Gamers create VG inside multi-player action game Grand Theft Auto

By Camilla Brække


Oslo, Norway


It has been called the next generation of the Internet: the mysterious metaverse. Facebook’s rebranding to Meta underscores Zuckerberg’s strategic plan to create a social virtual world, brought together with VR, AR, and other mixed reality features. How journalism will fit into this remains to be seen while Zuckerberg’s meta-something is being built.

But alternate virtual realities or metaverses already exist and have existed for years. It has long been a billion-dollar industry. The loot box market (in-game purchase of virtual clothes, skins, and items) is booming: Its value is estimated at US$17.82 billion and is set to surpass US$20.3 billion in 2025.

The VG office exists within the game Grand Theft Auto.
The VG office exists within the game Grand Theft Auto.

One of these digital worlds where people spend hours upon hours of their free time is Grand Theft Auto V (GTA), the fifth iteration of the game produced by Rockstar Games.

Working as a taxi driver

GTA is one of the world’s most popular multi-player action-adventure games. GTA is known as a game where you drive around doing bad things, such as shooting people or running away from the police.

Gabriel Jensen Cavallaro is a junior engineer at E24, which is a sister brand of Norwegian tabloid VG. In his leisure time, inside the GTA world, he has a job as well: He works as a taxi driver.

Together with players from all over the world Cavallaro plays GTA V in a different way: in role-play (RP). In GTA RP, people work as taxi drivers, police officers, car sales people, or even towing wrecked cars with tow trucks. And, as we’ll get into later, players also work as news reporters inside GTA.

“I have played GTA RP for around 15 or 20 hours in total. When working as a taxi driver, my goal is to make money so that I can buy luxuries such as cars, motorcycles, and properties. I can do this both by driving PC-controlled characters or other players,” Cavallaro said.

There are lots of different RP communities inside GTA, a lot of which are international. Cavallaro checked out one community called TigerstadenRP, which is a Norwegian community. Tigerstaden has its own developers that work on implementing different functionalities into the game.

Within GTA, Cavallaro discovered a new alternate reality of his own workplace — an office building covered with VG logos, which is a recognisable and famous logo in Norway. The VG building within GTA is an office building for players working as journalists inside the game.

Players can get news from VG via an app on their in-game cellphone.
Players can get news from VG via an app on their in-game cellphone.

The alternate reality version GTA’s VG has nothing to do with people employed by VG or our news production. VG in GTA is created solely by gamers (GTA players participating in RP) and has a life of its own.

Cavallaro discovered Tigerstaden had implemented its own VG app. As a player in GTA, you have a cellphone, and the gaming version of VG (a VG news app) is accessible.

In the VG app within the game, there are articles written by other players working at VG within the game. These articles can be about all kinds of situations, such as announcing a new police chief or news about a major incident. The articles contain a title, picture, and some text.

Interior makes the game server unique

“GTA V has around 80,000 to 150,000 concurrent players every day (across GTA RP and normal GTA V) that play through Steam (a video game client). This is not counting the number of players that are playing through Rockstar Games’ own client,” Cavallaro said.

It was from within Tigerstaden that Cavallaro discovered the VG building and the VG app. To add VG into the game, the community had to import a so-called “MLO” and customise it so that it would look and feel like VG.

“An MLO is a GTA interior that is created in a programme called CodeWalker,” Cavallaro said. “This allows you to make and edit interiors. An interior is a unique thing that makes your GTA server look different from others. Another example could be that you download a restaurant MLO and make it look like McDonalds.”

“News broadcasts” from VGTV

In addition to the VG building and news stories on the in-game phone, VGTV is also in the game. There are even in-game press conferences from VGTV held by “police chief in Oslo, Kyrre Abrahamsen,” who speaks in Norwegian.

The way the GTA press conferences work is that in-game journalists record their screens, at press conferences or other similar occasions, and then upload the footage to YouTube. There is currently no way to display video within the game. The uploaded footage is then shared in a specific channel that all players can find on the Tigerstaden Discord server.

Press conferences are held on VGTV within Grand Theft Auto.
Press conferences are held on VGTV within Grand Theft Auto.

Discord is a chat app, similar to programmes such as Skype or TeamSpeak, or professional communication platforms like Slack. It’s geared specifically toward video game players, providing them with ways to find each other, coordinate play, and talk while playing. It supports video calls, voice chat, and text, allowing users to get in touch however they please.

Feeling old yet?

It remains to be seen how the metaverse will play out and how journalism will fit into the new reality. When product director of VG, Ola Stenberg, heard about this, he shared it with all employees in VG. Staff was fascinated to learn about a world few people know about.

The VG within the video game has nothing to do with VG in real life.
The VG within the video game has nothing to do with VG in real life.

“The funny thing is that, when we talk about these virtual realities as something new, we sound old to those who have this as their social arena,” Stenberg said. “Hundreds of millions of hours are spent in games and social platforms without us being a part of it. I’m not saying that we should go into the fantastic role-play that already exists, but we need to understand better how we can be a part of platforms where current and future users spend much more time than on our news sites.”

About Camilla Brække

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