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Learning to Drive with Grand Theft Auto

Updated on November 29, 2009

In Defense of Video Games

A March 19, 2007 article in Britain's Telegraph newspaper entitled Computer Racing Games 'Make Riskier Drivers' by Nic Fleming reports on two articles published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology dealing with automobile driving and video games.

According to the Telegraph article German researchers studying the effects of video games found that men who play computer games like Grand Theft Auto tend to take more risks while driving thereby making highway driving more dangerous for all.

Of course the report noted that the group we are talking about are not just men but young men. As any parent who has had to pay car insurance premiums for a son under age 25 will tell you, young men have always been risk takers and have always had the highest accident rates.

I Disagree with the German Researchers' Conclusions

However, compared to other adults or to young women in the same age group (I also have two sisters and an a daughter) young men tend to take more risk overall.

Having been both a young man once and now the father of three such young men, I can tell you that a common characteristic of young men in general is that they believe themselves to be immortal and approach life accordingly.

Of course this is a general statement and not an exact description of every young man as the degree of risk and carelessness found varies from young man to young man.

However, in addition to believing that the researcher's conclusions are flawed based upon the group studied, I believe that such games, Grand Theft Auto in particular as that is the game that all three of my sons have wreaked havoc and mayhem on the family's TV screen these past few years, can make a person a better driver.

Don't get me wrong, never being able to figure out how to operate these games, I have never played the game myself and I certainly don't approve of the lawless philosophy behind the game, having made it very clear to my sons that their driving privileges on any car of mine would be permanently revoked if they tried so much as a tenth of the antics portrayed in the game.

Differentiating Between Reality and Fantasy

Yes, video games, television, movies and books can influence a person's thinking and, in concentrated doses can exert strong influence on young children. That is why parent's put limits on childrens access to such things. But even young children can usually differentiate between fantasy and reality.

When my oldest son was a toddler I used to drive him to a sitter near my work where he, and later his brother, stayed while my wife and I were at work. I would then pick him up after work. Depending upon traffic, the trip was about 30 - 45 minutes and we used the time to talk to each other, play word games and make up stories.

My work at that time required a certain amount of overnight travel and I would tell him stories of my trips and where I had been. After learning to pick out the building's that housed his mother's and my offices from the downtown Tucson skyline, he choose a bright new building and informed me that that was his office where he and his, six month old, brother went each day after I dropped them off at the sitter's.

Frequently in the morning he would discuss his and his brother's business travel plans for the day and in the evening tell me of their experiences flying off to San Diego, Colorado and other places I frequently visited, for work. The stories were very realistic (with experiences patterned after ones I had told about from visiting these cities) and were even believable if you overlooked the fact that they involved things like renting cars with the six month old driving while the four year old tried to read a map and give directions around these various cities.

One day I had to make an overnight trip to San Diego while my wife had to go to Milwaukee for a family emergency. I had arranged for the boy's to spend the night at the sitters, but as we were going to the sitter's that morning David informed me that he and his brother had to fly up to Colorado on urgent business that day.

In my most serious of tones, I explained that since both his mother and I would be out of town that night, that I would feel much safer if he and his brother postponed their trip and stayed in Tucson as planned. My tone and concern were so realistic that he turned to me and, exasperated at my naivete, stated unequivocally Daddy, its only pretend.

Teaching My Children How to Drive

Over the past six years, I taught each of my four children as well as my new wife, how to drive.

For each of the children, I made them get a job before they got their license and, as my father did to me, made them pay the increased car insurance the resulted from their being added to the policy. I also made it very clear that they would pay for any accidents they had including the spike in the monthly insurance premium that would follow any accident.

My wife and daughter were the most difficult to teach. Both are from Russia. My daughter and her brother had ridden in a car less than a half a dozen times in their lives prior to coming to the U.S.

