The back-to-school rush has meant that I’ve spent less time at my computer, and more time in a moving vehicle. Like many other hundreds of thousands of young professionals in the Greater Toronto area, I commute daily to work, and this requires me to sit for long hours on a moving train or bus, contemplating how desperately I wish the person seated next to me would save his egg salad sandwich for when he got off the train. For any of you who are from the GTA, you are probably aware that this area has been consistently ranked as having one of the worst commutes in North America– apparently, it’s even worse than LA, which is really saying something.

When I’m on the bus, my mind tends to wander, and before long, I’m picturing the cars darting in and out of the lanes in front of me as tiny, super-powered go-karts, reminiscent of Mario Kart or Diddy Kong racing. Sometimes, if it’s a dreary Monday morning and I’ve just finished a weekend-long PvP stint in World of Warcraft, I’ll even imagine that commuter cars are other players racing to capture the flag, or assault an enemy base.

These imaginary fantasies clearly reflect that I’ve got video games on the brain, even when I don’t have the time to play them, but I think it also reflects a central truth about the way we approach highway driving: when it comes to other commuters, we tend to ‘dehumanize’ them, or in my case, pixellate them, making them part of a faceless, and seemingly robotic horde of other vehicles moving in the same general direction. Since I use transit to get to work, the way I perceive other commuters has no impact on my own driving, but as you might expect, this ‘dehumanization’ does seem to affect people who are actually behind the wheel. Drivers consistently veer out of their own lanes to get ahead; they neglect to use their signals, nor do they acknowledge another driver who had let them into traffic from an on-ramp. Maybe I’m just a traditionalist, but aren’t these the kinds of common courtesies we were taught way back in driver’s ed?

Don’t let those spiky spaulders fool you- this is one friendly Night Elf.

I also can’t help but wonder whether the video game world holds any lessons for overly aggressive drivers who don’t respect the rules of the road. I will be the first to admit that in PvP, there are some really inconsiderate players– people who don’t respect the rules of the game and fight dirty. But I’ve also been privy to some really neat gestures of friendship in the virtual world. In PvP, making gestures like waving, smiling, or laughing is a surefire way to let the person on the other side of the web know that you are a living, breathing human too.

Wouldn’t it be great if these kinds of lessons were imported to the real-life driving world? Call me an idealist, but I like to imagine a commuter highway full of people waving and signalling– using the types of gestures PvPers regularly use to show  consideration and respect.

There’s no guaranteed way to ‘humanize’ other drivers, but using these random acts of kindness will surely go a long way towards viewing other drivers less as random vehicles (Yoshi! Baby Mario!) and more as other human beings simply trying to make their way in and out of the city. While our conventional cars may not possess the bells and whistles of the Wild Wing or the Torpedo, we do have the ability, and the responsibility, to be courteous towards other players drivers, even if it results in the real-life equivalent of losing the Mushroom Cup.