Mafia III Critique

From gunfights with the Italian mob to boating through alligator-infested swamps delivering crates of weed, New Bordeaux, Hangar 13 and 2k Game’s reimagination of 1968 New Orleans, is the home of Mafia III, a story based on revenge and fueled by crime. Mafia III tells the story of New Bordeaux native, Lincoln Clay, a mixed-race decorated Vietnam War veteran and Black Mafia member. The game follows Lincoln as he seeks revenge against the Marcano Crime Family, an Italian gang, for the murder of his family and attempted murder of himself. His plan for revenge consists of completely destroying the mob from the ground up, piece by piece, one person at a time. To do this, Lincoln recruits three underbosses: voodoo practitioner and Haitian gang leader, Cassandra, Irish mob boss, Thomas Burke, and ex-member of the Marcano Crime Family, Vito Scaletta. While only the setting of this story, New Bordeaux is an important factor of the game, it puts the player into the culture and society of the 1968 American South from the perspective of that society’s worst enemy, a Black man.

While the story does not contain a historically accurate narrative, nor does it claim to, Mafia III exposes the harsh realities of life as a Black citizen of the American South during 1968. For example, the blatant racism the game portrays. While playing through the game’s story or exploring its open world, the player will hear racial slurs hundreds of times. “F*ck the ni**ers. F*ck those unwashed, debased, big-lipped, bug-eyed, savages, who grow fatter and lazier off everything the White man has ever made,” is only one of the many racist statements I heard through my playthrough of the game. The game’s city, New Bordeaux, also houses many businesses with signs on the front windows stating things like “White’s Only” or “No Coloreds Allowed,” a direct reference to the racial segregation that plagued America, especially in the South, during the 1960’s. While those are some more obvious examples, there is also more subtle racism in the game.

The game’s 1968 setting puts it in a time where racial tensions are high and key civil rights events have taken place. Because of this, not everyone in the world was as openly racist. Although the racism was not as obvious, it was still there. This can be seen in the game as Lincoln walks down the street in White neighborhoods and people try avoiding him. Another instance I came across was when I met someone for instructions on a mission and the first thing she said was “you’re not what I expected,” commenting on Lincoln’s race. Police are also a main factor in the subtle racism the game exposes. For example, while they will not stop the player for no reason, radars in the game show that the police closely watch Lincoln as he passes by, trying to find a reason to detain him. Another thing police do is respond quickly to calls in the game’s White neighborhood while they respond much slower, or not at all, in Black neighborhoods. These forms of racism, racial profiling, and racial subjectivity show the player exactly what it meant to be a Black man in the 1960’s American south. Although the game’s racism is a huge factor in its portrayal of the 1968 American south, it is not the only driving factor in the game’s historical elements.

1960’s pop-culture is a huge element in the world of Mafia III. From driving a classic car while Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” plays on the in-game radio to collecting vintage Playboy magazines, the game is filled with popular culture references. The game’s soundtrack is filled with classics that one would hear on the radio in the 1960s. Another key element in the game’s homage to 1960’s popular culture is references by NPCs. The game has many references to 1960s popular culture and politics. NPCs talking about the JFK assassination, the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and Star Trek’s infamous interracial kiss is just a few of many of the references in the game. The game’s collectibles are also pieces of 1960s popular culture. These collectibles consist of the magazines: Hot Rod, Repent, and Playboy, along with pin-up artist, Alberto Vargas, paintings and communist propaganda posters. While the game is a good representation of culture and society in this time, it is not completely accurate or realistic.

By creating a fictional narrative in a fictional city, even though New Bordeaux is based on New Orleans, the game developers show that Mafia III does not claim to be completely accurate or realistic. In order to preserve its flow and overall playability, the game’s mechanics had to be unrealistic to a certain extent. For example, in real life, no one can get shot a million times and live, even if they take an adrenaline shot to boost their health. Other realistic elements the game must sacrifice in order to flow well is police behavior. In real life, police would not watch someone speed past them or run red lights without pulling them over. Police also would not give up searching for a suspect of serious crimes after a couple of minutes, or hours in-game time. If any of these factors were completely realistic and the player would die from one shot or have to deal with police the whole time they were playing, it would be a huge inconvenience for the player and completely destroy the game’s flow and playability.

Mafia III’s 2016 release and its usage of a Black protagonist is no coincidence. The game’s development took place during a time of reclamation of Black Identity in America. During the years leading up to its release, America experienced a boom of Black social activist groups promoting Black pride. This was also a time of a growing political divide where Blacks felt that they were unfairly discriminated against, especially by the police, while their opposition claimed they were exaggerating. Mafia III’s development came at a time where America was hostile, and the game’s themes directly relate to the emotions carried by Black Americans during this time.

Mafia III’s historical representations are driven by 1960’s American southern culture and society. The game makes the player feel uncomfortable with its obvious segregation and racism. The city of New Bordeaux is also alive and filled with NPC conversations regarding 1960s pop culture. Overall, while this game does not attempt to be a completely accurate narrative, it is a strong representation of life for a Black man in the 1960’s American South and, arguably, today.

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