Kyle Patrick is a speed demon. He's one of nearly a dozen university students who have won a chance to compete for their schools in a gaming competition set up by PlayStation called the Campus Cup.
They're here at the Drake Underground, now transformed into a gamers' paradise, complete with leather couches and three giant projection screens. The set-up is fairly simple. Give two guys (it's all guys here tonight) the same virtual car, the racing version of the Nissan 300ZX, and let them go at it. The winner will go onto the next round the loser will lick his wounds at the bar.
But while Patrick may be burning rubber onscreen, when he puts down the controller it's a different story.
"Uh... I don't have insurance. So I drive very rarely," says Patrick, a second-year graphic design student at York University. "I'm mostly worried about paying for school. I can't afford a car."
Of course that could soon change. The winner today receives a $6,000 check for tuition, deposited directly to their school.
"It's the opposite of everything we've always been taught," says Patrick. "We're taught not to play video games, and now a video game might be paying tuition. It helps, because school's not getting any cheaper."
Personally, when I'm gaming, I'm not looking to engage in what I find to be a stressful real-world activity. My ideal racer is still Nintendo's Mario Kart, in which you drive high-speed go-carts around tracks surrounded by lava while shooting tortoise shells and banana peels at your opponents.
Then again, as I watch the students here, I must admit it takes skill to manoeuvre at 200 miles an hour around a track. An intensity rises above the grinding roar of the engines the thrill of competition. There's even sportsmanship, as two students shake hands just before they pick up their controllers. From the sidelines, someone hollers, "I hope you do better than your football teams!"
So if it takes skill, does actual driving experience give an advantage? Kyle Tait is a communications major at McMaster and a self-professed Gran Turismo whore. He also has a brother who's a racing instructor and hopes his skills run in the family.
"There's a few similarities, a lot of braking points, hitting the apex, but obviously video games are real" forgiving," says Tait. "If you mess up driving, you're screwed. You mess up in the game, you just retry."
The Kyle vs Kyle match turns out to be the fiercest anyone has seen so far. Tait unleashes bumper-to-bumper blows and smashes on every turn. But Patrick ultimately proves victorious: "I was being bumped in the first two laps, so I retaliated in the third. I wasn't going to, but I had no other choice."
In the next match, Oliver Bonnet, a French-Canadian student from McGill, smokes his opponent from University of Ottawa in a style that can only be described as professional. Bonnet actually is a race-car driver.
"It's a little bit more difficult with the game-pad instead of a steering wheel," he says, "But it is similar to racing in real life."
Despite the playful competition, there's a shadow hanging over the entire night. Video games and real-life racing have collided in the headlines. Just days before the event, two teenagers were drag racing on Toronto's streets. Their actions resulted in the death of a taxi driver. In the front seat of their car was a copy of the driving game Need For Speed.
Bonnet says that particular game is based on underground street racing, unlike Gran Turismo, which runs in proper racing circuits. Chris Freitas of PlayStation marketing waves away my questions about the confusion that gaming might inspire in young drivers, restating that this event is meant to be a fun and entertaining experience of "a favourite pastime."
But these concerns get burned away by the heat of the finals as the race car driver Bonnet and the pure gamer Patrick meet head to head for a best two out of three. The pro eats gamer dust on every lap, losing the first two matches by only a couple of seconds, but it's a wide margin by racing standards.
And that's when PlayStation's marketing team swoop in. Suddenly there seem to be just as many staff as there are students. A half-dozen models appear out of nowhere and cozy up to Patrick. He's still in shock, smiling blindly for photos as he receives a shiny silver trophy and a giant novelty cheque.
Despite his win, the glamour of big-bucks pro-gaming isn't enough to seduce Patrick tonight. He tells me he's more interested in getting back to his freshly paid courses in graphic design.