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Uncanny GTA V Photos Remind Us We Might Be in a Simulated World

Photographer Ollie Ma’ challenges our sense of simulation theory with his new series 'Open World.'
Images courtesy the artist

Elon Musk recently stated his belief that we are probably living inside a simulated reality. Those paying attention might have noted the simulation argument he references, made by Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom. The theory is a bit heady, but Bostrom basically argues that it's statistically likely we're living in a simulation.

London-based portrait photographer Ollie Ma’ is also intrigued by Bostrom’s simulation theory. So much so that he decided to create a photo series that explores it through the digital imagery of Grand Theft Auto V, interspersed with his usual photographic portraiture titled Open World. The output is a striking mirror of Ma’s carefully framed and staged photographs.


“Bostrom believes that if humans get to the stage where we can create what he calls ‘ancestor-simulations’ then there is a very high probability that we are living in a simulation ourselves,” Ma’ tells The Creators Project. “I made photographs in both Grand Theft Auto  and in the real world to show what our current simulations look like in relation to reality. A side effect of this is that when compared with a simulation, reality itself begins to look like a simulation.”

Ma’ shot his Grand Theft Auto V  images in “director mode,” which allows users to choose actors and stage scenes.

“You can then move around freely with a camera to compose the photograph,” Ma’ explains. “The process of constructing scenes in this way is similar to how I work in the real world.”

The genius of Ma’s work is that, at least at first glance, a viewer has a hard time telling the difference between real and virtual photographs—a very clever conceptual riff on Bostrom’s simulation thesis. Imagine how difficult it will become distinguish the real from the virtual as graphics and rendering power continues to multiply exponentially.

Click here to see more work by Ollie Ma’.


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