeated online harassment meant to shame the victim. That’s it. That fits that description.

As does repeated critical comments on someone’s YouTube channel, or really anything online that might hurt someone else’s feelings.

I’m not saying I agree with this, but that’s what happens when these laws are intentionally vague, presume 100% innocence, and rely on the victim’s word to determine the severity of the situation.

And of course, anything further, such as outing a sim racer as an abuser or showing clips of them threatening to kill their middle school teacher – things we all understand are probably quite important to show people because it’s fucking crazy and gives you a good reason to stay away from this person – that’s also cyber-bullying.

This deranged sim racer could then pass these clips on to your employer, whatever they are, claim cyber-bullying, and spend five minutes writing very obvious bullshit about how it’s resulted in him being depressed, driven him to suicide, or any other piece of nonsense for emotional effect.

Because the key phrase “cyber-bullying” has been used, HR now sees you as a liability and a potential criminal.

You are fucked, even if the deranged sim racer really does have an extensive criminal record as you alleged, wasn’t even in contact with you during his alleged suicide attempt, and blamed his suicide attempt on pepperoni pizza.

Now, let’s inject some reality into this situation.

Will this happen to you while sim racing? No, it probably won’t, and you shouldn’t be scared of it.

But you’re also banking on that, in a hobby full of obsessed nerds who spend long hours in front of a computer screen for “entertainment”, 100% of them are stand-up people.

We all know that’s not true.

Sim Racers Should Be Asking Hard Questions About iRacing’s Lack of Improvement

The above screenshot is a really interesting moment in time, at least from a sim racing perspective.

This was part of the Black Ice 200, a special event hosted by iRacing in November of 2012 featuring the NASCAR K&N Series Impala at the newly-released Rockingham Speedway. At the time, iRacing was still rolling out present-day NASCAR tracks on a not-so-consistent basis, so every new addition was seen as a major milestone that would help flesh out the in-game schedule.

The top four drivers in this picture will all embark on relatively unique career paths. In the lead is Tyler Hudson, who will one day find himself listed as an iRacing.com staff member. Following close behind is yours truly, who will go on to work at rival developer Slightly Mad Studios – but right now he’s just a shithead kid running a gawdy looking pink & leopard print car. In third place, future four-time NASCAR eSports champion Ray Alfalla – he’s already the most respected driver on the service and has two championships under his belt, but two more will come later. Behind him, Alan Elwood, a midwest karting phenom from Ohio.

This is what iRacing looked like in the final days of it’s infancy. The eSports craze, sim rig craze, and Twitch stream craze hadn’t quite arrived yet. In fact, they were still several years away. The service was simply a hub for stock car racing superfans to hang out and beat up on each other for little more than pride and a few Elo rank points that only mattered to a couple hundred people max. And that’s what we did. Night after night.

Because we loved it.

What this screenshot doesn’t show, however, were the numerous discussions being had on Teamspeak servers and message boards about just where exactly this game was headed – it was hard to ignore the growing pains that were starting to put a damper on the experience as a whole.

David Kaemmer’s experiment, the revolutionary “New Tire Model” project that hoped to turn iRacing into the be-all, end-all platform for sim racing, wasn’t panning out as planned. After a beloved beta period in the fall of 2011 which saw most drivers claim the Nationwide Impala may have been the greatest sim car ever created, something had gone horribly awry.

Updates from that point forward resulted in cars that were overly reliant on geometrically precise driving lines, and featured tires that seemed to be comically unforgiving past the point of adhesion. As sim racers, we no longer had the ability to man-handle cars as Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were doing every Sunday afternoon seemingly on a whim. The simple act of driving a car was no longer fun, races became an exercise in frustration, and the once happy demeanor on numerous chat servers morphed into frustration centered around a single burning question:

Will the next update fix this?

It’s a question that, as of April 2021, we’re still asking.

And that’s not a good thing. In fact it points to a situation where iRacing might not ever become the simulator many hoped it would be.

At first, iRacing attempted to deny there was ever an issue, and I think that’s where part of this problem comes from – their own stubbornness.

By 2013 I had made the decision to be quite public about iRacing’s shortcomings, and had mentioned some of their tire behavior oddities in a review I had written for RaceDepartment.

