THE HUNT FOR ONE OF GAMING’S MOST MYTHICAL CREATURES

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Way out in southeastern Flint County, Bachồng o Beyond is the most isolated area in San Andreas. Its trees loom conspiratorially, their branches knitted together, creating a sense of gloom. As night falls, a fog rises, muffling the air. For some, it’s a place of tranquility, far away from the noise and fury of the cities nearby. But for others, this forsaken forest is home page khổng lồ an unknown terror.

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In 2004, Rob Silver was driving his truchồng through Baông chồng o Beyond when he caught sight of something in the thicket. “Out of the corner of the television screen I saw a large, tall, dark figure,” he said. “It happened twice, both times during that first year. To this day, I’ve sầu not come across the creature again.” Earlier this year, Kaleb Krimmel, a teen-ager from Michigan, had a similar experience. “I have seen strange figures in the fog before, but pedestrians can sometimes appear in weird places,” he said. “While this sort of computer error describes most of my encounters, this time was different. I was in Back o Beyond, walking up a hill. It was foggy out, but behind some plants I clearly saw a giant blaông chồng figure. I aimed my camera lớn take a picture, but by the time I steadied the viewfinder it was gone.”


Silver and Krimmel are not the only players who clayên ổn to lớn have sầu seen Bigfoot in the virtual forests of Gr& Theft Auto: San Andreas, a Clip game released in 2004 in which players assume the role of a young gang member, Carl Johnson, in a story that draws upon various real-life events in Los Angeles, most centrally the rivalry between the Bloods và Crips street gangs. The game, mix in 1992 within the fictional state of San Andreas, a geographical amalgam of California and Nevadomain authority, sold more than twenty-seven million copies worldwide. If the game’s developers had included a rare occurrence of a Bigfoot character in the Baông chồng o Beyond, occasional sightings from the masses of scouring players would be inevitable. Within months of the game’s release, videos allegedly showing sightings of Bigfoot appeared on YouTube, while viewers debated their authentithành phố in the comments.


These discussions were muddied when some enterprising fans created a “thủ thuật,” or an alternative sầu code that can be downloaded and installed, to insert a fabricated Bigfoot inlớn the game, complicating the hunt for the “real” virtual Bigfoot. Nevertheless, nearly a decade after the game’s release, a number of communities continue to work khổng lồ prove the authentithành phố of Bigfoot’s existence in the original game, and devoted users still upload photographs of unusual footprints and other pieces of circumstantial evidence to their Web sites. Silver runs one such site. “Many Web sites make the Bigfoot myth out to lớn be some fan-made story that’s simply gotten out of hand,” he said. “In fact, the staff at the Grand Theft Aukhổng lồ Web site I contributed to lớn at the time didn’t want anything lớn vị with myths, & refused to lớn have sầu them catalogued. Last November, I mix out to lớn make the most comprehensive sầu, informative sầu Grand Theft Auto myth site on the Web.”

The Bigfoot debate of the game closely mirrors that of the real world, in which believers often clash with skeptics. Silver’s certainty in the creature’s existence is absolute. “I one-hundred-per-cent believe sầu Bigfoot exists within San Andreas,” he said. Krimmel agrees: “I bởi believe the creature exists. I have encountered hyên ổn more than once. I would say he is proven.” But critics say the myth’s disciples are fooling themselves. “Either they’re mistaken, or they’re lying,” said a skeptical forum user. “Myth hunters are determined khổng lồ believe in myths despite all evidence khổng lồ the contrary. Perhaps they want the myths lớn be true so badly that they’ve sầu managed khổng lồ trick themselves inlớn seeing things that aren’t there, or they’ve sầu made connections between things that aren’t connected. Maybe they’re just lying or stupid, or both.”


One crucial advantage the Bigfoot hunters in the game have over their real-world counterparts is that they’re able lớn communicate with the game’s creators. Grvà Theft Auto’s developer, Rockstar North, has not been silent on the issue. Speaking khổng lồ an American video-game magazine shortly after the game’s release, the lead cấp độ designer Craig Filshie said that there was “not a bit of truth” to lớn the Bigfoot rumors. “If you look closely, you’ll notice that all of the screenshots are typically retouched versions of screenshots we created for magazines & Web sites before the game was released,” he said.

