The Best And The Worst Of Tesla Cars' Video Game Innovations

Tesla has transformed quite a bit since 2003 when the company was founded. Tesla began production on its first electric commercial vehicle — called the Tesla Roadster — in 2008, and has since improved its vehicles in many ways. Many of those improvements have been practical, like prolonging battery life, making the ride physically smoother, and enhancing AI capabilities to make self-driving a thing. But some innovations have been just for fun, like adding the ability to play video games through the Tesla dashboard.

Being able to play video games probably won't ever be the sole reason someone buys a Tesla, but it's a nice perk to have when you're paying so much. The company's foray into video games within its electric vehicles hasn't always been smooth. However, Tesla continues to make changes as necessary and implement new gaming features to make the experience better. For the most part, Tesla's video game innovations within its vehicles have set it apart from other EV competitors and it'll be exciting to see what the company comes up with next.

Best: Tesla Arcade is released in an update

The Tesla Arcade app was first teased at E3 and officially launched in 2019. Prior to the official release of Tesla's Arcade app, the company added Atari games as an Easter egg to an update. This easter egg, called TeslAtari, emulated popular Atari games from the '70s and '80s. For a little while, you could play popular games like "Pole Position" and "Asteroids," but these games were shortly removed because Tesla failed to get the proper rights and licenses.

Tesla Arcade was one of the first successful implementations of gaming built into a car, giving people a way to play a game through the car itself rather than through a handheld console they had to bring along, like the Nintendo Switch. After "Pole Position" and other Atari games had to be removed due to rights issues, Tesla released support for a new racing game titled "Beach Buggy Racing 2" and a well-known classic: chess.

With Tesla Arcade's version of chess, you can play against another car passenger and use timers that count up for each player to keep the game from going too long. There are controls to pause and resume the game, as well as undo or redo moves while playing. If you're by yourself at a charging station, you can play against one of four AIs with varying difficulty, or even watch two AIs play against one another. Chess, along with any other games within Tesla Arcade at this point in time, could only be played while the car was in park.

Best: Tesla steering wheel can be used as a controller

In mid-2019, Tesla released a new racing game titled "Beach Buggy Racing 2." This new racing game was meant to replace the Atari classic "Pole Position" after Tesla had to delete it due to licensing issues. "Beach Buggy Racing 2" is made by a company called Vector Unit, and it became popular on Android devices before making the jump to Tesla's vehicles.

To sweeten the release of "Beach Buggy Racing 2," Tesla also announced that the game could be controlled with the EV's steering wheel and pedals, rather than simply using a gamepad controller. There are 22 unique tracks to play and you can recruit new drivers within the game, all without needing a separate controller.

Tesla has made it clear in the past that the company is trying to make more use of the touchscreen infotainment interface within its vehicles, even when it's not being driven. Making good on this intention, the company added the wildly popular "Cuphead" to its game catalog, and promised to add "Fallout Shelter" shortly after. For safety reasons, the vehicle had to be stopped and in park in order to access all of these games.

Best: Addition of a dedicated GPU and AMD processor

In 2021, it was announced that Tesla's Model S and Model X now came with an AMD-powered dashboard. While Tesla and Elon Musk were quite tight-lipped about this new addition to the company's vehicles, AMD was ready to spill the details when asked. Tesla's Model S and X are equipped with an AMD APU processor and a discrete RDNA2 GPU for graphics — resulting in up to 10 teraflops of compute power, a fact which Musk later boasted on Twitter and compared to the PS5's power capability.

Of course, there were some skeptics out there who made note of how car infotainment systems sometimes struggle with simple tasks like scrolling through maps smoothly. With Tesla's proprietary self-driving computer chip and software development, however, having a good gaming experience is actually possible in the Model S or X. Now, Tesla isn't only making improvements to its in-vehicle AI and overall onboard processing strictly for games, but they certainly benefit from these improvements.

Best: Steam support added to higher-end models

After the addition of a discrete GPU to Tesla's Model S and Model X, the integration of Steam was made possible with 2022 or newer models with 16 gigabytes of RAM available. With Steam support, users of newer Model S or Model X vehicles have access to thousands of games. On Steam, games have a minimum system requirements section, and as long as the Tesla Model S or X meets these requirements, you can play the game.

