You see some sights in the Los Santos taxi business. From La Puerta to Paleto Bay, Vinewood to Chumash. Gangsters, gun runners, drug dealers, con artists and, as I now know too well, trophy hunters all thrive beneath the city's lustrous veneer. Someday a rain will wash all the scum off the streets.
I'm back behind the wheel in Los Santos Life RP, a dedicated roleplaying server within GTA 5's FiveM open source community mod. Several months out of prison, I've had my taxi licence reissued and I'm working 12-hour days, seven days a week for the Downtown Cab Co. I'd love to tell you my newfound work ethic means I've left my days of robbing banks, committing fraud and making a general nuisance of myself behind, but I can't. There are just too many questionable people in this town. And that definitely still includes me.
Lifeinvader is GTA's answer to Facebook. Located in the game's affluent Rockford Hills area, I pull up outside its headquarters and await my hire. I sound my horn, and a trio of loud and excitable chaps spill from the building into my cab. They direct me to Legion Square—the server's spawn point and unofficial central hub. They chat for a bit amongst themselves before turning to me. "Do you like hunting, driver?" one of the men asks.
One of the most wonderful things about Los Santos Life is how committed some of its visitors are to their characters. I'm sure this is true in other roleplaying communities, but doing so within credible, real life-aping worlds interests me more than within high or low fantasy settings. Players often assume backstories, accents, personalities—they dress their profiles in clothes consistent with their income, and splash for vehicles true to their jobs. A journalist isn't likely to show up to work in a three-piece suit, for example, nor would you expect a builder to drive a supercar.
I tell the man that hunting isn't really for me, despite the fact I eat meat. I'm branded a hypocrite and briefly teased by the three of them. I'm told to "get some balls" and that, "seriously, you'll love it if you try it." I continue to shrug them off till they eventually return to their own conversation. And, wow, do they seem clued-up on trophy hunting.
My last GTA 5 roleplaying stints saw me rob a string of banks unarmed by posing as a journalist, and sing at a faux-American Idol audition before starting a riot. This time, I gave some bounty hunters a taste of their own medicine.
Like, really clued-up. They chat about their parents' "game rooms", different types of guns and ammunition, and the most strategic ways to subdue wild animals before execution. They mention real places and names like Philip Glass (this man, not the composer), Kendall Jones and Walter Palmer. I recognise the latter as that dentist who paid $50,000 to slaughter a lion in Zimbabwe, and I Google the others, which makes for depressing reading. If this is roleplay, I think to myself, it's really fucking good roleplay.
As I pull up alongside Legion, the group's conversation turns to San Andreas. They talk about hunting in North Chumash and selling their spoils to the slaughterhouse Downtown. They've been patched out since, but both hunting sites and abattoirs were visitable locations within LS Life's modded GTA 5 map until recently.
I'm now thrown. This lot could have simply studied real world trophy hunting to suit their in-game characters' narratives—but they appear so convincing. I decide to call their bluff. I tell them that, if they're up for it, I'll accompany them on their next trip up north and see what the fuss is about. They agree, and we arrange to meet back at Legion after I've dealt with my next hire.
I return to find two of the original three waiting for me at the square. I'm told one of the group is otherwise engaged, and that he'll hook back up with us at the abattoir later on. It's better with three anyway, I'm assured, as we're less likely to scare off our prey in a smaller group. We pull onto the Great Ocean Highway and head for the hunting site. And the lads start at it again.
The discussion pinballs from bounties, to "going rates", to the thrill of the kill and, again, I'm unsure what's real, if anything, and what's for show.
By approaching the roadside kiosk, we activate a marker that switches our clothes and equips us with hunting rifles. We set off up the dusty track and wade deeper into the woods. A rabbit darts in the opposite direction and—BANG. It's down. Panicked, a deer surfaces from behind a tree. BANG. It's gone too. The boys contain hushed laughter, and congratulate one another as they go. They turn to me and point towards the crest of the hill ahead.
We're deep into the trees now, in search of a bigger target. We spot a cougar. One chap motions to the left and then to the right. They split off in either direction, and it's clear they want me to take this one on. I pause… I take a breath… I raise my gun. The cougar's in my sights. I pause for longer still. I steady my grip. I take aim.
I fire a warning shot into the air, and the birds above scatter. I reload. BANG. I shoot the chap on the right in the leg before, BANG, I finish him off with one to the head. The cougar bursts into life, screams, circles, and pounces on the hunter to the left. He howls as the imposing cat throws him to floor and tears him apart. The boys are dead. And before the lion turns to me, I leg it back to the taxi.
Upon death, Los Santos Life makes players wait ten minutes before respawning. During this time the recently deceased can seek help from emergency services roleplayers. I've no idea how many EMS staff are online, but I book it back down the Great Ocean Highway nevertheless, racking up multiple automated speed fines as I go. Cars whizz past on either side as I rocket down the median, and as I reach the outskirts of the city I almost collide with an oncoming ambulance.
I pull up outside the slaughterhouse, and the third guy is waiting for me.
"That was quick," he says. "Where are the others?"
I tell him they're already inside, and that I'd dropped them off before nipping to the clothes shop round the corner to change my outfit. I let him lead the way into the back, through the swing doors, past the hanging meat carcasses, and put two in the back of his head. No witnesses, yeah?
If you disagree with someone's ideologies in real life, you'll ideally have a polite conversation about it. In this roleplaying server, I instead became a Travis Bickle-like character, taking justice into my own hands and giving the hunters an ironic fate. I suppose we could've just talked it through, before we wandered off into the woods to hunt pretend animals. But that wouldn't have been very GTA, would it?