Through the Eyes of a Native: Forza Horizon 3's Austrailia
The Forza Horizon games are easily some of my favourite simulation racing games of all time. I love the beautiful open landscapes; I love the feel of the racing physics, and I love the fantasy of driving exotic cars that I will probably never get to drive in my lifetime. So you can imagine how exciting it was for me, a lifelong resident of Queensland Australia, to hear that Forza Horizon 3 was to be set in my home country.
There are a number of cities and landscapes that are highly represented in video games; places like NYC, London, and the Old West are real life locations that are often used as settings for video games because people are familiar with the look and feel of those places due to their prevalence in pop-culture – and for a good reason too, they’re great backdrops for telling stories. But I’ve always felt that Australia has just as much potential as a great setting for video games as these places do, yet it has almost entirely been ignored. Australia’s spectacular, varied landscape and it’s unique culture has far more potential in video games than just a setting for a level in Crash Bandicoot or a track in a Moto GP game – and Forza Horizon 3 absolutely proves this to be true.
I love the way the Australian landscape is represented in Forza Horizon 3. It feels like the developers gave a lot of attention to detail into accurately portraying the modern Australia, and not just designing an Australian-flavoured, generic video game world based on stereotypes. This feeling is not only represented through obvious design choices such as cars driving on the left-hand side of the road, or by the inclusion of various not-so-famous landmarks such as the Byron Bay lighthouse. Through the combination of these aspects with the myriad of little details that most players that are unfamiliar with Australia would probably ignore.
Little details like the accurate colours on road signs and markings, realistic ‘wheelie-bin’ and letterbox designs, as well as recognisable Australian trees and plants are all details that are likely to be ignored by the majority of Forza Horizon 3’s player base. Yet for myself and many others that are familiar with the real Australian landscape, these details all add up to create an engrossing representation of Australia that allows our imagination to flourish. All these familiar, real-world elements create a unique sense of immersion for me that I’ve never felt before. It enhanced my imagination whilst playing the game and made what I was doing on-screen feel like a familiar experience. I probably won’t ever know what it actually feels like to drive a Lamborghini Centenario through the Yarra Valley in Victoria at 200km/h, but Forza Horizon 3 has given me a pretty good idea of what that would be like.
This whole experience made me realise the power that a well-designed video game can have in providing players with incredibly real experiences that they would probably never have for themselves in real life. I recently visited Byron Bay and the southern Queensland Hinterlands after playing Forza Horizon 3, and whilst travelling along the winding forest roads in my old Volvo, I kept thinking about how much fun this would be in my dope modified, neon-orange Dodge Viper that I’d recently unlocked in the game. And in some strange way, I just knew that it would be awesome – almost like I’d actually done it before. It was an incredibly profound and strange feeling. Of course driving a ridiculously powerful sports car in a video game is nothing like it is in real life, but the experience seemed so familiar after so many in-game hours. Almost like a memory of sorts.
The level of detail in Forza Horizon 3 had created a whole new type of immersion for me. There was a certain level of comfort and familiarity to what I was experiencing that really drew me in and profoundly elevated my experience with the game. It made me wonder if New Yorkers have the same feeling when driving around Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto IV, or if this feeling is diminished by New York’s over-representation in mainstream media and pop-culture. It also made me think about the detail that I may have missed in other games, simply because I was unfamiliar with the real-world analogue to the location that I was playing in.
It’s something of a sad catch-22: players may not realise how engrossing an in-game experience really is without having some level of familiarity with the real-world equivalent in the first place. Would I have had a similar feeling of intense immersion when playing Adr1ft if I’d actually visited the International Space Station? Nevertheless, my experience with Forza Horizon 3 has given me a greater appreciation for the finer details in video game design and the potential for this profound sense of immersion that these details can offer to players that have experiences that intersect the real and game world. Also, let’s see some more video games set in Australia. It’s beautiful down here.