This resulted in, of all things, thinly veiled legal threats from iRacing staff members, and an email I still cling on to, to this day, almost like a trophy. Merely pointing out their racing simulator did not match onboard footage was deemed “slanderous” and “unsubstantiated,” and I as a fairly young kid was now left wondering what in the fuck was wrong with my favorite video game company that I’d become quite a staunch supporter of.

We all just wanted a cool stock car game to play. Somehow, this had descended into cars that wrecked if you induced any sort of slip angle, as well as middle aged men sending implications of legal action, and we were supposed to act like this was all perfectly normal.

Even as guys like FIA GT1 driver Xavier Maassen dropped a few words of support in private to let me know that no, I wasn’t crazy, I was actually right on the money, just getting a developer to understand there was quite a serious problem with their game – and if they fixed it, their game would be even better! – was instead a sore spot you were strongly discouraged from ever bringing up; a stance further solidified by their own sporting code.

This is a sign things are most definitely not on the right path.

And the situation didn’t improve.

Guys that I spent my teens and early twenties racing against, they fucked off. They got married. They had kids. They went to university. They bought houses. We kept in touch on Facebook, maybe playing a couple of rounds of Warzone to catch up every few months, but the idea of them getting back into iRacing, that’s something that was laughed at by all aside from those lucky enough to find themselves involved in the eSports side of things.

And they had good reason for it.

The updates we’d all been hoping for, the ones that rewarded us for our patience and eternal love for auto racing, never came. There wasn’t a reason to get back into iRacing. The complaints we had made back in 2012, 2013, and 2014, were now being made by an entirely new generation of sim racers who weren’t even around six or seven years ago.

As well as professional drivers.

Lots of them.

The bio-hazard lockdowns – I think that’s a satisfactory description – funneled almost every professional race car driver into numerous iRacing exhibition and charity events that they had no choice but to participate in. This should have been iRacing’s coming-out party and cause for celebration across the entire industry, even as the world seemed to be a lot closer to George Orwell’s 1984 than any of us were comfortable with.

Instead, those who were hoping to enjoy a lighthearted evening showcasing the drivers of their favorite series blasting around a virtual track akin to a charity go-kart race on steroids, were subjected to impromptu lectures from championship winning race car drivers about how inaccurate and unrealistic the game was.

Bro, that’s not a good thing when your game has been on the market for eleven years, and you’re promoting yourself as the most realistic and authentic in the business. This is pretty embarrassing.

This should have been a massive kick in the ass for iRacing, or any company finding themselves in this situation, for that matter. But a year after the pro invitational debacle that saw NASCAR, IndyCar, and V8 Supercar drivers all publicly trash the game on their various Twitch streams, what does iRacing have to show for it?

The answer is… nothing.

As of today, iRacing released a fleet of Generation 7 NASCAR stock cars, just hours after the real thing was unveiled to the public. This is their newest piece of DLC, developed after eleven years in existence as a company, and hot on the heels of copious amounts of feedback from professional drivers who were contractually obligated to play their game for a few months in the spring of 2020.

Already, there are complaints in the forums that the cars are spinning out unexpectedly.

None of the feedback was listened to, and their newest piece of content is still exhibiting the same problems it did nearly a decade ago.

“The car is great, aside from this major issue that makes it undrivable,” say some members on the forums.

Bro, listen to what you are saying.

Zero progress has been made in eleven years.

Pathetic.

Over the winter, I introduced one of my best friends to sim racing after we’d spent years beating the shit out of each other when the Xbox 360 was still a relevant console. Eventually, Assetto Corsa just didn’t cut it anymore – outside of Nordschleife tourist servers you end up racing the same 20 – 40 people every night – and I helped him sign up for iRacing in the most cost-effective manner possible: Buy content in chunks of three and monitor the schedule for overlapping tracks so you get the most bang for your buck. It’s easy, just time consuming and convoluted for someone who’s brand new to everything and literally doesn’t know how the service works.

This eventually led to several nights where we’d just trade off on races as his account climbed out of Rookie shitters and into A-Class.

I am no longer just some idiot kid playing iRacing. At one point I had a late model track record to my name, a couple of podiums, and have raced a variety of cars on both dirt and asphalt – usually with some level of success. It’s pretty dope to get to a point where not winning a trophy is rare and competitors look forward to seeing your in-car footage.

