For two great games now, the Mafia franchise has focused on the most infamous organized crime syndicate in the world: The Italian Mob. We've played as young Italian-Americans looking to make a name for themselves, and we've risen through the ranks of fictionalized families exploring the darker side of what it meant to be a gangster in 1930s-1950s America. But Hangar 13, the developer behind Mafia 3, have very different plans for this highly anticipated title.
A lot of people were surprised to see that Mafia III had left the famous mafia era behind and pushed us far into the swinging sixties. Another surprise came when we realized we wouldn't be playing as a mafioso at all: we'd be slaughtering them. And who would we be slaughtering them as? Lincoln Clay, a Veteran with combat experience in the Vietnam War and a black American.
Clay's identity is a vital aspect of Mafia III, its historical setting and its gameplay. The developers aim to have us confronted with the realities of being a person of African-American appearance living in the Southern United States during these tumultuous years, which saw the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in America. Let's examine how.
Mafia 3 & The Confrontation of Racial Hatred In A Video Game
The location of Mafia 3, the fictional city of New Bordeuax, is designed to replicate the bustling streets of New Orleans, Louisiana. Living in this city during the 1960s as a person of color was undoubtedly more difficult than we could possibly imagine. The developers of this game wish to replicate those hardships, to the best of their abilities, by depicting racism as it existed.
[We] didn’t want to shy away from the reality of the time and the place. There are quite a few moments in the story where race is referenced and race is part of the story, part of the plot. It’s part of who Lincoln is." - Game Director, Haden Blackman
Therefore, seeing as this team is trying to be authentic to the time period, we as players will have to become accustomed to hearing racial slurs that were forcefully used throughout this region:
"It’s not always directed at Lincoln, or referring to Lincoln’s ethnicity. We have Italians. We have Irish. We have other groups in there. There’s harsh language you’ll hear related to that. We’re not trying to do it to be salacious or sensationalist. We’re trying to do it to make sure these characters sound authentic. They sound of the time and the place. It feels like 1968."
But that's not all, NPCs will actually react to Clay in various ways depending on the part of the city he's in. Southern States notoriously refused service to people of color in certain restaurants, bars, or even entire towns. This despicable racism will be encountered first-hand as you take control of Clay.
“The behavior of pedestrians and NPCs – certainly not everywhere throughout the game, but in large sections of it – there are places where if Lincoln looks out of place and seems out of place, people will react to that,” says Blackman.
“There are places you can go that just being there is an offense and will elicit a police response."
This stems from more than just a desire to accurately depict a historical period, the developers hope that players will be challenged by this form of treatment and ask important questions:
We aren’t so naïve to think that a single game could cure racism, but if we can get the player to think, ‘Why am I being treated differently here than in other parts of town?’ then I think we’ve done something worthwhile.”
This gameplay mechanic will see the player be treated as hostile just for the color of Clay's skin. Therefore, we're likely to consciously avoid certain areas if we wish to prevent a fight, harassment from the police, or perhaps we'll feel compelled to lash out in rage for the unwarranted treatment. Regardless, areas within Mafia 3's map will become known for their racial hatred, thus impacting on how we interact with the game. As a narrative tool however, it will likely create a powerful empathy between player and protagonist. We'll question civilian and police innocence as we watch Clay racially berated or even attacked, even when he isn't doing anything illegal.
As Blackwell said, if this teaches and forces us to ask questions about race in America, the treatment of its peoples and how we treat one another, then something worthwhile will have been achieved with this sequel.
Mafia 3 will be out on XBOX One, PS4 and PC on October 7.
What's your take on Mafia 3?