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Filshie even went so far as to offer his own explanation for what Bigfoot-sighters might be seeing in the game: “San Andreas is an extremely complex game, with millions of lines of code. It’s entirely possible for strange things lớn happen, but none of them are intentional.” Terry Donovan, the C.E.O. of Rockstar, said, “There is no Bigfoot, just lượt thích in real life.” This straightforward denial from the game’s makers should have sầu been enough lớn quash the rumors—as if God himself had told the world that there were no hirsute monsters roaming America’s tangled forests.


But a Clip game with a scope lượt thích Gr& Theft Auto is a vast và multifaceted construction, built by teams of hundreds of people. It’s entirely possible that one artist or designer could have sầu inserted an Easter egg lượt thích Bigfoot without the rest of the team’s knowledge. Indeed, some coders concealed a sex-based mini-game—which became known as “hot coffee”—that led lớn the company’s being brought in front of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2006. It was a scandal that cost the game’s publisher, Take Two, more than twenty million dollars in lawsuit payments. If a fully developed mini-game, which allowed the game’s lead character lớn have sầu graphic sex with women, could be surreptitiously included in the game, it’s no great stretch to believe sầu that a single rogue programmer or artist could have sầu quietly inserted a mythical beast.


Virtual Bigfoot skeptics have another advantage over their real-life counterparts: they are able to lớn scour the game’s code in tìm kiếm of evidence. If there were no Bigfoot assets, like a graphic rendering, it would prove sầu that virtual Bigfoot was a myth. Some motivated skeptics have sầu spent countless hours scanning the code; they clalặng that, in the thousands upon thousands of lines of programming, there is nothing referring to Bigfoot. But some people are dubious of these claims; after all, how meticulous will an amateur, unpaid hacker be?

Despite its early denials, Rockstar has only added khổng lồ the sense of doubt in recent years. When asked to lớn comment on the rumors, a Rockstar spokesperson told me, “We’d prefer to lớn keep an air of mystery surrounding the topic. Let the myth remain a myth.” Christian Cantamessa, a former Rockstar employee who worked as a màn chơi designer on the game, took a similar stance when I approached hyên. “It is a little like asking the U.S. government to lớn discuss Area 51, isn’t it?” he said. “The only appropriate comment is ‘No phản hồi.’ ”

For myth-hunters, the tìm kiếm for Bigfoot has provided an ongoing và compelling reason lớn continue playing the game long after the main storyline has been exhausted. Krimmel visits San Andreas twice a week in tìm kiếm of Bigfoot, taking an in-game camera with hlặng on his excursions in the hope of photographing the creature. “I’ve beaten the game twice, and maxed out my stats, so myth-hunting is the only thing left lớn do,” he said. For Silver, the ongoing allure is in the chance to lớn catch sight of something rare & wonderful. “There’s a one-in-a-hundred shot at finding hyên ổn, in my opinion,” he said. “That possibility is why I return.”

Whether or not people are disposed to lớn believing in or disregarding legends, the San Andreas Bigfoot myth appears lớn be self-perpetuating. As newer and younger players gain access to lớn the game và read the online rumors, some are inexorably drawn into the story, and become active participants in its extension. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Rhem Alhatimy, a fourteen-year-old resident of Kufa, Iraq, bought a pirated copy of the game a few months ago, on a DVD containing each of the PC titles in the long-running Grand Theft Aulớn series.

“I’d read the rumors, and decided khổng lồ visit Back o Beyond myself,” he said. “It was about three o’clochồng in the morning. That’s when I saw it: a dark, creepy thing standing in the woods. I’m not one-hundred-per-cent certain, but I think that was hlặng.”


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Simon Parkin is a contributing writer khổng lồ The New Yorker & the author of “Death by Video Game: Danger, Pleasure, and Obsession on the Virtual Frontline.”