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The Joy of eavesdropping in Grand Theft Auto V

Listen closely

I hear her before I see her. The young brunette sporting head-to-toe white Vinewood chic, her voice high as she seethes over the phone at a man I assume is her husband. He can barely get a word in through her accusations; he’s been sleeping with the nanny (again), she has proof this time, she’ll take his ass to court. Finally, something he says stuns her quiet.

“Who the hell told you about Raul?” she screeches.

But Raul will have to wait, because a flock of maître ds has started swapping stories in the alley to my left and their dirt peaked my curiosity. Seems like spit isn’t the only body fluid Los Santos patrons have to worry about in their minestrone.

Hold up, did that guy just say he stuffed a little person full of coke and hit him like a piñata?

It’s in these moments I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of Los Santos, despite offloading dozens of hours into Grand Theft Auto V’s story mode, and nearly twice that in GTA Online.

GTA V contains just under 160,000 lines of dialogue according to developer Rockstar Games. And much of it can only be heard by playing in a very non-GTA fashion. Even in Los Santos, pedestrians get spooked when they see others shoving past and causing mayhem. An accidental tap can throw them off their rhythm, their stories retreating into the game’s algorithm with a slim chance to be repeated. The successful voyeur must walk calmly, keep to themselves, obey traffic signals – easy enough in the real world, but when surrounded by GTA’s trademark sandbox free-for-all, it feels like a stealth mission a la Assassin’s Creed.

Occasionally NPCs break their own believability by talking over each other or providing canned responses. But when these vignettes play out in their entirety, it feels like you’ve snuck a glance at the real Los Santos.

So much work went into writing these incidental dialogues in case a player overhears a snippet of them as they race down the street, en route to a heist or fleeing from police. It’d be easy for players to never notice them, or at least to never give them much thought. But those who take a break from GTA’s chaos to stop and listen are in for some of the funniest dialogue in the game.

Back in Los Santos, I see a man in a pressed suit walk by me, phone in hand.

“I’m just saying, I don’t want to end up peeing in my coffee cup again.”

And just like that, I’m off.

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