On one of the splash screens when you load up Forza Horizon 5 – the one where you usually get all the small print from brands and sponsors and the stuff about not driving like this in real life – you also get a few words from the state of Mexico, asserting its rights over the imagery depicting the country’s famous attractions. It’s just a bit of legalese, and I confess I never noticed whether previous editions of the series featured similar boilerplate from the UK, Australia, France, Italy or the USA. But it seems significant, somehow. This could be a sign of a national government – or at the very least a tourist board or a chamber of commerce – paying attention to the power a video game like this has to shape international perception and maybe even drive trade, the way globetrotting spy movies and handsome nature documentaries do.
If I’m right, they would not be wrong. The Forza Horizon series has always been exemplary virtual tourism (a market, incidentally, Microsoft is close to cornering, between this and Flight Sim – a very canny investment). The games have married an innocuous, celebratory and above all welcoming vibe to rock-solid driving gameplay and let both loose across artfully sculpted and condensed maps of iconic scenery: the ochre rock formations of Colorado’s national parks, the sparkling decadence of the Mediterranean coast, the majestic skies of the Outback, the moody hills and cosseted villages of the Cotswolds. There is nothing but upside here. Any culture secretary worth their salt would want a piece of this.