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Mafia III and Race: An in-depth discussion

Amir0x

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Well as we can see from the other Mafia topic, the big buzz discussion at the moment is the idea that we are going to have a Black protagonist in a series that has traditionally focused on the Italian Mafia.

This discussion has focused on three points:

● That it does not make sense to have a black protagonist in such a series.
● That the themes handled in the Mafia series cannot be adequately handled by focusing on the Black Criminal Underworld.
● That historically it would not make sense to have a black man so intimately dealing with the Italian Mafia, especially in light of their extreme vitriolic racism toward this same community.


I'd like to expand this discussion with a primer on some of the history involved, and perhaps get a more in-depth conversation going focused on this issue and the mistakes people are making when dealing with the subject.

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Videogame Context
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First, it's important to understand what the game is actually attempting to do.

IGN said:
Organized crime has always had its go-to goons. The wise guys with slicked back hair, wingtipped shoes, and suits impeccably pinstriped. That romanticized imagery has been the well-tread territory of the Mafia series so far, but that’s changing with the arrival of Mafia 3.

Set in 1968, Mafia 3 stars a brand new protagonist, Lincoln Clay. He’s half-black, half-white, which matters since his story unfolds in the deep south of New Orleans, where outward, violent racism was a part of everyday life at the time. Clay’s got it tough, because he also grew up an orphan, constantly looking for family, which he found in the army during the Vietnam War. Suffice it to say, he’s seen some things.

Organized crime has always had its go-to goons. The wise guys with slicked back hair, wingtipped shoes, and suits impeccably pinstriped. That romanticized imagery has been the well-tread territory of the Mafia series so far, but that’s changing with the arrival of Mafia 3.

Set in 1968, Mafia 3 stars a brand new protagonist, Lincoln Clay. He’s half-black, half-white, which matters since his story unfolds in the deep south of New Orleans, where outward, violent racism was a part of everyday life at the time. Clay’s got it tough, because he also grew up an orphan, constantly looking for family, which he found in the army during the Vietnam War. Suffice it to say, he’s seen some things.
Mafia 3: Announcement Trailer
03:58

Lincoln Clay isn’t the most well-adjusted man, but it’s hard to blame him. After returning home from the war, and finding a new family in the “Black mob”, he once again loses it when the Italian mob wipes them out, shoots Clay in the head, and leaves him for dead. And he takes all these anti-hero ingredients and plays the part brutally well, unleashing a rampage of pissed-off vengence that devastates the Italian Mob and creates a power vacuum for organized crime in the city. A space Clay is more than willing to fill.

But there’s a lot of groups vying for power in New Orleans. For all the brutal, unflinching violence he doles out at the end of his army-issued combat knife, he’s actually got a knack for bringing people together. As Clay you’ll be able to bring several gang leaders into your fold to serve as lieutenants in your budding criminal empire. Cassandra and her Haitians, Burke and his Irish, and the protagonist from Mafia 2, Vito Scaletta, who lends his faction of Italians. These three lieutenants will grant you special abilities and unlocks if you show them favor, or bicker and betray if they feel you’re giving away their piece of this new crime pie.
Facts:

1. The Irish Mob, Haitian Mob, Italian Mob and Black Mob are all essential components to this series. They're vying for power in New Orleans. Remember, the series is called "Mafia", not "White Mafia." This series is actually expanding the scope of its analysis of Mafia groups.

2. The Italian mob, specifically the one Vito from the series past is apart of, has wiped out the Black Mafia. Presumably, then, this story will partially be one of revenge.

3. The New Orleans crime family was one of the oldest and most powerful in the country.

4. One of this games theme is ending the romanticizing of the Mafia image. One of the more powerful ways of doing that is to analyze is complex and richly racist history, as well as its delving into the world of hardcore illicit drugs like heroin.


This last point is important. This interview highlights the heart of it:

"In our minds, it is the end of kind of the romanticized view of the Mob. We're no longer seeing the mob or viewing the mob as the old boy's club or social club. It's really by the late 60s had been exposed as this criminal organization that has done really heinous things. And a lot of that has to do with the influx of heroin and other thing's going on... and you also had obviously Vietnam and you also had the civil rights movement going on as well. And all those things pointed us to a protagonist like Lincoln who is mixed race... but we do have a line in the game if you look black, you're treated as black."
Firstly, there's no reason not to trust the devs when they say they arrived at their choice naturally. But secondly, if they're dealing with this, it makes tons of sense that they went with who they went with. And I'll touch on that a bit briefly in the next section.

