Brandon Stanton started Humans of New York in 2010 as a photography project to map 10,000 New Yorkers in their natural habitat. But quickly, he found that to really give a face to the crowd, he’d have to get more than just their picture. Today, with over eight million followers, Humans of New York documents quotes and short stories to accompany the subtly revealing photographs of these everyday city goers. The result is almost always heartwarming. Whether its an old lady in fabulous shades calling herself an “international cougar” or this little girl‘s exuberance at getting her picture taken.
Artist Casey T Brooks has decided to give the unsung heroes of background NPC’s a similar treatment in his GTA V narrative photo journal. Entitled You Only Live Forever, the album follows the journey of an unnamed inhabitant of Los Santos as he documents the people, events, and places that shape his life. The Tumblr series captures that same sense of wonder for the average that Humans of New York has now perfected.
It’s a testament to both Rockstar and Brooks’ narrative that I found myself wondering whether these people could really just be a bunch of NPCs programmed into a videogame. It’s easy to get swept up in the glitz and glamour of GTA‘s main campaign, while forgetting to pay attention to what the series really excels at. There is an entire world of quirky personalities in perpetual motion around you, whether you choose to discover them or not.
The shots Brooks captured reveal a different side to the much talked about realism of GTA V. The hunched shoulders of a male NPC with a backwards baseball cap isn’t aggression–it’s exhaustion, from “trading horror stories of different kitchens [he’s] worked in.” A lot is left unsaid in the photo series. People and past events are referenced but never photographed, almost as if our understanding of their fictional lives should just be assumed. Because I guess, similar to the dialogue snippets from Humans of New York, we kind of already do know these people without knowing them.
Maybe the title You Only Live Forever has something of a double meaning. Yes, it’s an entirely believable album title for an amateur, millennial photographer. But it’s also a reminder that these aren’t actually people: they’re ageless, deathless bits of information. Yet through narrative, and the great attention to detail from Rockstar’s AI programmers, these NPC’s are transformed into something undeniably human.