Hangar 13 discusses Mafia 3's racism and ultra-violent themes
For the third entry in the Mafia series, protagonist Lincoln Clay, aims to gain control of the streets of a fictional New Orleans in one of the most racially charged periods of American history: the Civil Rights Movement. In addition, Lincoln is a veteran of the Vietnam War -- and as such, is no stranger to brutal violence, which will doubtlessly aid him in fitting into the mobster lifestyle.
In a recent interview with Prankster 101, Mafia 3's executive producer Andy Wilson discussed how they plan on tackling these issues and what it means to be a mobster of color in 1960s New Orleans.
P101: How do you ensure that the story that you’re telling is both plausible and interesting without necessarily resorting to tired tropes and cliches? For example… I understand that there’s racism, but sometimes people use that almost as a crutch and as a band-aid.
During the demo, I heard the phrase “get lost n****r”! And I’ll come back to these shock tactics later, but it’s almost a case of… are you confident enough in your own storytelling ability to not have to resort to profanities of that nature in order to gloss over whatever cracks there are in the story?
Andy Wilson: Yeah, I mean “authenticity” is the word, right? And in that era, and in that part of the world, those are the kind of things that as a mixed race guy walking down the street in a predominantly white area, you’d have that kind of stuff thrown at you. And I think if we were to shy away from it, and if we did not have the world react to you in an authentic way… if we treated it with kid-gloves and it felt fluffy and nice, then I think we would be copping out and we’d be trying to dodge a bullet in a sense. I don’t think that that would be credible.
So it’s very important that the world reacts to Lincoln in a way that it would have done, and it’s going to change district by district as well. And again, I’ll say in terms of the narrative team that we’ve got… we’ve got Haden and he’s extremely capable when it comes to this kind of thing. If you look at his background as a writer and some of the properties that he’s worked on… he’s actually taken on some characters with a tricky subject matter before and he’s dealt with it really well. To an award winning standard actually.
So I feel like we’re doing our research, we’re keenly aware that we have to get this right, and we’re putting a lot of time and attention into it. And what you’re seeing is just the first taste of how huge the ecosystem is and how it will hang together.
In regards to the brutal nature of the game, Wilson said that Mafia 3's violence would be visceral, but not without context.
P101: From a commercial standpoint, and even though you want to be authentic, do you not think that the level of violence that’s being portrayed in Mafia 3, for example with its shotguns and what not… I thought it was pretty visceral and graphic.
Do you not think that given the expectations of Mafia 3 as being the continuation of the franchise, the fact that it’s on current-gen consoles which as a consequence means that it’s costing a lot for 2K to develop as the publisher… with all these commercial expectations placed around it, do you not think that maybe the level of violence, and part of that is obviously to do with the dialogue which I’ve previously spoken about, will hamper its commercial viability and appeal?
AW: I don’t think so. There’s a difference between context-less violence and what we’re showing here. Again, Lincoln as a character… he’s a Vietnam vet, he’s a gangster himself, and he’s going up against some really nasty people in terms of the Italian mob. Again, we’re trying to do it in a credible way. There are going to be non-lethal options in the world as well. Players can choose the way that they actually want to play the game. But again, shying away from it, or trying to make it sort of a comic book, for us it’s not the right thing to do.
We’re happy to put this together from a narrative point of view, from a gameplay point of view, stand by it and say “This is what we consider authentic to be”, because I think as creatives we feel better doing that. We don’t want to be forced into toning something down because we feel it’s going to harm something somewhere else.
2K’s a great company and they’re thoroughly behind us in all of this. And they’ve obviously seen everything and the direction we’re going in. We’re all in it together. They are a company where if you look at their portfolio generally, they curate stuff. They make great games and they take the time to get it right and we’ve being given that treatment as well. So I feel confident that we’re going to get it right, definitely.
Naturally, dealing with race in games is a sensitive issue -- and because of the effect the Civil Rights Movement had on society, this topic will need to be handled delicately. With that said, a certain level of realism is required. Because as Wilson mentioned, if too much is cut from the game due to fear of a backlash, it could be seen as "copping out". They have the opportunity to highlight the struggles of the African-American community during this time, as well as showing how difficult it was for returning Vietnam veterans who had to adjust to regular life after being exposed to some of the bloodiest battles in US history.
Mafia 3 is definitely looking like the most ambitious entry to date. As much as the earlier games were praised for their narratives, the open world felt quite lacking. If Hangar 13 manages to keep a strong narrative but also create an open world that feels "alive", we could get a game that not only manages to live up to the expectations set by its predecessors, but actually manages to surpass them.