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Historical Context
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One of the thing's that keep getting mentioned in interviews is the Mafia heroin trade. One of the crucial components of that was the way in which the Italian Mafia often trafficked these drugs through other organized criminal elements, which frequently included the Black Mafia (who was primarily centered around Philadelphia, but stretched out their tendrils in smaller groups around the country). One of the reasons they did this was because they wanted to remove themselves from the stench of dealing these drugs at the street level: it was against their outward code of honor, at least as far as the top level went.

So to effectively make bank without having that image problem, they let other criminal groups deal it out. And because they had such racist views of the Black Community, they often felt this was a perfect business partner for their drug trade.

Wikipedia said:
Allegedly formed in September 1968 by Samuel Christian, who later adopted the name Suleiman Bey under the Nation of Islam, the Black Mafia was heavily involved in a large part of drug trafficking in Philadelphia during the 1970s, with heroin being the most trafficked drug. Christian, a former Black Panther with an extensive arrest record, was an imposing man: 5'10' tall and described as a "thick-necked, 215-pound bully." Additional founding members included Ronald Harvey, Henry Dabney, Richard "Pork Chops" James, Donald "Donnie" Day, Clyde "Apples" Ross, Robert "Bop Daddy" Fairbanks, Craig "Heist" Jones, Walter Hudgins, Robert "Nudie" Mims amongst others. Nearly all of the original members eventually became Nation of Islam members or converted to Islam, giving the organization the nickname of "the Muslim Mafia" or "the Muslim Mob."

The Black Mafia gained power in local neighborhoods by intimidating people to prevent anyone from reporting the group's activities to the police. Because of this, police had incredible difficulty taking any action on the gang or any of its members for years after their conception. Members participated in holding up crap games and extorting drug dealers, working as numbers men and illegitimate businessmen. Over the course of their control, the Black Mafia was responsible for over 40 murders and countless other crimes. Each founder had extensive arrest records, with most cases involving violence. Law enforcement officials had difficulties prosecuting members of the group, however, because witnesses would rarely cooperate, fearing retaliation, and cases were dropped more often than not. This not only permitted the offenders to continue their criminal activities, but also allowed their reputations of being "untouchable" to flourish, thus enhancing their influence on the street.

More archival material here

The main historical change seems to be upending the Black Mafia from its Philadelphia roots and having a significant element in New Orleans (before it is slaughtered by the Italian Mafia). But this is a relatively minor change in the context of the things the series has changed before about the Italian Mafia, and it also makes sense. I suspect they did this because the Italian Mafia had a massive presence in New Orleans, but so did other Mafia groups like the Haitian Mafia and the Irish Mafia.

It seems that they wanted to try to find a city that most closest meshed all these Mafia groups together, and so they simply edited history a bit to locate the Black Mafia prominently down there as well. And it makes sense because if you're going to start de-glorifying these groups, you need to focus on their relationships with the community... and how much damage they have done to it. One compelling way to do that is to shift perspectives to the Black Community and the Mafia's cynical dealings within it.
________________________

Thematic Context
________________________

Stump made a great post about this, and I believe it's instructive to read what he had to say about this subject.

Stumpokapow said:
Goodfellas is a story about a guy who wants to make something of himself, but that drive leads him to become something of a monster and lose much of what he cares about. The characters are Italian-American. Scarface is a story about a guy who wants to make something of himself, but that drive leads him to become something of a monster and lose much of what he cares about. The character is Cuban living in America. I think both do a good job of telling a very similar story in a different way, and I don't see any reason why only Italian-Americans can satisfy the same kind of story. In the Black Donnellys, the character is Irish. In both the Black Donnellys and the Godfather, the character at the center of the story actually doesn't want to get involved with organized crime. But when you lay down with dogs, you get fleas.

The reason why Italian-American organized crime is compelling is because of the rich history; immigration, facing discrimination, ethnic self-segregation (and imposed segregation) in neighborhoods, poverty causing people to seek opportunities outside the law. It's not hard to imagine that a game about a biracial guy during the civil rights era could hit those notes.

I've noticed that many Mafia stories are basically westerns in that they portray a world on the cusp of changing and people who don't want to change with it. One popular setup is that "the old ways", the "code of honour" replaced by new, somehow worse things; unrestrained use of violence; trafficking drugs or prostitutes. You see this in the Godfather and in Goodfellas and the Sopranos as well. Here is this icon of conservative institutions facing a changing world. Clearly this is a premise this game can explore; first, if as it seems in the trailer that the organized crime people are the bad guys, a move from traditional crime families to individuals. Second, the changing demographics of society. Maybe even black nationalism in the wake of the BPP and disgruntled Vietnam veterans. Lots of ways they could take this.

