Monday, August 4, 2014

Humans of Los Santos

Spend enough time in a place and eventually you stop seeing big things, like national landmarks or tourist attractions. If you’re just blowing through a major city like New York or London it’s fairly easy to only focus on those things. Even staying in a small town it’s easy to fixate on “landmarks”, bright signs demanding your attention. But stay in a place long enough and the big things begin to fade away, stop mattering to you. If you’re really lucky, the thing that you see is what’s always been around you, people.

People with stories.

In this way, Humans of New York started almost by accident. It was not until creator Brandon Stanton started talking to his subjects and then including short captions did the project really take off. When I look through old instant photos my family has taken I realize that we have been doing this all along but in shorter bursts, allowing the photograph to do most of the talking. “Christmas ‘[YEAR]” or “[NAME]’s birthday”, or some variation, adorn many of these such pictures.

With more and more games giving the player a camera (Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Infamous: Second Son, and GTA: V, etc.) it would not take long for players to begin to take pictures and not long at all to do interesting things with them. Casey Brooks’ You Only Live Forever is one such project, an extra narrative, “narrative photo journal featuring photographs from the smartphone feature in Grand Theft Auto V.”

The premise is stunning simple, take a photograph, write a caption. The execution is equally stunning. I’ve traveled over a 1,000 miles in Los Santos and the surrounding areas, robbed, killed, lied and cheated my way out of dozens of messes, and I’ve never noticed some of these things. Despite all my adventures, escapes, and aimless meandering, I’ve simply never taken the time to stop and really notice and people like this.

You Only Live Forever has shown me Los Santos as I’m sure I’ve seen before but never noticed. “I took this photograph early one morning on my way to work. I couldn’t believe how empty the freeway was” brings me to a place I’m sure I’ve seen at a time I’m sure I’ve travelled but never recognized. A lighthouse stands at “The end of Old Bay Road. I’ve spend a lot of time here.” I’m not sure that I’ve spent any time there.

Other photographs hint at seasons and places not located within the game itself, to time-spaces and lives that only exist to the author. “My step brother Wayne getting ready to close up the house for the winter.” I’ve only ever seen snow in North Yankton. I am from Chicago, I am not sure if I could identify “winter” in Los Santos. In another, three hikers take photos in the dark. “Rachel, Jess C. and Jess P. taking phone pictures after a never ending hike. We didn’t talk to each other for two weeks after that day.” It’s easy to imagine that this is the same day that the author took “Moon rise over the mountains.”

You Only Live Forever handedly does what Watch Dogs vaguely attempts to. It takes the random people in the world around you and makes them interesting instead of only strange. The game gives no clues as to the lives of these people, or if they even really have lives. You Only Live Forever manages to take polygon people and make them human.

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