Considering that you can play top-tier AAA titles like "Cyberpunk 2077" or "The Witcher 3," there aren't a lot of Steam games you can't play on these newer models. Just grab a compatible wireless controller and you're good to go.

Support for games via Steam was a huge accomplishment for Tesla and easily puts the company well above its EV competitors. You can't play any of these games while you're actively driving, but if you're on a road trip and have to wait for a while at a public charging station, you've got plenty of games to keep you entertained. Plus, both the Model S and Model X from Tesla have a 17-inch touchscreen display with a 2200x1300 resolution, plenty large enough for even the most detailed games.

Best: Removed ability to play games while the car is moving

Tesla Arcade has been around since mid-2019, offering popular games — like "Beach Buggy Racing 2" and "Cuphead" — to pass the time while the car is charging or otherwise parked. When Tesla Arcade was initially launched, there were safety restrictions in place to ensure that any game played within a Tesla system could only be played if the car was in park. Somewhere along the way, however, this was no longer the case.

At the end of 2021, roughly 580,000 Tesla cars and SUVs fell under a preliminary safety investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This wasn't even prompted by a crash or another incident, thankfully, but due to a complaint filed to the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) in November 2021.

Through the investigation, it was revealed that Tesla introduced the Passenger Play feature with an update in December 2020. Passenger Play allowed games to be played while the car was moving, as long as the passenger pressed a button confirming that they were the one playing a game, and not the driver. Passenger Play was offered on the Model 3, Model S, Model X, and Model Y vehicles — which amounts to over half a million Tesla vehicles.

Shortly after the investigation was launched, the Passenger Play feature was removed from the 580,000 Tesla vehicles that had it. While it may be fun to play games as a Tesla passenger, the safety risks are too high — for both the people in the Tesla and everyone else on the road.

Worst: Update enabled playing games while the car is moving

It was great that Tesla removed the Passenger Play feature in which passengers simply had to press a button saying they were a passenger in a moving Tesla to play games on the dashboard. However, this feature never should've been released in an update to begin with because it's an obvious safety concern. Even if there was a way to ensure only passengers were partaking in Tesla's many available video games, drivers could become easily distracted by trying to watch the screen.

This whole situation is reminiscent of updates pushed through in the popular mobile game called "Pokémon GO." If you're unfamiliar with the game, players essentially need to walk around to find new Pokémon to catch, and many players were driving around while playing instead of walking. After a surge in car accidents around Pokémon stop locations, the game's developer, Niantic, pushed through an update that made a dialogue box pop up if higher speeds were detected. The box tells players that it's unsafe to play while driving, and asks you to confirm that you're a passenger in the car before you're allowed to play.

Despite this well-meaning update, many players would simply press the "I'm a passenger" button even if they were driving. It's not hard to imagine that Tesla drivers might have been doing this as well when Passenger Play was enabled, which is a major safety concern for both the driver and everyone else on the road.

Worst: Steam support added to higher-end models

Tesla adding Steam support for 2022 or newer Model S and Model X vehicles is both a good and a bad thing. It's great because it's a huge leap for video games within electric vehicles and it's pretty cool, but bad because it seems so extra for only being able to play games while the car is parked — which means you'll probably only play games while the car is charging, and you'll likely only need to stop at a charging station while you're on a road trip.

Most people charge their Tesla vehicles at home, and may only need to stop by a local charging station for a few minutes if they need emergency juice to get home. Road trips are one of the only times when you would need to spend a longer 30- to 40-minute period charging your Tesla.

On top of not having a long period of time to play games on your Tesla dashboard, is this the platform you'd want to play "The Witcher 3" or other demanding games on? Yes, the Tesla dashboard in newer Model S or Model X vehicles is pretty sweet, with an AMD Ryzen CPU, an RDNA2 discrete GPU, and a large 17-inch display. But is playing a game in a Tesla really preferable to your PC or console at home? Probably not.