Finally, one of the most common tropes in crime stories is "one last score". Characters that would have made it out alive if only they could have just settled for what they had instead of pushing for more. That escalation is what undoes them. This is most palpable in Heat, but also To Live and Die in LA, Dog Day Afternoon, The Wild Bunch (also a western crime film, another connection between the genres), The Score, to a lesser extent The Town, you could probably even stretch this to something like Miller's Crossing (also Irish rather than Italian), Blow (also an example of the first thing I mentioned about the man of humble beginnings who becomes a successful monster through his ambition, also not Italian-American). It's easy to imagine how the quest for revenge depicted in the trailer will lead to a very similar conundrum. Do I let the guy get away, or really try to have revenge, even if it's my own undoing?

I think anyone immersed in organized crime films and organized crime books could look at the tropes and expectations of the genre and recognize that this game's setup could fulfill them, even though the dude is not Italian.
Link

In the end, it's important to understand that just because popular culture likes to focus on the Italian Mob, does not mean the goals of the Mafia series are not being met in this approach, nor does it mean that the same precise reasons people enjoy watching Italian Mafia media cannot be the same exact reasons people enjoy a game about the Black Mafia.


But more than that, this game is not just about the Black Mafia. It still IS about the Italian Mafia... and the Irish Mafia...and the Haitian Mafia. It's about MAFIA organizations in general now, but it's clear that Vito and his Italian Mob play a pivotal role in how this all plays out.

________________________

Discussion
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So with all this in mind... why are you disappointed in this direction? Why do you like this direction? What would you change? How would you handle such themes in the future if you disapprove? How do you think the developers of Mafia III mishandled the approach to this subject if you are on that page?
 
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I find it an interesting direction to go in. I never cared for the previous two games, but I find this to be a unique and interesting take on a well-trod genre.

Great right up, Ami.
 

Nephtes

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I just wish it didn't have to be in New Orleans... :p

I wasn't aware my hometown was overrun with organized crime in the 1960's... Thieving politicians, sure, but organized crime? Come on.

I swear, if there's a chapter during a fucking hurricane I'm going to be pissed though...
 
May 6, 2006
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I find the move interesting. It can create new themes and story points that we don't see in big budget games.

Internet forums cry out for diversity in characters and someone has done it. I think this is all good news
 

Moobabe

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Really great write up - I like the direction, but my concern is this:

...but we do have a line in the game if you look black, you're treated as black.
What will this entail? Are we going to see a videogame portray the kind of racist attitude that was prevalent in that era?

in one of the youtube videos they basically say "we're not trying to do any sort of social commentary or go in-depth on it. It's just something that's unfortunately there because of the time period and setting"

so, yeah. I actually doubt it'll be much of a thing

Oh...
 

Salsa

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in one of the youtube videos they basically say "we're not trying to do any sort of social commentary or go in-depth on it. It's just something that's unfortunately there because of the time period and setting"

so, yeah. I actually doubt it'll be much of a thing
 

Amir0x

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in one of the youtube videos they basically say "we're not trying to do any sort of social commentary or go in-depth on it. It's just something that's unfortunately there because of the time period and setting"

so, yeah. I actually doubt it'll be much of a thing
I don't know why they said that, but in their interviews and articles they keep mentioning one of the themes of the game is ending the romanticizing of the Mafia, and a key element of this is the heroin drug trade, what was going on with the civil rights movement and Vietnam during this time. And the racist component. In fact, they specifically said they'll be dealing with all of this. In the interview linked, you can hear him say they'll be dealing with all of that.
 

dskillzhtown

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Jun 6, 2004
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Great OP. I think it is a refreshing direction for the series to go in. Organized crime is equal opportunity, movies have shown this, nothing wrong with games doing it as well. The fact that people are upset about it blows my mind.
 

Endo Punk

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The fact the protagonist is half black(all black according to people in the time period
, even to people today
) and isn't being treated as a set dressing as race plays a role in the game with civil rights movement happening and your interactions with npc's. I would have been nowhere near as interested if this was yet another ho-hum mafia experience. All that matters now is that these are not just buzz words and early footage not indicative of the final product. I hope it delivers the goods.
 

Zach

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Excellent thread, Amir0x.

I'm really looking forward to the story they're going to tell. I'm glad they're changing it up.
 

Nephtes

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don't see what is controversial about their choice of protagonist or story.
The thing is, you can't talk about racism and New Orleans without talking about Hurricane Katrina. My fear is the devs are going to be heavy handed with some kind of similar hurricane event in game as a kind of commentary of what went down In 2005...