The ARCA Menards Impala at Homestead was the most difficult race car I’ve ever driven and I say that with complete sincerity.

The rear tires gave off the sensation of being on black ice if I went beyond 50% throttle input at any given time. I was scared to touch the gas pedal and had to frequently dodge other drivers self-spinning off the corner not just in practice, but in the race as well. The rear end was completely unpredictable, and the few times I dared to go beyond the limit of adhesion, I couldn’t move my hands fast enough to keep the car under control. Some of the wrecks I had in practice looked like I’d never played a racing sim before, and the only reason I ended up victorious was due to attrition.

I was more nervous and exhausted from that shitty D-Class ARCA Menards race, than I’ve been in an actual race car, or driving in winter snowstorms with an ill-equipped Chrysler Sebring.

This did not match anything I’d seen on TV.

The situation, quite frankly, is dire and embarrassing.

Sim racers should be asking some very hard questions about iRacing’s lack of improvement, as the amount of time that has passed since users first spotted major issues is nonsensical.

In hindsight, I think it was fair to tell people like me back in 2013 or 2014 to “stop being so impatient, updates are in the pipeline to fix everything.” None of us really knew what the future held regarding this game.

But it’s now 2021. Today is the future.

Those updates never came. Another new car, another wave of comments complaining that it spins out for no discernible reason.

How long are iRacers willing to put up with this?

If they can’t get it right in eleven years, what makes you think they’ll turn it around in year twelve?

What about year fourteen? Is that when even the most diehard of iRacing supporters finally throw in the towel?

Fourteen years to wait for a video game update bro. Insane. You are fucking insane if you defend this.

iRacing members are now being subjected to a situation seen in both the Star Citizen and Madden NFL communities – years, if not decades passing, with no tangible improvements, longing for the game to be just as good as something released at the beginning of the century. iRacing members, in my opinion, are quite simply being ripped off – sold a game promised as the ultimate racing simulation, and being given this weird, eternal science project with unresolved core gameplay issues that now go back almost a decade.

Ouch.

The worst part, however, has been watching this situation play out from the standpoint of a rival developer.

I obviously can’t elaborate too much on my time with SMS, but there were indeed instances on certain projects where cars early in development exhibited the exact same symptoms that their iRacing counterparts did; low speed, unrecoverable slides that happened for no discernible reason. It was reported, reproduced, and fixed, sometimes within a day or two – the culprit being as simple as a typo in the tire file. I know around these parts some of you aren’t fans of SMS and I’m certainly not happy with how they treated me in my final days with the company, but credit where credit is due, they fixed this shit in days.

iRacing instead puts rules in their sporting code to stop you from talking about it, then sells you brand new pieces of DLC with the issue still unresolved.

After nearly a decade of both avid users and professional drivers openly complaining about it, and begging the devs to fix the issue.

Complete insanity.

If you don’t begin asking hard questions about where this project is going, you’re part of the problem. You shouldn’t need to wait fourteen years for a patch to a video game.

Twitch Streams & nVidia Shadowplay Make Social Justice Movements Within Sim Racing Hard to Believe

The date is April 12th, 2020.

Society at large has been told by their various local health officials that it’s best for everyone to NEET it up for a few weeks while the world attempts to figure out more about a virus that may or may not have come from China, may or may not be man-made, and may or may not be all that dangerous to begin with.

Regardless, it’s resulted in a situation where professional race car drivers such as Kyle Larson, Josef Newgarden, and Conor Daly are blasting around the Monza Oval in some sort of iRacing charity event. This is their life now, for better or worse.

Larson’s making use of a human spotter – you can do that in iRacing – and hasn’t heard from him in a while, seemingly aware there’s a technical issue at hand. He cues up the mic:

“I can see it, you can’t hear me? Hey… nigger?”

There’s a reason Larson hasn’t heard from his spotter. While fumbling with buttons on the wheel, Larson accidentally navigated away from his private spotter channel; he’s now on the main voice channel for all drivers in the session, and has dropped an n-bomb in front of thousands of spectators across no less than ten streams.

