Simulated Ownership

I came across recently with a scene that I barely knew existed, which is the car replica scene. The goal of the scene is to replicate the appearance of an exotic car, such as Ferrari or Lamborghini, as accurately as possible by modifying a regular, far cheaper base-vehicle. Yes, it’s an old thing and on some level I was aware of it, but, as said, it didn’t occur me until recently how sophisticated replicas of today could be. The level of detail simply blew my mind.

It’s indeed quite remarkable how far the industry that’s virtually car piracy has come, and that some high-end replicas are even labeled as being of “showroom quality”, which casts a shadow of doubt over every exotic car I confront in the future.  And everything is, of course, being realized with a fraction of the cost of a genuine article.

What, then, makes such an endeavor reasonable is the strategy to replicate the mere surface of the original and some of the functionality, which resembles quite closely the concept of simulation and its connection to the concept of toy of which I have discussed at length here on the site and in my thesis.

In some sense, a replica car is indeed something of an ultimate toy since it simulates, like a toy, ownership of something unobtainable that’s in this case an expensive luxury car, or in the case of a child, any actual car. What we want but can’t have, we fantasy of having, and owning a replica Ferrari is just that. In the end, though, replica cars, or pirated luxury items in general, are obtained for the glazing eyes of the Other, not just for personal enjoyment. The thing is, it’s pretty difficult to enjoy luxury items when there’s no-one watching.

However, my ultimate point here is that replica cars resemble conceptually not only toys but also very much their digital counterparts in the realm of real-time imagery. Indeed, a simulated car in a video game does exactly what a real-life replica does: copies the mere surface of the original without the underlying structure, and the functionality of the original to some extent.

One particularly fascinating and illuminating detail in some of higher-end replicas is the way the supposed engine is being realized when it’s visible through a glass hood. Since the actual engine powering a replica most likely doesn’t look anything like the original, a molded engine cover is put on top of it to make the engine appear something from a genuine exotic car.

As already established, this kind of visual mimicry is intriguingly similar to the principles found in the digital realm, in that a) it makes sense to model solely the parts visible to the casual observer, and b) the appearance and the function are two separate entities or layers. In a replica, functionality is provided by the base-car with its engine, chassis, hinges, transmission and so forth. In a polygon-based car, it’s the simulation algorithms, such as those handling the physics and car mechanics, that in the end make the vehicle tick. Polygons and textures are mere surface.

As oppose to replicas, however, simulated cars in video games like Gran Turismo 5 are more of a private fantasy than shared one since it’s quite difficult to fool and impress others with a collection of polygons and textures, in contrast to plastic and fiberglass. Or, at least not before 3D printing makes it possible to translate polygons to real-life items. Like exotic luxury cars.

It seems there’s an innate need for ownership in all of us, more in some than in others. In the case of financially unobtainable things, we tend to resort to all sorts of shortcuts like daydreaming or, in the most extreme cases, violent robbing and stealing. So in comparison, replicas and video games are pretty harmless an alternative for that kind of aspirations.

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