I can't drive in real life, but driving in games has always helped me relax

Forza Horizon 5
(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

After a long, tiring day, I like to hit the roads of Forza Horizon 5. Whenever I get behind the wheel of a car in Playground Games' open-world, and drive around to my favorite Horizon radio station, all of my stress seems to melt away. Most of the time, I have no set destination in mind. I just motor down the roads and enjoy taking in the scenery of the virtual landscapes. Every now and then, I'll jump into a race I stumble upon during my travels. As I speed through each lap, I feel myself fall into a kind of flow state as I focus on reaching the finish line. Any troublesome thoughts I may have had all but disappear as my mind shifts gears, and I only think about maintaining my position in first place. 

During my most recent driving session, I started reflecting on the way racing games have always helped me unwind over the years. While Forza Horizon 5 is the latest adventure I've been gravitating towards, I have a long-standing history with the genre which began at quite a young age. My love for racing games is partly fueled by my appreciation for cars, but I often find myself coming back to them time and again because of how relaxing they can be to play. Funnily enough, I also don't drive in reality, but in the world of games it's always been one of my favorite pastimes.

Playing pretend 

Midtown Madness 3

(Image credit: Microsoft)
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Forza Horizon 4

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

See our pick of the best racing games you can drive through right now. 

Before I discovered the Forza Horizon series, my love of racing games began on the original Xbox. As a kid, I always had an obsession with toy cars, which quickly translated into the world of video games as I got older. While I have fond memories of playing racing games like Crazy Taxi and Simpsons Road Rage, everything changed when my dad bought me a copy of Midtown Madness 3 when I was around 12 years old. 

As an open-world arcade-style racing game set in Paris and Washington DC, Midtown Madness 3 isn't a million miles away from the experience of Forza Horizon. It has the option to free roam outside of its hectic racing challenges, and this mode was my go-to that quickly became my outlet for stress. After the frustrations of a school day, I'd boot up the game and drive around the streets of Paris for hours in the seat of what would become my favorite car: the Audi TT. 

When I got an Xbox steering wheel controller some time later, I can remember trying to drive around as realistically as possible, with me stopping at lights and slowing down for traffic as if I was really in the game world. Whenever I was physically behind that wheel, I was transported somewhere else, away from whatever worries I had at the time. It changed my relationship with racing games into something more meaningful and personal. As much as I love arcade racers and cars in general, the option to just drive at my leisure gave me a space to decompress and get away from everything for a while. 

Driving my troubles away 

Forza Horizon 4

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Midtown Madness 3 became a game that I would turn to often thanks to its easy-going free roam mode. It wasn't until I discovered the Forza Horizon series that I found a new racing adventure that would help me relax in the same way. Whether it be in Australia, Great Britain, or Mexico, the series' expansive open-world settings provide the perfect stretches of road to get lost in. The freedom the series affords to let you steer your own adventure and explore also means that you can take everything at your own pace and just enjoy zooming around in your favorite cars at your leisure. 

When I drive in Forza Horizon 5, I can once again capture the same kind of feelings of escapism and relief as I did when I was behind the wheel of my original Xbox. I can't say I ever expected my childhood affinity for cars would turn into such a source of comfort in the world of video games as I got older. But whether it be losing myself to the races, or just soaking up the sights and sounds of the world as I drive, racing games still are – and likely always will be – just what I need to unwind after a busy day. 

Are you also a fan of Forza? Check out our pick of the best Forza games you can play right now, from Horizon to Motor Sport. 

Heather Wald
Senior staff writer

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.