Larson’s career – at least for the time being – is over within seconds, the announcements of sponsors jumping ship and Chip Ganassi Racing eventually releasing him are mere formalities that occur throughout the following week. As Larson begins his journey on a year-long apology tour that sees him raked over the coals by angsty teenagers on Reddit competing to act the most offended by his behavior for meaningless internet points, a deeper narrative is brewing.

Sim racing is now seen as a potential platform for virtue signalling and performative wokeness.

Initiatives are started to get more women in sim racing, and slowly but surely, campaigns against “online abuse of any kind in sim racing” bubble to the surface. There is this idea seemingly popping up overnight, perpetuated by both organizations and individuals alike, that the hobby of sim racing is an unsafe and hostile place if you don’t fit into a very specific archetype.

But yet Larson’s shitty choice of language over a technical issue remains the only occurrence of such a thing caught on camera.

And I find that odd.

Don’t you find that odd, too?

It’s necessary to establish that while the sim racing community can be one big, dysfunctional family perpetually fighting over which game is superior, they will immediately band together as long as the cause is justified.

When Mike of SimRacing604 was harassed by a payware mod group and almost lost his YouTube channel for exposing their shady practices, a movement was started within hours and the mod group was shamed into apologizing, redacting the false reports on his channel, and vowed to restructure their operations. When iRacing’s servers began shitting the bed during their 24 Hours of Le Mans event a few years ago, drivers all began parking on the front straightaway in protest. And when Jimmy Broadbent publicly revealed his struggles with mental illness on a very personal livestream, the sim racing community embraced his quirkiness and he’s now the most prominent content creator in the hobby.

The community, while kind of retarded at times, indeed looks out for each other and won’t stand for bullshit.

However, what’s most important to note is the existence of both Twitch, and nVidia Shadowplay, and how frequently they’re used in sim racing.

Even if you’re not a content creator, there’s a near 100% chance you’ve got nVidia Shadowplay (or the AMD equivalent) configured and running in the background, ready to go in the event that something crazy happens out on the track or someone says something ultra-retarded in chat. And even if you’re buried in the depths of 5th split in an iRacing truck race, go comb through Twitch; there’s a chance someone else in your race is streaming it.

The recording light is always on, in every race, no matter what sim you’re playing.

Any instance of outright sexism, racism, or malicious bullying within eSports circles or public lobbies, would have been captured by someone, and promptly uploaded online to name and shame the perpetrator.

And it would have immediately blown up, because the sim racing community has shown they’re quite good at amplifying and banding together over a variety scenarios that deserve it. This is something our hobby does quite regularly and quite successfully.

Instead, we… don’t have any examples of this beyond Kyle Larson – a one-off incident that wasn’t even racially motivated, but was just the worst possible choice of words for that situation.

Interesting.

I expect to see more initiatives, tweets, and attempts at virtue signalling over the next year or so, as it appears sim racing is now a big enough hobby to be on the radar of those more interested in performative wokeness than driving the damn cars.

But it’s hard to deny the demand for these incidents, is currently outweighing the supply by an exponential margin, and as a result these social justice campaigns are coming across as highly contrived and difficult to even believe in the first place.

Dear Sim Devs: Stop Being Insane

I think I said it best on my personal Instagram page; the past 48 hours have felt like living inside a Fox News article. After four years spent as a mildly successful sim racing content creator, and then another four as a contract worker inside the industry itself, I found myself out of a job and unable to comprehend the chain of events that led to this point. As I began opening up to my close friends and family about the situation, they didn’t understand it either, and they are equally as angry and confused as I am. This sentiment soon spread to some of my online comrades, and even former coworkers of mine.

There are a lot of people who want answers.

My official title with Slightly Mad Studios was QA Consultant – so the responsibilities of a regular QA guy, reporting bugs on Jira and the daily grind that comes with that role – along with simply giving everything another set of eyes from a hardcore sim racer’s perspective. It’s no secret that as a sim racing developer, Slightly Mad Studios have struggled with putting out quality titles since their time spent on top of the mountain with GTR 2 some sixteen years ago, and by having a “sim racing autist” on staff to nudge them in the right direction, they hoped to recapture some of that magic.

As we began work on the very early stages of Project CARS 4, I was told I was integral to the team and had settled into a really nice, relaxing rhythm after a few years of working on titles that weren’t my particular cup of tea – notably Project CARS 3 and Fast & Furious: Crossroads. I can’t really elaborate further than that because the game is that early in development – there’s nothing to leak even if I wanted to.

