County's starring role in video games

Video games have done brisk business during the lockdown as young and old alike opted to capitalise on being ordered to stay inside by plugging into their game console or PC and, er, taking a walk to the shops for a packet of toilet roll in Grand Theft Auto. But for many, escaping into a virtual world also allows them to explore a virtual Kent.

Here’s hoping he’s not playing Grand Theft Auto: Ashford Nightlife edition

Because over the years the county has made a number of recognisable appearances. Granted, we’ve yet to see a Call of Duty map based on downtown Margate or a GTA mission to take down a county lines gang in Tunbridge Wells, but if you’re still keeping yourself housebound, here are some of ways we’ve been able to recreate life in this fine county of ours.

Football Manager

Playing Football Manager should, as anyone who has ever started a season will know to their cost, carry a health warning. It has the ability to not only consume hours of your life, but also blur the lines between reality and your virtual world. Many years ago, I took the reins of Gillingham and blooded a young lad from the youth team.

He became the first team’s top scorer as I guided the Gills to the heady heights of the Premier League. In reality, he’d been loaned out to Welling United. To this day, I hold the lad in high regard.

That could be you on the Gills touchline…sort of…

Just in case you’re wondering, my Gills side got relegated after one season in the top flight and after a disappointing start to life in the Championship I was sacked mid-season…I met Paul Scally not long after this and explained this to him…he just looked at me perplexed (probably while secretly motioning for security to release the hounds).

I resented him for not keeping faith in me after taking his club to the promised land. In short, buy a copy of Football Manager at your peril. The fact my dismissal still rankles all this time later is all the warning you need.

But it has been the game of choice for many with too much time on their hands during the lockdown. And, best of all, you can play a host of Kent teams – all the way down to National League South. So that means not only can you try and fulfill your dreams for the Gills, but also muscle into the hotseat at the likes of Dartford, Maidstone, Tonbridge and Dover.

Opt for an older version of the game, and taking Margate up the pyramid can be yours too. Just remember that, should you reach a Wembley final, tradition dictates you watch your boys do battle while fully suited and booted (just make sure no one is around to see you do it). WOFOR: War on Terror

The streets of Canterbury are more often filled with the pastel coloured rucksacks of French school children, or a throng of students from one of the cathedral city’s many educational establishments.

Helicopters over the cathedral at Canterbury in War on Terror

But in 2006 a very different visitor could be seen.

In the WOFOR: War on Terror game, the united World Forces were on the hunt for ne’er-do-wells as they rampaged through the medieval city. So for PC gamers it was a chance to see tanks and heavy artillery drive through the city centre before carnage in the cathedral’s pretty Precincts. To the surprise of precisely no-one, the games arrival on the shelves – in the local branch of HMV the game was labelled up as featuring the city – didn’t go down too well with the powers-that-be at the cathedral.

And I’m not talking about God (although he was no doubt a tad miffed). A spokesman said: “Having the cathedral as aesthetic wallpaper for violence and hatred isn’t appropriate.”

Here’s hoping he’s not playing Grand Theft Auto: Ashford Nightlife edition

It called for the game to be pulled…needless to say it wasn’t, but even the publicity generated by the row didn’t make it a big seller. One game critic dismissed it by quipping: “Tastelessness is the least of the War on Terror’s problems”.

Cricket 07 A bit like reality, cricket in the gaming world has always come a rather poor and distant second in terms of both polish and popularity. And often with good reason; think fiddly controls, dodgy commentary and a difficulty setting akin to trying to explain the Duckworth-Lewis method.

The limited global appeal has often seen the big game developers – such as EA – dabble and then pull out due to diminishing returns. But, inevitably with those releases which continue to persevere, the only grounds that come as standard are the high profile Test venues. Which is why the ability to create your own stadiums is a rather popular past-time for those who, perhaps, have a little too much time on their hands.

So while the Spitfire Ground in Canterbury rarely makes an appearance officially the effort in EA’s Cricket 07 was pretty much spot on (and recently shared on the club’s Twitter page). Just don’t expect to feel like you’re there… Euro Truck Simulator 2

There are some odd games about and Euro Truck Simulator 2 (yes the first was clearly so successful it spawned another) is one. The premise is simple – drive your lorry, complete with load – around Europe and be paid, virtually, for doing so. Not much fun there, you could be forgiven for thinking (and indeed many would agree), but plenty like it and, again, if you are so inclined you can fine-tune some of the maps so it looks more like the real thing.

Unsurprisingly, drivers are often tasked with heading to Dover – if only to get on or off a cross-Channel ferry or Eurotunnel. And so while for most of us the thought of a foreign trip remains very much as a pipe dream, here you can imagine yourself trucking down the M20 or M2 en route to destinations as glamorous as Berlin, Paris, or, if you’re lucky, Liverpool.

Look, it’s just like coming off the real M20 on Euro Truck Simulator 2

The other good thing is that as you drive through customs at Calais you don’t find 20 migrants have smuggled themselves into your trailer and you end up being jailed as a result. Although someone will no doubt come up with some downloadable content to replicate the authentic experience.

Gran Turismo 6 One of the perennial big-hitters of console racing, Gran Turismo churned out games for speed freaks for 20 years – starting on the very first PlayStation way back in 1997, with its latest offering hitting shelves three years ago. In total it’s thought to have sold some 85 million games over the years and the next is thought to be among the launch titles of the swanky new PS5 which will be on many an over-ambitious Christmas list later this year.

Its sixth version, which emerged in 2013 on the PS3 allowed petrol heads, and just the curious, to experience life bolting around Brands Hatch at breakneck speeds.

Experience life around Brands Hatch in Gran Turismo 6

The West Kingsdown circuit has plenty of motorsport pedigree and gamers get the chance to take a high-powered vehicle around its legendary Grand Prix circuit in the race – and very realistic it all looks too. Dirt Rally Lydden Hill is often overlooked when it comes to the county’s top sporting venues, but the race track between Dover and Canterbury has long proved to be a huge draw for rally fans – most notably when some 25,000 would pile in to watch the FIA World Championship battle it out, wheel-to-wheel.

And while the event has since shifted to Silverstone, you can relieve its glory days in the Kent countryside in the game Dirt Rally which was released in 2015.

It offered the chance to experience life in the driving seat around the spectacular course which sits in a natural ampitheatre and continues to hold a special place in the heart of race fans.

Feel the need for speed at Lydden Hill on Dirt Rally

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