During my last GTA 5 roleplaying stint, I robbed a string of banks unarmed by posing as a journalist. This time, I aimed for the stars in a life without crime.
"So, what you in for?" asks Kevin as we pace the prison courtyard. Kevin and I have known each other for almost 15 minutes, but it feels like years. He's serving 36 months for a bungled liquor store robbery, and I, well, I'm not ready to share why I'm here just yet.
And even if I was, how would I explain my ill-fated Fame or Shame audition—GTA 5's answer to the likes of Pop Idol and America's Got Talent. I wound up in a fist fight with a judge, for Christ's sake, before instigating a riot, getting stabbed by a contestant and waking up in the hospital.
Everyone in Bolingbroke Penitentiary is innocent, so the inmates will tell you. Everyone except me. I even handed myself in.
Let's talk about my life before reality TV, then. Before I was sent to jail, and before I met Kevin.
In light of my prior misgivings, I returned to Los Santos with a fresh perspective. I swore off my previous life of crime and reapplied for my taxi licence. San Andreas is a magnificent space, and running a taxi service is a good way to enjoy the bustling inner city thoroughfares and quaint backwater towns.
"Fame or Shame auditions, eh? Would you ever fancy that?" I asked one of my hires, reading aloud a sign that towered over the Maze Bank Arena parking lot. "I'm not sure," she replied. "It'd be nice to be famous, don't you think?"
My fare paid her way and set off with a friend. I sat alone for a moment, in silence, my eyes fixed on the LED board ahead. Could I be a popstar? I mean, I can't sing for shit, but I'm not lacking in confidence. And it's all auto-tuned garbage these days anyway. The rock and roll lifestyle may be a pervasive myth, but there was surely only one way to find out for myself.
Those of you familiar with GTA 5's single-player campaign will remember its Lazlow-hosted Fame or Shame reality TV show. With the help of NewTheft's Open All Interiors mod, LS Life lets players venture inside the show's studio.
I entered the arena to find its reception hall awash with people—both NPCs and roleplayers alike. "There's no sign of the judges," one excitable chap told me, before motioning towards a pair of swing doors at the opposite end of the foyer. "The set is through there and down the stairs. But the room is empty."
I put out a tweet via the server's Lifeinvader social media feed: "Sat waiting at the Maze Bank Arena. No sign of the Fame or Shame judges! #auditions #bored #excited #astarinthemaking".
A few minutes later, I received a reply: "We're on our way. Sit tight."
Wow, that was fast. This was all happening so quickly. I was excited. What would I say to the panel? Would they like me? What if they didn't? Would I make up a backstory? What about an accent? I nearly burst with excitement. "This is cool, isn't it?" I shouted aloud to no one. I couldn't sit still. I popped outside, back inside, and back outside again before thinking: FUCK! What the hell am I going to sing? I sparked a cigarette and attempted to gather my thoughts.
Los Santos Life RP is a dedicated roleplaying server within the FiveM open source community modification for GTA 5.
Beyond an initial validation check, FiveM works independently of Rockstar's GTA Online, and allows mods on the server/client side of operation.
When I wake up, well I know I'm gonna be, I'm gonna be the man who wakes up next to you...
I'd always hated The Proclaimers. But, as a Scotsman in Los Santos, I reckoned a well-known, sing-along karaoke classic would hit the spot. A novelty, sure, but one that would help me stand out.
But I would walk 500 miles. And I would walk 500 more...
I spotted a car pulling up across the carpark. The judges! Who, admittedly, didn't look quite as glamorous as they did on the telly, but I suppose professional lighting and makeup have a lot to answer for. I made my way back inside, through the swing doors, and down the stairs to the studio. After a few minutes, the previous act finished, and I was called in. I entered the room, stood in front of the curtain, and took a deep breath.
"Hi folks. My name is Joe and I'll be singing The Proclaimers—I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)."
"Whenever you're ready, Joe," one of the judges replied.
"That was awful," one judge said after a lengthy pause.
"Yeah, I wasn't feeling that at all," harked another.
"I'm with them. That was fucking shit," said the third. "Next!"
I'm not proud of what happened next.
In a flash, chairs were in the air, desks were overturned and camera stands crashed to the floor. The judges screamed, the contestants wailed and I turned purple with rage. How could this be? I was destined to realise a 20 minute-long dream here. And I fucking nailed it! Didn't I? Too late for second guesses now. A judge approached me, and I knocked him out with a right hook. It was all kicking off. A Danny Dyer documentary was unfolding around me and I was the star of the show.
Things got worse upstairs. I'd started a riot. More screaming, more running, more contestants and spectators fleeing for their lives. A performer sounded off his dismay. I told him to fuck off. We got into a fight. I floored him too. His brother came at me with a knife. For what it's worth, I'm not sure if the weapon was part of his act, or if he was just a hard bastard. Either way, I paid the piper.
I woke up in the hospital with a headache, stitches and a serious case of The Fear. Mortified, I walked myself round to the local police station and handed myself in.
I explained to the officer in charge what had happened and, while commending my honestly, he sentenced me to two years in prison for assault and public incitement. I prayed to god the audition didn't air on television, but I guess that was the least of my worries at that stage. I was transported to the penitentiary later that day.
Kevin and I have struck up an Andy Dufresne/Ellis Boyd Redding relationship by this point. He tells me about his last job working in an abattoir, that he enjoys hunting in his spare time, and that he'd often sell his bounties back to his employer before he wound up in here. He tells me he turned to crime when the price of meat crashed, and the only thing keeping him going is the thought the of seeing the sunset over Mount Chiliad after a day's shooting.
"That's interesting," I tell him. "Good luck to you on the other side."
"You think so?" he replies. "Tell me something interesting about yourself."
I pause, look at my feet, and consider sidestepping the question. But I like Kevin, and I've decided I'm ready to share.
"Let me tell you about the time I auditioned for Fame or Shame."