While most of us are sheltering at home in crude blanket forts floored with empty corn chip bags, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is in his palatial, immaculate home, in the lotus position, hovering three feet above a reflecting pool, levitating with The Power of Ideas and emitting beams of coherent light and a never-ending stream of ideas. Of course, some of those ideas kinda suck, like the one he brain-tweeted this past weekend about the potential to play video games with your car, while driving, kind of like Pokemon Go, but, you know, in your car.
Here’s the tweet in question:
Anyone think they can get a good multiplayer Minecraft working on Teslas? Or maybe create a game that interacts virtually with reality like Pokémon Go while driving safely? Like a complex version of Pac-man or Mario Kart?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 3, 2020
It starts innocently enough, with the recently Minecraft-enamoured Elon reaching out to his minions to see if anyone wants to expend the effort to get multiplayer Mincraft running on a Tesla’s centre-stack touchscreen, and then pivots to his bigger, more galaxy-brain idea: what about games, like Pokemon Go, that augment reality, but can be played while driving? He gives examples like “a complex version of Pac-man or Mario Kart?”
Now, first let me be absolutely clear and state that I am very much pro the intersection between cars and video games, and have even conducted my own experiments in the exciting field of controlling goofy video games with entire cars. I’m by no means the only one—people have made their cars able to play Mario Kart, just like Elon suggested.
And, of course, the idea of driving cars to play colossal games of Pac-Man was well explored in the disappointingly yet impressively shitty 2015 movie, Pixels:
There’s some significant differences here, of course: in the cases of using the car as a controller for games like Mario Kart or my Pole Position-playing Lancia, the car is very immobile while playing the games, and, in the case of automotive Pac-Man, it was a stupid movie, but even in the movie it’s happening on effectively closed roads.
What Elon is suggesting, is very different, because he’s using Pokemon Go as his example. In Pokemon Go, people walk around in the real world seeking pretend animals overlaid on reality via their phone screens.
In the case of Pokemon Go, people have actually been killed because of distracted drivers trying to play the game and drive at the same time. Pokemon Go’s innovative mixing of reality and gameplay is certainly fun and adds a nice layer of excitement to boring-arse reality, but that mixing of reality and virtuality causes enough problems that there’s actually a Pokemon Go Death Tracker site that records how many people have been killed or injured due to Pokemon Go-related accidents or injuries.
Not all of these are the result of people not paying enough attention to the real world, but a lot of them are, and applying this concept to people who are driving feels like a recipe for a lot of trouble.
A “complex version of Pac-Man or Mario Kart” may be fine if the car is parked, or if it’s something only available to the passenger, but I am not at all convinced anything like that can work for a driver and still allow a driver to drive safely.
If you read through the comments, you can see a lot of people wanting the windshield and/or side windows to become displays for this hypothetical gameplay, which, if this is to occur while driving, seems a spectacularly bad idea.
When you’re driving, you should be driving, right there, in the actual reality where you and your car exist, and if the act of driving and some music or a podcast aren’t enough to keep your beautiful, percolating mind occupied and happy, then, well, maybe driving is not an activity for you, genius.
Even with Tesla’s Level 2 Autopilot driver-assist systems, it’s still a bad idea, because it’s asking a driver to do two things simultaneously: take actions to further the progress of a game and also steer and control a 3,000+ pound car moving at potentially high speeds on public roads.
Pick a metaphorical or actual lane, Elon. Drive or play a game. Not both.