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The Beauty of GTA V - The Simulation of Reality

One of the main reasons I play, and love playing video games is that they transport me into a (very believable) alternate world. Sometimes, these worlds are straight up beautiful - The forests in Cyrodil, the hamlet of Bowerstone, or just all of the Witcher 3. Other times, the world is a just an accurate reflection of where we live - GTA V's LA for instance. Somehow, that makes you first realize how beautiful the in game reflection of the real world is, and then that carries over when you walk around your own city and the experience begins to realign to reflect your experiences within the game.

I've been playing GTA V ever since the PC version came out last year, and it's become one of my favorite games of all time. I love the story, cinematography, characters, gameplay, missions etc, but what keeps me coming back to the game all the time is the insane depth and breadth of detail of the in game city. To me, it feels like a living, breathing world. (Of course, you could break that immersion by doing a number of things, which I usually avoid. It takes a bit of effort to keep that immersion running) The fact that there are events taking place all over the game world that you wouldn't even stumble upon if you weren't at the right place at the right time is insane. The phone conversations between characters, hundreds of different streets and neighborhoods, the infrastructural detail at every corner (gutters, electricity transformers etc) are limitless and if it is an illusion, it's a really great one.

These kinds of details make my heart race. It's a filthy service area BELOW the highway!
These kinds of details make my heart race. It's a filthy service area BELOW the highway!

These guys will work on constructing that house even if you never stumble upon them (They even take lunch breaks)
These guys will work on constructing that house even if you never stumble upon them (They even take lunch breaks)

There is a feeling of presence and of place created in every location is really strong. I guess I'm talking about the atmosphere here. The contrast in the atmosphere between a sunny day on the Vespucci beach, to a rainy day spent cycling on the same beach, to mountain biking in the morning in the countryside, to driving down in a shiny, expensive car on the streets of the brightly lit city of Los Santos, as sky scrapers line its people on both sides - the fact that such a huge range of atmospheric experiences can exist within the same game world, apart from being an admirable achievement, creates an experience that can very closely mirror real life.

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What's my favorite experience in the game though? Driving down the highway at night, in a good car, with the radio playing some good music. (prefer Radio Mirror Park personally) Do this for a while and you really begin to feel a part of that world - the traffic passing by, everybody living their own lives, probably going home after work or heading for an outing in the evening. Taking it real slow in the game - walking around the streets or bicycling around is also a great experience. Sitting in a taxi is another experience - probably the strongest one - that blurs the line between simulation and reality.

So this game does a lot of things that fool your brain into believing (at times) that it's in the real world. Why does that feel so beautiful though? That's a point I've often wondered about and haven't found much of an answer to. What is it about things/ games that come really close to imitating real life that makes them beautiful? I remember having similar experiences in GTA IV, and especially miss riding a bike through that toll booth monitored flyover.

Miss-able details
Miss-able details

There is the argument, or theory, that life itself is a simulation. I mean, even if it's not, there isn't much to differentiate life from a simulation. In both games and life, we experience events with the help of our senses (though games use only about 2-3 senses, whereas in life we use all 5), and there is a beginning and an end, before and after which we can't experience any of the events. We do stuff in life and our brain/ hormones react to it. Ride a bike down an open road and we feel exhilarated. Watch the sun setting over the skyline and we find it beautiful. Listen to music while taking part in these activities and the experience is enhanced. So what happens when you ride a bike down an open road within a game and that game feels very realistic? Our brain reacts in similar ways. And so watching the sun setting over Los Santos can bring forth the same feelings as watching the real thing.

Experiences within a game shouldn't be looked down upon or taken less seriously, because we perceive it all through our brains - real life and video games are just mediums. The thoughts, hormonal reactions, and feelings are the inside response. Simulation or reality are the outside stimulus. And if a game can be as realistic and beautiful as GTA V, I really think that that can open up a lot of possibilities.

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