I've been playing Burnout Paradise Remastered, and somewhere along the line the act of tearing through those mostly empty streets dug up a cobweb covered tomb hidden in the recesses of my mind containing pure kernels of childhood gaming bliss. Feelings forgotten over more than a decade of "growing up," over college papers and coming to terms with a world which shrouds its intent behind doublespeak, half-truths and unspeakable secrets. My experience of growing up in post-9/11 America was growing up in a world where nothing was clear, a childhood defined by fear that later was replaced by distrust and skepticism. To be frank, it's exhausting.
Burnout isn't like that. Burnout is a game where you drive fast, crash into shit, spin donuts in a baseball stadium, but it's also a game where you sit with your stupid face one centimeter from a far-too-bright display gripping your controller so hard that it's a wonder it doesn't just snap in your sweaty hands. Burnout is the type of game that doesn't have character models driving the cars because it would make the crashes too dark. Burnout Paradise felt to me like a game that didn't give a fuck what you thought. You start it, fucken Slash starts grooving, DJ Atomica tells you what's up in Paradise City, and then you're going, and that song is still going, and that's bliss.
Looking at the moment to moment action of Burnout Paradise reinforces this sense of nonchalance and reverence in its own absurdity that makes and made it such a unique experience for me, as a child in 2008 and as whatever the hell I am now in 2020. It's a game that encourages you to push the edge of what you can do in this car without viscerally ripping yourself out of the action for a brief few moments as you watch your off-brand hot wheels turn into that one hot-wheels you dropped into the garbage disposal that one time, it's a game that rewards you with nitrous for doing cool shit. Cool shit like driving into oncoming traffic, like almost crashing into cars, like kind of crashing into cars, like side checking your opponent hard enough that they careen off the road into a bus conspicuously absent of pedestrians. It's fun, it's fast, it's the pure unfettered joy of being an idiot.
At the time the racing I knew was Gran Turismo. Austere car reverence peppered with easy-listening jazz and a vibe not entirely dissimilar to my dentist's office. That's not to say I didn't dislike Gran Turismo or simulation style racing, but many of the complexities of driving life-like cars were completely foreign to me, a child who didn't drive. Burnout has GN fucken R, it has Girlfriend, it has that Brand New song, that Killswitch Engage song, N.E.R.D. and Depeche Mode remixes, a wide variety of classical music--this game was absolutely insane. It felt like nothing I had experienced until that time, it was a game about the joy of racing games, not the breathless car showroom joy of putting your ears to mufflers and sniffing tailpipes or whatever car people do.
This is all to say, Burnout is engineered for fun, and the late 00s felt like a time where games were less concerned about being... fun. That isn't to say I dislike this period of gaming, but I transitioned pretty hard and fast into being terrified of multiplayer games to being stressed about my KDR in CoD 4 because I was bred to constantly compare myself to my peers. At times games were not fun. They were awful, being yelled at over Xbox Live and constantly feeling pressured to perform. Burnout was my way to relax. Half the time I wasn't doing events I was just aimlessly driving around Paradise city, exploring, trying to do sick shit in the airfield, not giving a damn about doing well in multiplayer because the whole server was just there to chill and have fun in one of the greatest motherfucking video games of all time, and a game I needed then and need now more than ever.