How Modders Are Reforging ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ Into a Role-Player's Paradise

Volunteer team behind 'FiveRP' aims to let you live out your most mundane fantasies

In 'FiveRP' – an upcoming multiplayer variant for the PC version of 'Grand Theft Auto V' that's been in development since 2015. Credit: Glixel

There are no video games about being a small business owner in a living, breathing, unrestricted world. We look to the medium for escapism, to leave behind the mundane day-to-day and spend a few hours uncovering mysteries and conquering evils. Regardless, there are people eager to live out pedestrian, domestic fantasies in FiveRP – an upcoming multiplayer variant for the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V that's been in development since 2015. 

FiveRP's volunteer team of developers is reforging GTA V's massive, irreverent world into a realistic playground for role-players. Instead of blowing up helicopters, these players are more attracted to taking on the guise of ordinary citizens in the game's LA analogue of Los Santos. The developers are establishing this infrastructure by building a "mod" – a way for a dedicated group of players to change the fundamental code of an existing game to better suit their fantasies. FiveRP will live on that mod, and adapt the sort of deadpan, in-character earnestness you associate with Dungeons & Dragons to a seedy, crime-ridden city with absolutely no wizards and goblins in sight.

FiveRP promises to prune out all of Los Santos' NPCs, and require human players to take the control of the police force, the gangs, the drug trade, the government, whatever. Just like in real life you'll work a job, own a house, and struggle for every inch. The production unit is made up of people with a history in earlier GTA role-playing servers, and they keep an active development blog on the website. A couple weeks ago, they debuted their new login screen and showcased fresh mechanics for role-playing a garbageman. The playerbase is expected to stay in character at all times, and never participate in customary GTA mayhem like holding up a hospital or bombing police cars with a stolen tank. It’s interesting that this game, which has always emphasized the lack of consequence, is attracting a community of people interested in forging a hyper-realistic experience, but there's also nothing else scratching that itch.

"There was hope that Rockstar would look at the success that the San Andreas-Multiplayer Mod and Multi Theft Auto [two popular GTA mods that had role-playing servers in the past], and decide to do something like it. Unfortunately, they wanted to create an environment that is basically free-roam where people are just constantly killing each other," says Nikesh Meta, a 21-year old FiveRP forum regular from the suburbs of Chicago who's been playing Grand Theft Auto role-playing mods since 2009. "Don't get me wrong, when GTA: Online was first released, it was fun leveling up and doing missions and grinding money for cars, but at some point, you start wanting more." You may be wondering if editing the rules of a proprietary IP is legal, but GTA creator Rockstar has been pretty supportive of their mod scene thus far, though they have taken action against certain user creations that increased risks of cheating.

The biggest problem with massively-multiplayer video games is there's always an agent of chaos reminding you that, yes, none of this is real. You could be marching through World of Warcraft's Azeroth, discovering legendary artifacts and ancient evils ... and still get harried by a Night Elf rogue named "Legolazz." FiveRP intends to gather a community who are all equally invested in keeping the fantasy intact.

"It's worked before," says a Londoner named Karolis, another forum regular who's been role-playing in GTA since the San Andreas days. "The administration team, combined with a white list and application policy, usually weeds out those that are more interested in fucking around."

Karolis wants to role-play a jaded, worn-out cop. He says the best analogue is Rustin Cohle from True Detective. It's easy to see why he couldn't envision a long-term emotional arc in the goofy anarchy of GTA: Online.

Most of the people in FiveRP want to role-play a criminal or a cop, (Mehta is going to be the Deputy Chief of the LSPD), but there are others who want to participate in far less clandestine ways. There's a post on FiveRP's general forums about a guy who’s interested in playing a farmer. "My character would be Daniel Dale Tucker, a country boy and a real farmer. I'm a farmer in real life and I'm excited about doing it as my first roleplay in English," it reads. "That'd be an opportunity to learn some 'redneck' expressions and vocabulary and also use my farming knowledge to evolve my character."

Cops, robbers, and the occasional horticulturalist. If you want to rob banks, shoot up strip clubs, and engage in high-speed boat chases, go play regular Grand Theft Auto. But if you want to really live in a place – where every bullet has stakes, where you rely entirely on the structure and support that other people have built – it makes sense to be a small part of something big. Does the average gamer necessarily want to spend the time role-playing weekly trips to the grocery store? No, but it's cool that some of them do. We may think of role-playing as super nerdy, but it can also be spellbinding. The members of FiveRP are all supplying individual pieces of an alternate universe. The guy with the farm is offering a little bit of his time to help other players have a slightly fuller experience. It's charity, and it deserves to be respected.

"I definitely do think that there should be more games that offer the ability to just be another person, with a personal story that intertwines with the personal stories of other people. I'm not gonna be the most powerful person on the server, and that's what makes the game special – it's the fact that I'm not inherently better than everyone else," says Karolis. "I can see why developers focus more on the fact that your character is important, because role-play isn't for everyone, though I think more people would get engaged in it if they gave it a go."

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