I Watched the Grand Theft Auto Deer Cam for 48 hours

by Paddy Johnson on March 22, 2016 A Brief History Of

Deer cam!

Deer cam!

As I write this, I’m watching a deer run through a desolate crime-ridden industrial park set in an action adventure game. The steed is the star of San Andreas Deer Cam, a live video stream from a computer running a hacked version of Grand Theft Auto V. The hack, created by artist Brent Watanabe, follows the animal as it traverses more than 100 square miles of San Andreas, a semi-fictional state in GTA V. The landscape is obviously modeled off a combination of California and Nevada.

I’m on hour 48 of watching this thing, though admittedly I’ve been doing so off and on. Still, I’ve been at it long enough to watch the deer, which began as a doe, suddenly acquire the horns of a buck. I’ve seen it travel through the airport more times than I can count, get shot at by warring gangs and police officers alike, and told to “get a life” after it decided to walk down a boardwalk. Every five minutes or so the location shifts and the deer is magically transported unharmed to another setting: a beach, inside a cabin, the side of a mountain. Every once and awhile, though, the deer is unlucky. It’s landed on top of a silo and underwater on two separate occasions. As expected, both of these destinations created situations that ended badly for the deer.

The deer in the water

The deer in the water

But no matter how many times the deer falls off a cliff, gets shot or run over, it never dies. There’s no tension whatsoever to this game, and yet the hack has gone viral. Millions of people are logging on to see this work of art.

Metafilter members spent two days narrating the deer’s movement, and colleagues have described the game as beautiful. Indeed, unlike real life, there’s no camera angle without a pleasing view. But I find watching the cam satisfying because there’s a seemingly endless amount of landscapes, cities and interiors for the deer to traverse—many of which seem strange and exotic places for a deer to travel. It sounds cheesy but there’s a sense of discovery to the game, which is why watching, say, 48 hours of live cam at a time doesn’t seem tiring.   

It’s at turns awe-inspiring, hilarious for its glitches and obvious failings, and just as violent as you’d think. Mostly, though, it’s mesmerizing, not just for its vast miles of miles of terrain, but for the sheer volume of human effort that went into rendering it. As art critics, that kind of investment in representation rarely if ever comes across our desks, so it’s a more than a little moving to see so many people engaging with Watanabe’s hack.  


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