Urban Cycling Is Like Playing A Video Game

Hectic, dangerous, and requiring constant vigilance — just like a first-person shooter

Clive Thompson
6 min readAug 9, 2022


via Pxhere (CC0 1.0 license, unmodified)

Cycling in New York City is incredibly dangerous.

I do it a lot; in the last week — while running errands, shopping, going to meetings or visiting friends, plus some pleasure cycling — I’ve pedaled about 80 miles.

But with each trip I’m in a state of constant hypervigilance. I’m forever glancing about. I’m checking to see if cars are coming up behind me, or whether some parked dude is about to fling open his door; whether another cyclist is about to pass me, or a pedestrian — absorbed in their phone — is about to step off the curb and into the bike lane.

My peripheral vision gets an absolutely brutal workout.

Because hey, if you don’t remain vigilant? You can easily get seriously injured, and/or injure someone else. I have friends who’ve been doored so badly they wound up in the ER, with a bruise the size of a pizza splayed across their stomach and chest. I’ve read stories about pedestrians being whacked by cyclists who weren’t paying attention.

I know lots of folks who enjoy cycling but never do it in the city; they find this fight-or-flight vigilance too wearying. “I love cycling on a calm country road,” as one friend recently told me, “but being in New York traffic is just too crazy. Never gonna do it.”

Me? I’ve realized that I kind of enjoy it.

It tweaks my dendrites in a way that seems … familiar.

Specifically, it reminds me of playing action games.

Hurtling through the streets in Asphalt 9

I’ve played video games literally since Pong and Space Invaders; I was a teenager in the 1980s. It grew into a lifelong habit — I still play video games today.

But all along, I’ve mostly only been interested in frantic action games.

All those slow-paced puzzler and strategy games? Those complex RPGs where you spend hours carefully rebalancing your inventory and abilities, or weeks slowly unfolding a complex…



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net