GTA players turn virtual photographers to shoot in-game combat

As part of a new Grand Theft Auto trend, you may start seeing more players in media jackets shooting photos of in-game mayhem as a way to chronicle and share the game experience.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
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Leslie Katz
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A member of the Media Lens crew snaps an in-game photo of some fiery mayhem. The group's uniform is a work in progress. killerdead77 via cy_sperling/Reddit

My neighbors have been meeting regularly to discuss ways we can report and prevent crime in our area. I have a new idea -- get Grand Theft Auto V gamers on the case. They're doing a mighty thorough job documenting crime in Los Santos.

It's all thanks to photographer and filmmaker Christopher Murrie, who a few days back let Reddit know he's been playing GTA Online in passive mode as a "war correspondent" dressed in a helmet, camo pants, and a black jacket with "MEDIA" printed across the back. Passive mode makes it impossible to attack other players while you're on foot, and makes you impervious to attacks yourself.

"It's fun," Murrie wrote, to see which players let him get up close, virtual smartphone in virtual hand, while they fight. "Most people seem to have fun with it, but there is always one guy who can't stop trying to run me over," he said. "And they are always dressed as some ridiculous ICP Clown nonsense..."

Murrie's photographic pursuits have drawn an immediate and enthusiastic response. Someone started a GTAVMedia Reddit thread to host similar images. And Murrie convened a new group called Media Lens that aggregates "firsthand images of the war zone that is San Andreas." It currently has almost 250 members, some of whom seem to be taking their new photojournalism duties very seriously, though there's no indication any of them consider their chronicling of virtual violence to be any sort of larger statement on the horrors of real-life crime or warfare.

Murrie often uses Grand Theft Auto's camera options to add filters and borders for a moody effect. Christopher Murrie

"First day on the beat, already saw a robbery in progress," wrote Redditor c0de1143, who uploaded to Imgur photos of the holdup, as well as a man lying bloody in the street who may or may not have been involved in the theft.

The GTAVMedia Reddit thread is accumulating a growing number of comments and images -- of a Mafia attack on a local strip club, for example, tanks in the streets, and downed police officers. Some shots are sharper and more detailed than others, and some tend toward the cartoony, while others capture bloody, disturbing scenes that many would call far too real. All, however, paint a compelling portrait of the mayhem and never-ending battles that characterize GTA Online and its single-player counterparts. (The most recent installment, GTA V, came out in September and earned $800 million in 24 hours, making it the biggest game launch ever for Take-Two Interactive, publisher of Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto series.)

Murrie, who has worked on the films "Coraline," "ParaNorman," and "Moongirl," says his experience as a film editor colors the way he views his own GTA shots.

"I think this is where my role as a filmmaker influences things for me," he told gaming site Polygon. "I like trying to capture as much narrative in a single image as I can. What is really great about this process in GTA Online is that you have to actively seek those moments out and have good timing and luck to be in the right place at the right time."

Murrie (cy_sperling on Reddit) plans to bring his storytelling eye to Media Lens. As the new group gains momentum, he's kicked off weekly subject-based shooting challenges (that's shooting as in cameras, not as in guns). The first involves women in combat and has already yielded a number of uploads of girls and guns. Murrie says he will pick the best six or seven photos and weave a tale about the topic.

Murrie also says he plans to start a Media Lens photo blog where he'll curate submissions from Reddit and the GTA Snapmatic photo-sharing stream on the Media Lens site.

Apart from the photo blog, he writes, "I really like the idea of all-white clothing and helmets matched with white cars. I think that the idea of us being recognizable in-game is an important part of the role-playing experiment. Plus, I just love the idea of a SUV full of people all dressed in matching white suits arriving at a battle and running around covering it as a group. I think it will be really entertaining for us, and for the unexpecting combatants."

The first weekly shooting challenge focuses on women in combat. "Get out there and get some good shots of women who are kicking ass and taking names," the challenge urges. Xynthantion/Reddit

(Via Laughing Squid)