I did my driving theory test the other day, and while doing it, though, I became fascinated with one aspect in particular. The test is divided in two: multiple choice questions about signs, the rules of the road etc, and the hazard perception. This is meant to be an almost game-like reflex test where you spot potential dangers to your car in time that, were this the ‘real world’, you’d be able to stop. You’re shown a video and have to hit the button when you see a hazard. Except: rather than a video of a real car driving down a real road,you get a video of a CGI car driving down a CGI road, and the best word I can come up with to describe it is “haunted”.
The testing facility itself already felt like the setting for one of those modern corporate-themed creepy pasta stories: the infinite hallways or whatever that’s called. Just off Brighton’s trendy Seven Dials, a building whose interior is almost the diametric opposite of everything surrounding it. A physical space whose carpet and ceiling tiles and busted-up desk chairs suggest the cubicle farms of the 90s; decked out with computers so old they had mice with balls in and monitors that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a mid-2000s secondary school’s IT suite. Then I started with the hazard perception.
Possibly the fact that you're steeling yourself for something to happen puts you in a certain headspace, but whether I was primed for it or not, something immediately seemed wrong. I suppose it might be marginally cheaper to use CGI than to film the scenarios, but given that this is the test done by anyone wanting to get their driving license nationwide, it seems like the cost savings are probably minor relative to the cost of the overall endeavour. Whatever the magnitude of the cost differences, though, the uncanniness difference is vast. It feels like being in a PS2 game cutscene, but one that’s not quite right. The blank, staring faces of computer-generated “schoolchildren” peering around the front of a bus, their eyes boring directly into my soul will live in my head me until the day I die. The dog I saw in the distance that I swear was a human character model on all fours with a Dalmatian texture applied, likewise. The adults on the pavement gesticulating unnaturally—are they meant to be having a fight? What’s going on?
It was genuinely unsettling so I felt really thrown off, and that's why I failed my theory test. DVLA, if you're listening, I want my money back.