Enter Jason Jacoby, who I’d written about before on the original rendition of Pretend Race Cars. In the four years since my site was last active, he had progressed from running simple GoFundMe scams, e-begging, and having this fixation on being recruited into NASCAR among the likes of Josh Berry and William Byron, to exhibiting very psychopathic traits. This behavior was confirmed when his ex-girlfriend appeared in small iRacing groups on Facebook asking for help, and Jason’s YouTube videos deviated from iRacing content in favor of sporadic vlogs more akin to stuff Terry A. Davis would put out during his final years. The stories you hear about Twitch or YouTube personalities like Onision or James Saroka being absolutely batshit insane behind the scenes, that was now happening in sim racing.

I churned out a very hastily made video cautioning the sim community about Jacoby because it was the right thing to do, using the snippets of info his ex-girlfriend had provided me with, and encouraged people to call the police if anyone from his Discord or small YouTube community had any additional info to share – which they did, and most stories centered around him trying to lure young children to his house for “sleepovers.” I then departed for Rimbey, AB to film a friend’s mini-stock race because that’s about the only way to clear your mind after learning you might have accidentally exposed a predator.

From this point forward and after at least one arrest, Jason became fixated on yours truly and I would be the primary subject of his increasingly deranged YouTube rantings. As this dude lived in Georgia some 3,000km away, I very obviously wasn’t concerned for my safety, and really didn’t know what to do other than laugh it off. I think that’s a pretty natural reaction to have when some guy is writing piano pieces for you and angrily encouraging you to eat avocados or work out with arm bands. As this was at the height of various international lockdowns, this also passed the time at work – when I’d sign on for the morning, the QA department would all watch his recent uploads as a group. A coworker’s wife could even be heard in the background muttering I will destroy Austin Ogonoski when I signed on to the chat program.

Work knew about this guy for months, saw it for what it was, and didn’t have a problem with it.

That changed in early 2021. After violating his bond conditions via YouTube and getting in trouble with law enforcement for it, Jason began aggressively writing Slightly Mad Studios, Codemasters, and eventually Electronic Arts, these absurd emails detailing a suicide attempt nearly four years prior and said I was solely to blame for it. He would then brag about doing this on YouTube, so even though work would not let me see the emails, he proudly displayed them on his public channel anyways. His claims were obviously not true and conflicted statements he himself had made earlier on Facebook, in which he wrote the same story about his 2017 suicide attempt and instead claimed it was done for “being unable to escape the sins of my private life” or something along those lines. Reading between the lines, he is referring to having a child out of wedlock with an underage girl.

Our social media guy, rather than contact my department manager who had been following this story for months out of morbid curiosity and spoke with me on an hourly basis, instead went to higher ups, I presume believing this would be an exciting opportunity to get in good graces with the company and rid SMS of someone who deserved to be cancelled. I was specifically told this was the wrong course of action, and should have been squashed in minutes.

He did not realize he had been duped by someone with schizophrenia, nor did he seem to casually poke through his YouTube channel, and was taking the word of someone who was openly threatening to kill his middle school teacher on YouTube and within a month would be arrested for aggravated stalking, over the word of a four year employee that everyone had gotten to know pretty well.

This very obviously angered my coworkers, and set off a chain of increasingly bizarre HR meetings in which I found myself having to explain basic human decency such as why I felt the need to warn people about GoFundMe scams and why I felt the need to warn the sim community about a potential harasser and predator among us. Once it became obvious that the company had been been duped by a schizo and things should have never gotten to the point of official investigations, both SMS and Electronic Arts began moving goal posts and trying to find ways I was guilty of something anyway. If this sounds bizarre, it gets worse – Jason would be arrested again for aggravated stalking, and be sitting in jail without bond while we were having these meetings. Law enforcement had already made up their mind on this guy and pretty clearly deduced he was a threat to himself and others, while Electronic Arts felt differently.

