When you think of the Grand Theft Auto series, there are a few things that are likely to spring to mind – namely widespread crime and graphic violence. And that’s fair: since 1997, Rockstar has put in the hours to convince its fans that Grand Theft Auto is hardly a family-friendly series.
That’s something that needs no repeating for anyone who’s swung by a GTA Online lobby in recent years. Although the game receives frequent updates, free roam lobbies are plagued with players who spend their free time gleefully exploding their fellow man, using weaponised (often flying) motorbikes to wreak as much unpleasantness as possible. In combination with hacking issues and a reputation for toxic voice chats, there are some real issues with GTA Online‘s community that we won’t get into here – the point is, it’s a little rough to say the least. But what if I told you that buried within the Grand Theft Auto 5 community is one of the most strictly-moderated online roleplaying games in the world?
It’s true, and it’s called GTA RP. In GTA RP, players must – under the ironclad rules of their server – commit to roleplaying their life as a regular citizen of Los Santos. In GTA RP servers, players are encouraged to simply live in Grand Theft Auto 5 – nothing more, nothing less. No mindless slaughter, no carjacking on a whim, and no antics. Not everyone needs to be a master criminal – you can eke out your hours fixing cars, emptying bins and delivering food to pay the bills. But those bills do need to be paid, and there’s always the option to turn to criminal enterprises to pay them – assuming you do it in-character.
I’ve always been attracted to the player-driven stories you can find in roleplaying communities like this – years ago I spent a long summer obsessed with the San Andreas Multiplayer (SA-MP) mod for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and even longer living as a crime lord in a Garry’s Mod mode called Dark RP. What I’m more interested in is why GTA RP has proven so popular with streamers. At time of writing, Grand Theft Auto 5 is the third most-watched category on Twitch right now with around 179,000 viewers. GTA RP makes up the large majority of these streamers, and some of the biggest streamers in the world are no stranger to dropping into Los Santos for a roleplay stream.
While it’s easy to write off GTA RP‘s streaming popularity as a fad, that’s simply not the case. It’s been consistently popular on Twitch for years, and its longevity is up there with streaming staples like League Of Legends and Fortnite.
To get to the bottom of streaming’s relationship with GTA RP, I spoke with UK streamer MC Fixer, who you may have spotted on an episode of GamesMaster last year. MC Fixer plays on a public NoPixel server, but he’s currently trying to get into one of its elusive private servers, which is much stricter about who it accepts. It’s here I should say that MC Fixer, speaking directly to any private server admins reading this, would like to take this opportunity to humbly request a spot on their server. Regardless of which server he ends up however, Fixer is keen to make a life for himself in the world of Los Santos.
“I’m roleplaying a character called MC Fixer, which is of course myself,” explains MC Fixer. “It’s kind of just me – I used to be a musician, so I kind of took that and was like, ‘okay, I want to be the musician in GTA RP’. There isn’t much music in the game because of copyright. So being able to play people music that I’ve made in the real world and bring it into GTA roleplay? Players freak out.”
As one of many content creators captivated by GTA RP, MC Fixer explains why he thinks GTA RP has won over the hearts and minds of streamers.
“I think it’s probably become popular because it’s interesting – because you don’t know what’s going to happen from moment to moment, to day to day, to minute to minute. The unexpected can happen at any moment in GTA RP. I think that’s the magic behind it. It’s one big story – every day that you log on, it’s a story of whatever your character is getting up to. You just don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
“And the best [roleplayers] understand that at the end of the day for streamers, we are there to entertain the audience,” he explains, before giving me a particularly dramatic example.
“The other day, I went on a scavenger hunt looking for a character that had been kidnapped. I got an unknown phone call from somebody [saying] ‘I’ve got your friend Rambo,’ and I’m like ‘Oh my god!’. For the next four hours, I’m on a scavenger hunt to try and find Rambo. You don’t get that in story-based games – as much as I love them, you’re not getting them in Uncharted, you’re not getting them in Tomb Raider. But in GTA RP, you are getting a scavenger hunt across the map.”
For another streamer called ByBreekz, his life on GTA RP is a stark contrast to MC Fixer’s musician turned reluctant criminal. ByBreekz had no such hesitancy to jump into crime, and he quickly regaled me with stories of life in the criminal underworld. You know – gangland betrayals, public hits and a player called Bully Maguire that used a soundboard to live life as Spider-Man. The usual stuff.
When I ask ByBreekz why he thinks GTA RP is proving so popular for streamers, he surprises me by sharing a very similar sentiment to the one voiced by MC Fixer. “You can create so many stories, [so] content is different every time,” begins ByBreekz. “It’s the different stories you can make. It feels sometimes like real life – even when I had debts in the city, I had to wake up and play because otherwise I would go to court. It was stressful!”
ByBreekz adds that the potential to make friends is a big pull for streamers like himself. “I made a lot of friends that I didn’t think I would be friends with from GTA RP that you just play games with even when you’re not streaming or when you’re not in the city, so it’s really cool in that sense.”
