The following is an interview with an anonymous virtual character of video games who has made a career as a rubber-band racer. Don't know what rubber-banding is? Read on to find out!
So tell us about the beginnings of rubber-banding in video games, and how you got started in racing?
Gosh, the concept has been around forever. It's the idea of an AI racing opponent catching up to the player's vehicle no matter how far behind the computer opponent is in a race. As if they are indeed attached to a rubber band, there is no possibility of the player escaping their opponent. It's the bane of every player, and the reason I even have a career as a rubber-band racer.
As for my beginnings, I got my start in F-Zero for the SNES in the 90s. I was eager and ambitious back then. There was absolutely zero possibility of the player overlapping me. Pardon the pun!
What is it about rubber-banding that you love?
To put it simply, the ability to enrage gamers, and not get thrown out of the race no matter how good they are, or how badly I drive. From the Mario Kart franchise to The Need for Speed, I've competed in many different games, created by developers who had no regard for fairness or realism. It was great.
Why do you think rubber-banding in racing games is so controversial and divisive?
People are just sore losers.
But the concept is inherently unbalanced, surely?
How do you know I didn't catch up to you fair and square? You don't look back while you're racing to the finishing line, and yet you just assume I cheated my way into second place from last. You're treating me like Schrödinger's cat, like I'm both a competitor and an artificial mirage as long as you don't look at me. And don't call me Shirley.
So with the advent of consoles such as the PS1 and N64, how did that affect your career?
I greeted that era with ambivalence. Rubber-banding was still in affect, don't get me wrong, I was extremely productive in the Gran Turismo series, for example. But gamers were getting better, thanks in part to more refined learning curves, better control schemes and more thought put into level design. The next generation would pay even more attention to dynamic game difficulty balancing, refining it so that the seams wouldn't show, which obviously didn't help matters for racers like me. But franchises like the merciless Wipeout ensured I managed to put food on the table for my family. I was devastated to learn of Sony Liverpool's closure recently.
What about the next era? PS2, Xbox. GameCube. Some racers have called this a period as fraught and transformative as the industrial revolution.
He is silent.
Are you ok?
Yeah, it's just tough, you know? You try your best to stay in the game, to keep the player in your sights, preferably the rear-view mirror, but there's only so much you can do. The core spirit of rubber-banding was slowly being phased out for more adaptive tailor-made experiences catering to individual gamers, and a lot of my friends just quit as a result. They moved into other genres. A lot of them became bullet-sponges in corridor shooters featuring unending waves of baddies. One of my friends is the regenerating necromorph in the Dead Space games; he's still living the dream terrorising gamers, the rascal. But most of my old crew left the action genre entirely to become NPCs in sandbox games, living the quiet life. It's depressing.
Rubber-banding hasn't disappeared though, so I guess there's hope for you yet
You're right, it hasn't gone away. It's just less apparent these days. There's still plenty of races that adhere to tradition and infuriate gamers. I have fond memories of Rockstar's Midnight Club: Los Angeles. Watching gamers crash into traffic, or seeing them watch me crash and then inexplicably turn up snapping at their heels towards the finish line. Good times.
Didn't Rockstar update that game with a patch to make it less difficult?
He pauses, looking uncomfortable.
Yeah. Yeah, they did.
What's in store for the future? With a new generation approaching in the form of the PS4 and Xbox One, can we expect the tradition of rubber-banding to continue, or will it disappear into the mists of time?
Honestly, it's my livelihood. I hope it stays so I can infuriate gamers, and make them feel cheated and betrayed by the game developer. The feeling of making a gamer destroy their controller in a rage as I render all their efforts moot by magically teleporting from one area of a track to another; it's what I live for. It's unfair, it's unrealistic, it's an artificial attempt at creating a challenge and keeping boredom away, but you know what? Life's unfair. Rubber-banding is my life. It keeps me in the game. I can't imagine doing anything else.