This was compounded by a truly bizarre phone call I received on January 20th, 2021, from the CEO of SMS, Ian Bell. On a whim, I whipped out a GoPro camera and hit the record button. Begging me to keep the conversation private and not let anyone else in the company know about it, Ian had revealed the company wanted to get rid of me and began giving me detailed instructions on how to navigate future HR meetings, before claiming HR was “lazy” and didn’t investigate the situation thoroughly, as well as casually rattling off what mental disorders he believed I had – but it was somehow okay because he had them too.

Usually for any sim racing related stuff I try to just hit up friends on Facebook for advice, but this was deep into “I need multiple adults and possibly a lawyer” territory. I walked upstairs to my parents and tried to explain what had occurred, but the story was so bizarre and so far fetched – a multi-millionaire CEO personally called you to say you might lose your job, the HR department sucks, and diagnose you with mental illnesses – that they didn’t even believe me, immediately dismissed the idea of finding a lawyer, refused to watch the video I’d just captured, and assured me I wouldn’t lose my job. As someone who went through a mental health crisis in his teens, no matter how long it’s been without issues, there is always an underlying fear those issues will pop up again. I believe my parents had the same mindset, and accidentally mistook my honest request for assistance as a sign that my mental state was deteriorating and I was having some sort of episode.

In layman’s terms, what happened at work was so bizarre, that telling it to my own parents made me sound crazy, and made them not take me seriously.

A stance they continued to take until they watched the Zoom call in which I was told by HR my values did not align with Slightly Mad Studios or Electronic Arts, and my contract would not be renewed.

And to please take down the video of Ian Bell drunk dialing me. That was an important one.

With everything I’ve written thus far, I think a lot of people are going to want to indulge in some sort of online campaign against Slightly Mad Studios, Codemasters, Electronic Arts, or a combination of each. You guys can do what you want and it’s hard to argue that there shouldn’t be some sort of public backlash over this, but I feel like this is part of a much bigger picture and that’s what makes this all very difficult to swallow. It’s been a few days now and my anger hasn’t really subsided. Walking around the house and just completing simple errands is difficult; I often lose track of what I’m doing. Thank God I’ve abstained from alcohol or drugs as this could spiral out of control quite quickly.

Having worn many hats over the years, from avid sim racer to content creator to contract worker, I’m able to say in pretty good faith that sim racing does indeed have an issue with toxicity – as much as I hate that word having grown up in Modern Warfare lobbies and experiencing real toxicity, it’s true. However, the source of this toxicity comes not from the players, who are for the most part well behaved, but rather the developers themselves.

As I’ve displayed in the video at the top of this article, it’s really crazy and disturbing to see the amount of legal threats that have been thrown around over the years for something as simple as a critical review of a game or an update. When you wake up and are told a video of a car traction rolling in a game is “illegal”, or a 7/10 review is “slanderous”, something is very wrong and you also wonder how many others got the same email, for the same reasons, but are afraid to come forward. Multiple developers, yes, not just iRacing, have engaged in harassing professional drivers for otherwise mild opinions on certain games, making people like myself doubt 99% of content that is produced regarding sim racing – especially with the increased focus on professional drivers promoting these games. Developers quite regularly lip off their own customers in the forums, and seem unable to take criticism unless it comes from the right source, on the right day, written in the correct format – forcing their own customers to walk on egg shells just to talk about their favorite video game candidly.

And that’s if they’re allowed to do so, as some sims have implemented rules barring this criticism.

When called on their shit, some companies opt to just bribe their way out of it and get certain articles or videos pulled, rather than apologizing to said customers. Which is odd, because the latter is a much cheaper option.

A lot of us just wanted to play video games at the end of the day, and it has instead turned into an experience more akin to dealing with a girl suffering from borderline personality disorder. The examples of push/pull behavior, the gaslighting, future faking, splitting & devaluing of employees and customers, this is all stuff you’d expect from a girl you’d picked up in a psych ward, not your favorite video game, or in some cases, your employer.

The point I’m getting at is this: If this behavior continues to remain unchecked, the hobby is going to fall apart. Professional drivers are going to start leaving. Employees integral to each dev team, will find work in another field. Beloved content creators will suddenly go MIA and claim they’ve “lost their passion” for the hobby. Sponsors and investors may slowly pull out. These entities will not want to deal with constant legal threats, attempted bribes, behind-the-scenes meltdowns, or being rang up in the middle of the night and diagnosed with various mental illnesses.

So what’s it gonna be?