My wife had ridden in a car only a few times and, in the first four decades of her life had never been behind the wheel of a car until I took her on the bumper car ride at an amusement park in her hometown of Ryazan, Russia (actually, in a country like Russia where the masses are just starting to drive, the bumper car ride is a very close simulation of the real thing - the speed is just slower).

While both now have their licenses my wife has yet to drive on the freeway and I still remember the white knuckle ride that accompanied the first freeway driving lesson with my daughter (and that was early on a Saturday morning when traffic was very light). She has since improved.

For each of them, I started by having them practice driving in the empty parking lot of the church across the street.

My oldest son graduated to back roads after a few days, my other son after a couple of weeks and my wife and daughter – well, I spent over two months with each traveling around that parking lot.

When it came to my youngest - my step-son from Russia - we were on the road within an hour.

He was fourteen when he came here and for the first year went everywhere with me just for the thrill of riding in a car - and in the front seat at that.

Having had access to a couple of PC games in Russia, he quickly adapted to the Playstation and Nintendo games that we had here and took the then newly acquired version of Grand Theft Auto which he soon mastered.

I am convinced that the experience of two and a half years playing Grand Theft Auto prior to his getting behind the wheel was a major factor in preparing him to drive. My two older sons did not have the game that long before they started to drive and they also had a number of other, non-auto, games they played as well so I do not think the game had as much influence on their ability to manage a car.

Grand Theft Auto is about mayhem on the highway, but any sane person knows that that is just fantasy. If a person is not sane, then why are we giving them licenses to drive in the first place?

However, to survive and win the game one has to concentrate, react quickly and make snap judgments. Who wants to argue that these are not good skills for drivers?

Yes, one can argue that the game encourages speed and aggressive driving but that can be tempered on the road by forcing the young drivers to pay the high insurance rates and other costs associated with reckless driving.

Getting back to safety and focus, has anyone ever observed a person playing Grand Theft Auto while also talking on a cell phone, eating, carrying on a conversation with a person in the back, trying to find a station on the radio, shaving, etc.? Have you ever observed people doing these things while driving on the freeway?

Do You Believe that Video Games like Grand Theft Auto can improve one's driving?

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    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      steffer - thanks for visiting and commenting.

      I am not a big fan of playing computer games (I have no objection to them but just have little desire to play them) but I am involved in training at work and computer games are proving to be a great learning tool in both training and education.

      We are finding game technology being increasingly used in all types of professional training. This technology has replaced the older mechanical/video technology used in airplane pilot training where pilots have to put in a minimum number of hours each year in trainers as well as in the air. There are many emergency situations that can be safely simulated in such simulators that would cause an airplane to crash if practiced in the air but after having successfully dealt with the emergency a number of times in a ground trainer, pilots are better able to pull out and land safely when, in emergencies, such situations occur in normal flight.


    • steffer profile image

      Stef Verheyen 8 years ago from Belgium (Europe)

      These are soe great observations indeed, as i am a big grand theft auto fan, the experience of the game must be taken with a bag of salt, players like to play this game, because they know they can do things on the streets, what's impossible in real life, that's one of the fun factors of the game.

      But fact is also, as you have stated, that playing games in overall, improve your driving skills, not just with a game like GTA, but specialy when playing a lot of race games.

      It will better the eye hand cordination, reaction speed and overall control of a car. Now if a gamer has a steering wheel and peddals, like with a real car, is this even a greater learning method to the learning curve.

      This has also been tested and is sceintifcly proven to work out great for those learning how to drive. Fact is even, examinators emediatly see which students are gamers and which aren't.

    • profile image

      heather 9 years ago

      i thought there were supposed to b games

    • raymondphilippe profile image

      Raymond Philippe 10 years ago from The Netherlands

      Hello Chuck,

      some interesting observations in this hub. I especially liked this one: "has anyone ever observed a person playing Grand Theft Auto while also talking on a cell phone, eating, carrying on a conversation with a person in the back, trying to find a station on the radio, shaving, etc.?"

      I'm looking at our son playing GTA with different eyes now.