Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas isn’t filled with ghosts, aliens, cryptids, monsters, or shadow people. But in the years after its initial 2004 release — at a time when uploading videos to the internet was hard and datamining games was less common — people believed Rockstar’s classic open-world game contained all those creepy things and more. Some went to YouTube to share their findings, theories, and “myth hunts.” Often Windows Movie Maker and the X-Files theme song were a part of these videos.
If you were like me, these myth-hunting videos probably scared you, yet thousands of GTA-obsessed fans watched them, hoping to glimpse proof that something lurked in the dark, scary, low-poly woods of San Andreas.
GTA: San Andreas may look dated now, but what Rockstar was trying to create with it is no less impressive in 2021. This is an attempt to create a large-scale digital world featuring multiple cities, forests, deserts, traffic, stores, airports, and more. It’s the kind of world that you could easily get lost in, especially if you were a young kid or teenager with a ton of free time. I remember spending countless hours in San Andreas, just living in the game. Sometimes I’d pretend to drive trucks around the state. Other times I’d steal a plane and imagine I was a pilot. Or I’d take a four-wheeler and head out to the country to go camping. And it was in the dark, eerily empty woods of San Andreas, alone at night, that I started imagining what lurked in that darkness. Sometimes I’d bring a camera. You know, just in case I saw Bigfoot…
Eventually, I began visiting YouTube in the hopes of discovering just what,if anything, secretly dwelled in the woods and deserts of San Andreas. I remember wondering at the time if anyone else was searching for Bigfoot and aliens in the game. After a quick search, I discovered a whole subcommunity of San Andreas players who were convinced that sasquatch, ghosts, aliens, UFOs, monsters and even Leatherface were residing in the dark corners of GTA: San Andreas.
If you watched these videos back in or around 2010, you probably remember the format that many of them followed. Nearly all of the most popular featured the X-Files theme song, along with green text on a black background, often created using the free and at the time uber-popular Windows Movie Maker. Many of these videos don’t feature much or even any gameplay footage. If they do, it’s often recorded off a screen, or captured using some now-archaic format or device. This was back in a time when recording, editing, and then uploading gameplay footage to the internet was still a tricky process, often involving jumping through several hoops. So many creators of these early myth-hunting videos used images and screenshots instead. This was also a different era on YouTube itself. Folks weren’t worried about the algorithm yet, so video lengths and thumbnails are inconsistent.
Going back to watch these old videos now, I was both shocked by how primitive some of them were and enamoured with how earnest and genuine many of them felt. The people creating them weren’t trying to be the next Twitch or YouTube sensation. They were mostly teens and young adults just trying to get a few-thousand views and share their love of the digital paranormal. There were no ads, and no copyright strikes to worry about, hence all the X-Files music. It was a more innocent time, one which I miss.
But also, going back to watch these videos today unlocked a part of my brain that had long laid dormant. These videos used to scare the shit out of me sometimes, not because they featured jump scares, but because they often created an eerie atmosphere. A lot of this is because of the subject matter — stuff like ghosts or zombies or monsters — yet it’s also thanks to the use of spooky theme songs, and a complete lack of commentary. You felt truly alone watching these videos, and the low-quality nature of the gameplay footage, screenshots and editing only added to the sense of horror. Even today, going back to them felt scary in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.
If you watch these myth-hunting videos, you eventually realise that GTA: San Andreas players never really found anything in those woods, even after years of hunting for monsters and aliens. So what kept them going for so long?
One thing that drove players to keep hunting was a quote from Rockstar’s then-CEO, Terry Donovan. It was widely repeated that he told a magazine, “There is no Bigfoot, just like in real life, but there is something in the woods.” However, this isn’t actually what he said. His original quote was simply, “There is no Bigfoot, just like in real life.” Someone added the alluring ending and it spread like wildfire among GTA myth hunters, to the point where it is still brought up all these years later as evidence that something must be out there.
The other reason people found myth-hunting in the game so irresistible has to do with San Andreas itself. See, even knowing what I know today, going back to the woods in that game is still scary. Especially at night. The lack of details, the low-res textures and complete absence of wildlife, combined with the eerie quietness of it all, creates something that feels ripped out of a modern indie horror game. It’s very easy to see why so many players back then would visit the desolate forests of San Andreas and come away terrified and convinced something had to be lurking out there in the dark. Record a few minutes of that, slap on some X-Files music, and it’s clear why so many people were hooked on the idea that spooky stuff had to be lurking in the dark recesses of San Andreas.
Next month, Rockstar Games is releasing a remastered version of GTA: San Andreas. It looks great, even if some character models seem a bit off. But one moment from the reveal trailer caught my eye. It’s a moment with CJ in the woods of San Andreas. It shows how all the trees and textures in that area have been improved greatly. And while it looks nice, I’m worried these improvements might kill the creepy atmosphere so many players and fans enjoyed.
However, if there is one thing I know about the GTA myth-hunting community, it’s that people will never really stop hunting down the ghosts and ghouls and monsters supposedly hiding in San Andreas and other GTA games. In fact, a new version of San Andreas may offer up a whole new reason to go hunting for Bigfoot all over again. Based on a leaked achievement referencing hunting for Bigfoot from the upcoming remastered collection, even Rockstar seems to be aware of how many people spent countless hours searching for myths in the woods of San Andreas.
Sure, they never found anything, but they made a lot of scary videos that to this day live deep in many GTA players’ minds, my own included. So for this Halloween season, I’ll be watching a playlist of creepy, classic GTA San Andreas videos. But probably with the lights on.