Back in my high school days, Initial D was the biggest thing amongst us kids who loved Japanese cars. I was introduced to the anime by a friend of mine who lend me his bootleg CDs of the first series, and as a person who grew up on watching Japanese anime, I was quite excited that finally there was one about cars.
Kids these days have it so incredible good with easy online access to content; back in our day there was no such thing as Youtube, no such thing as digital release - Internet wasn’t even fast enough. Anime gets broadcasted on TV in Japan, and then you either wait for the DVDs, or pray someone recorded the broadcast on a computer, dub in English subtitles, and puts it up on peer-to-peer networks (Bittorrent for life). For the second and third series of Initial D I actually had to ask my father’s friend who was visiting Hong Kong at the time to buy the DVDs. It wasn’t until the fourth series that the content was widely available online the day after broadcast thanks to dedicated subbing groups.
Alongside the anime program there’s naturally offshoots in merchandising. One of the most popular Initial D related items were the arcade machines. The opportunity to “drive” the cars in the numerous racing battles seen in the anime was completely irresistible. Luckily for us there were arcade machines a brief 15 minute walk from our high school - at San Francisco State, where I currently work at, coincidently. Back then the hoards of people queueing up just to have a go was enormous, often dozen deep during the hours immediately after school.
Unfortunately I was seriously lacking in funds (each turn required two dollars) so I never got too far into the game unlike most of my peers. Now that I think about it I don’t think I’ve played Initial D more than five times. I thought wouldn’t it be great - far less costly, and no lines - if I had such a driving game setup at home. When Gran Turismo 4 was introduced in 2004, I seize the chance to do just that.
Logitech and other accessories manufacturers was at the infancy of offering wheel setups for driving games, and for $150 in 2004 dollars I bought a Logitech Driving Force Pro to get the Initial D arcade-like experience at home. We had to build a stand out of Home Depot wood to position the wheel in front of the television, and for seating I simply used my desk chair. It was crude indeed compared to the Logitech T300RS and Playseat Challenge combo I’ve got now, but chasing the final bits of realism and force-feedback wasn’t the point: back then it was solely about the pure joy of driving.
A kid who’ve loved car since he can remember was all of a sudden able to drive over 700 of them in GT4. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t remotely close to piloting the real thing; I had a steering wheel in my hand, with gas and brake pedals beneath my feet, and I’m controlling a car on the screen in front of me. That was more than enough, especially since I haven’t yet gotten my driver license. I absolutely worn it out out driving on the Nurburgring whenever I had free time, which is something i still do in Assetto Corsa.
So yes, my first ‘joy of driving’ moment wasn’t in an actual car, which I think is pretty awesome.