As is so often the case with the super-rich, my wife has started to exhibit some strange behaviour. A savvy blend of bank robbery and scattershot investing has left her with more money than she can ever hope to spend, and so she's increasingly only interested in the things that money cannot buy. Aliens, ghosts, zombies: this is the bizarre end-game to GTA 5. Once the missions are finished, once the last Achievements have been mopped up, unless you're willing to venture online you're going to be left right here: in a vast, beautiful map that you must shock back to life in any way you can think of. A map that tells you there is nothing left to find and nothing left to do. But that can't be true, can it?
I have not played much of GTA 5, but it feels like I've seen most of it via an unusual kind of time-lapse, as I walk through the living room and pass by the TV where my wife has been playing. At first when I walked by, she'd be hunkered down in a gunfight or cursing the controls for aiming. After a while, though, a strange kind of cumulative energy took hold. For many players, GTA 5 is like a vehicular Katamari: a game about expansion - always, to quote the great Ryan Serhant, and in all ways. So now I'd walk past and my wife would be sat in a beat-up Dodge, idling in her driveway, trying to decide what to do with her day. Ten minutes later she'd be in a firetruck. Then a Learjet. Then a passenger jumbo. This is the trajectory of the modern criminal.
Ghosts and UFOs came in once even these pleasures had been exhausted, and once the campaign was a long, long way behind her. Is it a spoiler to say that, by the end of GTA 5, you're enormously wealthy? More importantly, by the end of the game you're free: you have all the freedom that money can buy, and more besides. You have a huge map, and an empty schedule. It's how GTA 5 reacts to the empty schedule that has made me realise it's a much better game than I had initially imagined. So many open world adventures dry up as the icons on the radar slowly vanish, but there is clearly an easy joy to just navigating this nutty facsimile of Southern California that means you can linger here pretty much aimlessly and still have a good time.
Linger too long, however, and you will start to hear things. The supernatural will begin to intrude, as if Rockstar was switching channels from HBO to Syfy. My wife has steadily become interested in things that you might classify as urban legends, which in games means stuff that comes from a terrifying world that lurks beyond Achievements. A friend had told her of a ghost up in the hills somewhere. Another had mentioned a UFO - a bunch of them, actually - at least one of which was underwater.
It shouldn't surprise me that the rich and famous - luminaries like Robbie Williams and Danny Dyer - so often become fixated with the occult and the supernatural. You need a lot of influence to investigate these things properly, and a lot of free time doesn't hurt either. In GTA 5, you'll need a submarine if you want to check out that submerged UFO. (It's a classic Topps Trading retro saucer, inevitably, all curved steel and neat rims. A pie pan. A hub cap.) As for the ghost, you'll need a day free to hack through the mountains, searching for the spot it haunts and then waiting for the correct time to see it. A sniper scope helps, because, much as in real life, the ghost vanishes if you get too close.
The UFOs apparently belong to something that is known as the Mt Chiliad Mystery. GTA 5's highest peak is home to all that is strange and extra-terrestrial, while ancient pictograms suggest a kind of hidden order to Los Santos - or at least hint at some killer unlocks. The ghastly presence in the hills doesn't not appear to be a part of this buried design, though. It's just a spook - with a stray twill of backstory trailing behind it. It's just a haunting, a ghost in this vast machine.
Crucially, there's no material reward for finding the ghost, or at least there doesn't seem to be. You've come this far because you have tired of rewards, most likely. You've come this far because you are interested in things that simply are.
It reminds me of a wonderful piece that Simon Parkin wrote for the New Yorker about a group of people who are convinced that there's a bigfoot wandering the woods of GTA: San Andreas. What I really took away from that, and from the ghosts and the UFOs, from my wife's hunt for them, and the strange sense of hollow victory she felt when she tracked them down, is that GTA is thematically pretty complex. The debate will probably go on as to whether this is a satire of the modern world or merely a moony simulation of it, but in GTA 5's case at least, while there's no doubting the fact that the overall design assumes from the off that you want to be rich and powerful, this strange, rumour-riddled endgame serves as a tart suggestion that being rich and powerful can actually leave you rather unsatisfied.
What do you give the person who has everything? The person who is only ever five minutes away from controlling a firetruck, or a Learjet? Turns out you don't give them anything. You just mention that there are ghosts and UFOs out there - and then you watch as they devote their lives to tracking them down.