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Fake email and social media have become standard features in sports game career modes, the former being used to simulate the workaday aspects of your fantasy and the latter being used to simulate a fraction of the attention and pestering that goes with being a famous athlete. For the most part these little touches of real-world grounding are pretty shallow and easily ignored… but occasionally they get under your skin and make you appreciate the ways in which even a job as a highly-paid athlete is still just that: a job.
For instance, I’m still kind of pissed off about a message my boss sent me in F1 2018 following a disappointing French Grand Prix, something that was so perfectly oblivious and self-exculpatory that it seemed almost eerily believable. It was an unpleasant taste of corporate life in a video game, to the point where I almost wondered if that email hadn’t been “bcc’d” to someone else behind my back.
Quick context: I’m proving to be a very good driver in F1 2018 and even though I keep adjusting the difficulty higher, it’s a rare race where I haven’t figured out how to turn one of the fastest laps in the field no matter what car it is that I’m driving. For the French GP, I was even better than usual. Something about the Circuit Paul Ricard just agreed with my driving style, and I drove the car into a second-place qualifying, with excellent prospects for a race win. But within about two laps of the start of the race, my race engineer sent me one of his avuncular, demoralizing little updates about the state of my car: “Ehhhhm it’s Jeff here and we’re… seeing… some… issues… with the electronics. You’re going see some loss of power.”
Boy did I ever. On the next lap, my car topped out at 30 KPH slower down the longest straight on the circuit. Vettel and Hamilton passed me like I wasn’t there at all, and on the next lap I felt into the clutches of the Force Indias and my teammate. There was nothing I could do and my car plunged into 13th place, like it was a McLaren or something.
Shit happens in racing, as in life. But immediately after the race, I got an email from Jeff. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it went something like:
Pretty poor performance this weekend. We frankly expected much better from you, given how the car performed in practice and where it qualified. Nothing to be done for it now and it’s on to the next race, but don’t make a habit of this.
Now obviously this email was automatically triggered by the fact I failed to meet the team’s pre-race expectations, and the details were filled-in by the comparison of my final results versus what I’d accomplished in qualifying and practice. There’s no Jeff, there’s no team. It’s just canned flavor text for a career mode.
But holy shit, Jeff. Are you fucking kidding me with this? The car broke, dude. Literally stopped going fast when I pressed the accelerator. The car you gave me—and are responsible for maintaining— broke.
It’s just a game, but it’s also an excellent impression of the reality of a lot of different people’s jobs. There are the things you can control, and the things for which the Jeffs of the world will hold you responsible. And on that particular Venn diagram, the latter circle completely devours the former.
Including in F1! Right now, a driver who was regarded as a promising up-and-comer for years, Stoffel Vandoorne, finds his job in jeopardy because he’s had two bad years in a row. He’s been stuck driving one of the worst and most unreliable cars in the sport, but you can see how the narrative is turning against him week-by-week. Lots of great drivers have been stuck with bad cars, so shouldn’t he have transcended that by now?
I won my next two races in Austria and Britain, driving the same as I always do. Nothing broke on the car, and the upgrades we’d ordered weeks earlier noticeably improved its handling. Before I won in Britain, Jeff told me that if I lapped the field, he’d buy me a pizza.
Jeff likes it when the job is fun.
Has anything in a game ever reminded you so strongly of bad work experiences you’ve almost whipped a controller at the screen?