Likewise, MC Fixer holds the friends he’s made in GTA RP very close to his heart, and credits them for keeping him engaged with the game for so long.
“It’s the people – every day I’m logging on and I’m talking to all these characters of people that I’ve now met in this world. They feel like my friends – and they are my character’s friends – but they feel like my friends and we’re now talking in Discord outside of the game, getting to know each other a little bit better. It’s a very unique situation, which I absolutely adore. If I’m being honest, it’s 100 per cent the people that keep me going back and doing eight to ten hour streams a day. That’s not because of GTA. That’s because of the people I get to hang out with for that amount of time.”
MC Fixer also says that the same environment that has fostered these friendships also does a fantastic job of making him feel “safe”.
“There are some idiots in there of course, and that’s what happens when you’re in a public server. I am shocked by just how nice people are – I’m a mixed-race man in the video game industry, and it can be hard. Have I had problems in there? Yes, unfortunately. But it was dealt with in such a manner that I was absolutely shocked.”
“I dealt with a little bit of racism the other day,” MC Fixer explains. “I was out fishing, some guy made inappropriate comments. I just walked away from the situation, reported him, [and] assumed that’s it. [I thought] he’s still going to be in the server tomorrow. Instantly, a mod pops up out of nowhere, takes me to the side and says, “have you got a clip of this?” Of course, I had a clip of it – he then jumped in my chat, grabbed the clip, and the guy was gone. I’ve never had a moment like that in video games where someone has been rude, inappropriate, racist, sexist, whatever it is, you report it, and it’s instantly dealt with. That, to me, was the moment was the moment I fell in love with [GTA RP] even more because I felt safe. I knew that I could keep being me, MC Fixer, the character and the person, and know I’m doing the right think – and I’m in a place where it’s safe.”
ByBreekz also acknowledges that although moderation is taken very seriously on NoPixel, there’s a “very toxic” portion of the wider GTA RP community that disregards the inherent roleplaying nature of the game.
Although MC Fixer plays on public servers while ByBreekz has access to a private server, both agree that safeguarding measures are necessary. ByBreekz admits that although there are some “really wholesome” people in the community, there is also a “very toxic” portion of GTA RP that disregards the roleplaying nature of the game. Both streamers feel that things like whitelisting and private servers are necessary to protect players who are willing to take the game mode seriously, and in MC Fixer’s case he even champions exclusivity despite it being the reason he’s not able to play on the server he’d like to be on.
“There might be a little bit more trolls in the public one, because there are no [restrictions] – anyone can join whenever,” explains ByBreekz. “I think that’s the difference – trolls won’t go through all of the trouble to do that.”
As for the future of GTA RP, MC Fixer and ByBreekz agree that the community plays an integral part in making it such an attractive game to play, and although each streamer brings up the possibility of Grand Theft Auto 6 making it an official mode, they don’t see GTA RP‘s magic being replicated by a major games studio any time soon.
When I spoke to Project Zomboid‘s Chris Simpson earlier in the month, he mentioned that his wife was a big fan of GTA RP and that he would personally like to see The Indie Stone‘s zombie survival game support more of a “roleplay aspect” in its multiplayer mode.
“Zomboid‘s always had a strong roleplay community, but the way GTA roleplay took off, seeing what people are capable of doing in terms of creativity, and craft, and just basically building a little world to live in? It just adds this whole element to the game[…]It’s the ultimate emergent storytelling – it’s definitely a big influence. We’re taking a lot of cues from that community in particular, in terms of [Project Zomboid‘s] direction.
Even then, Simpson seems to acknowledge that as a developer, you’re not so much trying to create this stringent roleplaying game – you’re just trying to offer players the mechanics and environment to do it themselves.
Once again, that same sentiment has popped up: GTA RP isn’t so much about the AAA game it takes place in, it’s about the players who inhabit its living, breathing world. For streamers who thrive on keeping their fans entertained day-to-day, it’s no wonder that they’re captivated by a game that can throw them into spontaneous stories every time they step into Los Santos. Whether it’s a desperate scavenger hunt to stop a kidnapper, a nightly binman routine or a violent criminal feud, the unpredictable nature of these stories work because of the combined effort of an entire community – the same community where these streamers are making valued friendships that go beyond GTA RP.
That being said, GTA RP‘s strict servers and whitelists can be intimidating to would-be new players. To wrap up, I ask MC Fixer and ByBreekz whether they’d recommend it to anyone on the fence.
“I’d say just do it, honestly.” answers ByBreekz. “You’ve just got to do it – and even if you get declined [from server applications] the first month, they will tell you [why] – you can always change it. I’ve heard a lot of people say “Oh, I wanted to, but there’s an application” – just do it! What’s the worst [that can happen]?”
“Give it a go!” urges MC Fixer. “Everyone should try it. It’s bottomless: imagine you can be anything you want! Literally anything – why wouldn’t you want to try it?”