23 October 2009

Games and Reality are Probably Different, Part 4

In the previous posts in this series (1 2 3) I have been describing the probability distributions generated by dice and trying to describe why that doesn't quite match what we experience in reality. Not all games have dice though; some games use physics to simulate the real world, and the only random element might be the actions of the player themselves. Do these games suffer the same problem? - I think they do - but first, I need to tell you about my favorite TV show.

My favorite TV show - Top Gear on BBC television - is a mix of fast cars, testosterone, and the best of British absurdest humor humour. The show is co-hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, BBC television host and professional overgrown child. I can call him that because I am horribly jealous of his job, which seems to consist entirely of driving fast cars and making snarky comments. Here is his mini biography:
Jeremy has often been described as 'the most influential man in motoring journalism', mainly by himself. Estimates suggest that he is slightly over nine feet tall, owns 14,000 pairs of jeans and has destroyed almost 4.2 million tyres in his lifetime. He is best known for possessing a right foot apparently consisting of some sort of lead-based substance, for creating some of the most tortured similes ever committed to television, and for leaving the world's longest pauses between two parts... of the same sentence. He has never taken public transport.
In a recent (recent to me) segment of the show Jeremy takes on "The Corkscrew" at Laguna Seca, perhaps the most difficult corner of any race track in the world. First Jeremy first practices with Gran Turismo 4 to get a good track time, and then tries the same track in real life. (What is there about his job not to be jealous of?) See how well he does:




[The video is broken, but try one of these links:
http://videosift.com/video/Top-Gear-Real-life-racing-vs-Gran-Turismo
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazda_Raceway_Laguna_Seca#Automotive
http://www.streetfire.net/video/top-gear-nsx-laguna-seca_208766.htm
http://www.kewego.com/video/iLyROoaft0ZG.html]

The Gran Turismo games are great simulations, but they miss some of the little things that make race driving harder. While there is no random dice rolling to this game or to driving a car (1), the limitations of human reactions add an element of uncertainty and randomness. Most of the time that random aspect is too small to notice, but when it comes to doing something really hard those little things start to matter. The Game is no longer a good representation of the Reality. One of the things Jeremy points out is that a game can't make you afraid of spinning off the track, and so fear adds another layer of difficulty in the real car.

That's OK, it's supposed to be a game. If every player had to learn all the skills of a real race driver it wouldn't be much fun. As pointed out in the comments to Part 1 of this series, games don't need to have a perfect representation to give players a challenging task and tough decisions to make.


Footnotes:
  1. If you want to get picky, then for practical purposes it's not possible to measure or simulate every last detail, and this error could well be described as "random".
Related Post: Physics of Racing, and Gran Turismo 2.
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