GTA 5 Used For Photo Essay Of Poverty

This is hardly the first time GTA 5 has been used as a venue of artistic expression. Many creators have seen greater potential in the hyper-detailed world that Rockstar Games has crafted for their biggest and most popular video game ever. It has been used as a way of conveying ideas about identity in the modern age. It has been used to explore the fear and death that accompanies terrorism.



This game, which is characterized by a wanton disregard for life and decency, relies on crude satirical humor and has players shooting and stealing their way to success, has become a product with nigh inexhaustible artistic potential. Artists around the world saw possibilities lying under the top layers of what GTA 5 professes to be.

The most recent project which uses the virtual world of GTA 5 as its canvas is a photo essay by Irish artist Alan Butler. Alan dabbles in all kinds of artistic endeavors, such as sculpting, painting and even satirical fashion design. His works tend to err on the modern and wacky side of things – and he’s got quite the portfolio to back it all up.


The photo essay, titled Down and Out in Los Santos, is a compilation of  images shot in-game of the depictions of the poor and homeless around Los Santos and Blaine County. Many PEDs and other NPCs (say, animals) clearly convey the message that they aren’t too well off. Rockstar has populated the streets of their virtual world with drifters and homeless people to achieve a higher measure of realism.

Works like these prove once again how alive the world of GTA 5 really is. It might even feel like a bit of a gut-punch to some players that yes, the world does move on without their input. In fact, this was the topic of a video wherein a player stood absolutely still in the middle of Los Santos, while another freed the camera from the distance limit and traveled around the map seeing what the world is like without player intervention.


Alan’s work is pretty evocative of reality. He manages to capture the world of GTA 5 when it is most active – and when it is most quiet. The photo essay has images ranging from action shots to still empty of any indication of motion. Some are colorful and alive, others cold and bleak.

Down and Out in Los Santos has gotten some media coverage, and Alan Butler spoke with The Creators Project, which also published a feature on the photo essay.

I usually have to wait for the ‘right moment’ and use depth-of-field to capture something with which the viewer can empathize, I want the image to capture moments as ‘real experiences.’ I guess I don’t see it differently from street photography methodologies in reality.

Seeing these images, viewers may forget that all of it is in a video game. Graphics notwithstanding, these shots have a kind of vibrancy and life to them which isn’t something you’d expect to see in a game, let alone in GTA 5.

In some shots, Alan deviates from the homelessness theme, however all images have a kind of gloomy overtone. Some photos are of the prison, often showing the aftermath of some kind of conflict. Others depict everyday happenings, where nothing is explicitly wrong, however one cannot shake the feeling that there is something amiss.


Alan’s photos are great at achieving that effect of alluding, without outright showing or telling the viewer anything about what they’re looking at. While pictures often say a thousand words, these convey countless emotions.

Using a simulation to explore this subject removes many ethical problems that can be attached to the act of photographing poverty, but I would like this project to begin to question the ownership of being itself within proprietary corporate virtual realities.

GTA 5 has been lauded by many for its immersive and detailed game-world. Rockstar has put a lot of effort into NPC AI programming, as well as covering all the facets of everyday life to make Los Santos feel like a real city, instead of just a virtual mass of buildings with a few static human models thrown in to make it look populated.

Alan Butler has set up a Twitch channel which is dedicated to this project. While so far there have only been “test broadcasts”, he presumably will be livestreaming himself in the act of hunting down these scenes which he then captures for the photo essay.


Alan’s comments also make it clear that he has a deeper goal with this project. Going around and taking pictures of homeless and poor people isn’t exactly socially acceptable in the real world. By doing so in a virtual environment, he wishes to challenge these boundaries society has set itself.

Have you ever just wandered around in GTA 5, observing its world without playing any missions or doing concrete activities?

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