My first overseas trip in two years just happened, and it was a doozy. I was visiting my in-laws in the UK, and to get there I didn’t just fly seven hours: I drove across the country in a hire car from Heathrow to Devon.
It means driving on the wrong side of the road for me, and that was stressing me out. But one thing calmed me down and made me feel like I could handle anything: my pre-trip prep sessions in Forza Horizon 4.
Microsoft’s fantastic range of racing games are critically acclaimed, and yes, I skipped the gorgeous Mexican board. Indeed, Horizon 4, released in 2018, is set in a world based on Great Britain, including Scotland… and everything is laid out with roads where you drive on the left side of the road.
It was surprisingly difficult for me to find simulations that matched this British experience. I’d love a great VR UK driving simulator, but on the Quest 2 there’s hardly any driving games. I settled on Forza Horizon 4 because it’s free with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, it’s all set in a sprawling countryside and occasional towns (just like my driving route) and its open-world style means I can continue, over and over again, without having to worry about the artificial constructions of a race.
In the world of virtual reality, simulations are remarkable routes to brain training. Drivers, car designers and athletes use it all the time. I feel this kind of brain training when I playor create virtual art, or even explore a new place for the first time and use virtual reality to get my bearings in 3D.
I was craving more VR games that could be used for driving simulations like these, just to get a sense of car dimensions, car height, lane keeping. Roundabouts. But without that, Forza Horizon 4 got the job done in a pinch. After about an hour of aimless driving, then taking a few guided paths, I felt like I understood the flow.
I got used to the feeling of staying in the left lane and overtaking on the right. I figured out left and right turns and where to look while I was turning. I also tried night driving, as my trip across the country was in the middle of the night.
Of course, I would have loved it if I could have chosen the exact car I rented, to simulate the entire dashboard layout. Whatever. I just stuck with my random Audi.
Of course, racing video games don’t simulate real-world driving conditions well enough to fully prepare anyone for real-world driving. But it helped train my brain to accept the left side of the road and understand turns. The only thing I didn’t understand was how I felt when the dimensions of the car changed with the steering wheel turned around (the cars I drove always had left-hand steering wheels in Forza Horizon 4).
I was still terrified when I rented my car, sat in front of the right hand wheel, exited onto the motorway and got into the M5. I also had a new car interface to understand and navigation on a new screen.
I would recommend anyone going on a trip where they will be driving across the road to play a realistic racing game for a little while and train their minds. I’m glad I did. I wish VR could help me with this in the future.
Or, when you’re navigating the weird world of rural single-lane hedgerow driving in the UK, where there are absolutely no lights at night and the hedgerows stand on both sides like the walls of Death Trench Star. Meeting another car means backing up to find a fork where the other car can sneak past. Guess I’ll have to develop this Night Hedge VR game myself, but until then I’ll still have Forza.