I lived it... I don't really care to again in some videogame.

Edit: For historical context, there have been accusations that during other hurricanes in the 1950s that the government blew up the levees in certain segments of the city of New Orleans, flooding the poor, black neighborhoods while allowing the rich white neighborhoods to go unscathed by floodwaters. I will not be surprised if this is a scene in Mafia IiI.
 

Housh

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This is the first Mafia that has interested me. It looks like a path in the right direction narration wise. Hope the gameplay delivers.
 

dream

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Seems like a good excuse to have characters call the protagonist a moolie every 10 cutscene.
 

Griss

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I would have thought it was maybe a cynical marketing move after focus testers said the Italian Mafia is 'out' in popular culture right now, but reading the OP I have to be honest it sounds far more interesting than I expected, and I would be more rather than less likely to purchase the game because of it.

I do think that the term 'Mafia' implies Italian or Italian American criminal organisations in popular culture, though. I don't know anything about the word other than its usage in popular culture, I'm just saying that if I bought a game or movie with 'Mafia' in the title I'd be surprised if the main characters weren't Italians or their descendants.
 

Jb

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I'm really happy they're using this protagonist to tackle a new side of the Italian mafia. Even Mafia 2 felt like a retread of other characters and narrative arcs from other medium at times. Hopefully this should help it feel fresher.
 

DrGonzo615

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Some people just cant get enough of the italian mafia stuff; and for many, that is the first thing they think of when they hear the word "Mafia". Rightfully so as well since they are the Mafia most common in pop culture (and even in this game series).

If people are upset, my guess would be because it feels like a bait and switch from what they were expecting. Some people just want more italian mafia antics.

I think its kinda cool that they are exploring other, lesser known, crime families; I admit thought that the reveal was a bit jarring from what I expected.
 

MatrixMan.EXE

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Mad that I've seen some people on here actually outraged that we have a black protagonist in the game. Christ.
 

scorcher59

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Well i think it's good for the series to branch out to different characters and settings, I believe it maintains it's Mafia theme whilst also adding something different to the series
 

Rembrandt

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really good write up.

i'm excited for this. i think it's a unique and interesting setting and theme. i love the idea of ending the romanticism surrounding the mafia and seeing a somewhat accurate portrayal of how it really was. the new character can open up a lot of opportunities, especially since the series has always had its hands in realism.
 

Salsa

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I don't know why they said that, but in their interviews and articles they keep mentioning one of the themes of the game is ending the romanticizing of the Mafia, and a key element of this is the heroin drug trade, what was going on with the civil rights movement and Vietnam during this time. And the racist component. In fact, they specifically said they'll be dealing with all of this. In the interview linked, you can hear him say they'll be dealing with all of that.
Fucking hell. I knew PR would try to defuse any serious political commentary.
https://youtu.be/_gG0dhynQkk?t=2m33s

I guess it's not as verbatim as I said from when I watched it earlier today but it seemed to me as if to say it's not a huge thing in the game, which seemed to be to me

but yeah might be mistaken, statement isnt as clear as I thought

he does explicitely say "we're not trying to make any dramatic social commentary" which is a bit odd but probably just some PR fear
 

stuminus3

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I think it's a fascinating premise and I think a great story could be told and I just really hope we don't fuck it up like we always do with stuff like this.
 

Trey

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I can see why people would be upset that they no longer play as characters they've grown attached to over two games. My counterpoint to that would be that franchises change perspectives often, and it comes with the territory of dramatic storytelling. The black component is integral to the authenticity of the time period the game is set in, so it makes sense to explore that perspective.

But to not like the new character because you "can't relate" requires such a lack of imagination and empathy that it probably would go better for you to simply say you don't want to play as a black dude, because it's probably what you mean to say anyway.
 

Arion

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I don't see any real reason why the third game in a series can't buck the trend and go in a different direction. The game still has an Italian mafia however this time instead of being a part of it you are against it. It is simply a different prospective of the subject matter.
 

Nesotenso

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The thing is, you can't talk about racism and New Orleans without talking about Hurricane Katrina. My fear is the devs are going to be heavy handed with some kind of similar hurricane event in game as a kind of commentary of what went down In 2005...

I lived it... I don't really care to again in some videogame.

Edit: For historical context, there have been accusations that during other hurricanes in the 1950s that the government blew up the levees in certain segments of the city of New Orleans, flooding the poor, black neighborhoods while allowing the rich white neighborhoods to go unscathed by floodwaters. I will not be surprised if this is a scene in Mafia IiI.
don't see a problem with them depicting this.
 

John Kowalski

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https://youtu.be/_gG0dhynQkk?t=2m33s

I guess it's not as verbatim as I said from when I watched it earlier today but it seemed to me as if to say it's not a huge thing in the game, which seemed to be to me

but yeah might be mistaken, statement isnt as clear as I thought

he does explicitely say "we're not trying to make any dramatic social commentary" which is a bit odd but probably just some PR fear
Hmm, not as bad as i thought at first. But i guess building the subject of race as an undeniable fact rather than as a political message is a valid starting point as well.
 

Varjis

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As someone whose whole experience with the Mafia series was playing the demo for Mafia 2, this direction has me paying attention to the series now and I look forward to more previews and coverage.
 

Corpekata

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I can see why people would be upset that they no longer play as characters they've grown attached to over two games. .
Well, I mean this doesn't apply to this series. Mafia 2 takes place well after Mafia 1 and only features a cameo of characters from the first game.

If anything Mafia 3 is going to look like a more proper continuation of story elements given Vito appears to be a prominent supporting character.
 

dreamfall

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This is going to be awesome. I've been watching all the developer interviews, totally enraptured. I just like that they're really trying out something new- I need the writing to be really great. This can't just be something that they use as window dressing to make the character more intriguing- they're confronting racism, cultural change, and honestly, the developers have a huge task at hand. It's going to be intensely scrutinized regardless, but I think that's a good thing. Finally, we're going a route for more diversity in both the range of characters and the idea of what the Mafia represents- not just from the Italian perspective.

It's a good thing too. It's nice to have an open world crime game dive into some of the harder subject material concerning biracial identity and the American past- the lingering social injustice, New Orleans in the late 60's, the advent of rock & roll... I don't want just a standard revenge tale. The crew arrangement is neat too, Vito included. It's really a gang of outcasts, coming together to tackle on the established family. It's such an interesting take, because there were elements in Mafia 2 that definitely were unsettling regarding race, divisions in the city, and this looks to stand and face it. I'm excited.
 

SprachBrooks

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Couldn't care less about the skin pigmentation of the character –– the direction of the gameplay worries me. It looks so action-y and a far cry from Mafia II.
 

Walpurgis

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I'm surprised at the backlash. I didn't even know he was black until I saw an interview. He's only half black. Have people considered that the other half might be...Italian?
 

Corpekata

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Couldn't care less about the skin pigmentation of the character –– the direction of the gameplay worries me. It looks so action-y and a far cry from Mafia II.
Which itself was a huge crank up in the action elements from Mafia 1.

I mean, yeah, the driving is arcadier now but Mafia 2's TPS stuff was basically like every other TPS on the market when it came out. It was hardly a light on action game.
 

Trey

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Well, I mean this doesn't apply to this series. Mafia 2 takes place well after Mafia 1 and only features a cameo of characters from the first game.

If anything Mafia 3 is going to look like a more proper continuation of story elements given Vito appears to be a prominent supporting character.
Oh neat, the "not muh Mafia!" complaints are even less reasonable.
 

Salsa

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this isnt the same board it was 11 years ago, to be fair


I think the general reaction to the game has been widely positive, hasnt it?

I mean I get what you guys are saying but I don't see much outrage. Most people seem to think this is a cool thing

since when do youtube comments count for anything

excited to see where this game goes
 

Amir0x

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this isnt the same board it was 11 years ago, to be fair


I think the general reaction to the game has been widely positive, hasnt it?

I mean I get what you guys are saying but I don't see much outrage. Most people seem to think this is a cool thing

since when do youtube comments count for anything

excited to see where this game goes
the entire Mafia III reveal topic is filled with people complaining, and yes it is something that is being discussed in Mafia III topics in various gaming communities not just GAF.
 

J-Skee

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I haven't played the previous entries, so I can't talk anything story wise, but if people are upset about a black protagonist in a game about the mafia, then I don't want anything to do with this industry anymore.
 

Sasie

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The problem with putting a realistic spin on crime is that it's pretty damn horrible. Putting it in a setting/age where drug trade was the big thing makes it even more so. Bootlegging alcohol under the probation at least doesn't seem as full out evil as selling drugs to school children. At least I find it much harder to be entertained by a movie/game that is about drug trade.

I can see why making games with a romanized version of the Mafia can in some ways be seen as glorifying crime but even the first game showed that the character ended up in a very bad place after the few good years where he was close to the top.

I guess in the end I just don't see anything entertaining in trying to put a more realistic show of violence in crime. It's like GTA V, going on a shooting spree a few times to see how long you can hold out against the police might be fun now and then but actually playing the type of character, Trevor, who would do something like that is a bit horrifying.