Mafia III’s Racially Charged Setting Steers Its Gameplay Towards Righteous Violence

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Each year, at least two massive open world games hit the current generation, and one of 2016’s is Mafia III. The game puts players in the shoes of Lincoln Clay, a biracial war veteran who, after a violent betrayal, wants to take out the Italian crime syndicate plaguing New Orleans Bordeaux and replace it with… well, his own crime syndicate. Because that’s how these things work in a medium where you can carry about ten guns on you but can’t jump more than two feet.

Mafia III is set in the year 1968, when tensions were riding high, even for the standards of the time. The Vietnam War was winding down, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, sending major US cities into riots that lasted for several days. It was largely socially okay to just use racial epithets at the drop of the hat the same way we say words like “bruh” these days, and the idea of a white cop harassing a black person for simply just minding their own business didn’t raise any eyebrows.

When the game was first announced, creative director Haden Blackman spoke with IGN and said that they “weren’t trying to get on a soapbox or make any dramatic social commentary.” At least, that was the game plan until a week before the game’s release, when a combat trailer dropped showing Lincoln killing apparent KKK members at a rally. Sure enough, that’s what happens in the second act of the game. You’re conscripted by an IRS agent to cut the operations of this group – named the Southern Union – and after doing so, their leader Remy Duvall comes to town to amass an army and take the fight to you. 

Spoilers for Mafia III’s Southern Union mission below.

The mission to finally kill Duvall isn’t anything special in terms of gameplay mechanics, if I’m being honest. You find out where he’s hiding, drive up there, and do what you need to do. After I quickly took out two guys, I hung back in the shadows and let Duvall talk for a while. It doesn’t take long for him to start throwing out the word “nigger,” talk about how black people are lazy, and complain about equal rights. Given the grisly fate that awaits Duvall regardless of your approach to the mission, my actions here are intended to send a message to Marcano, who’s well aware that I’m still alive. With that in mind, I pull out my assault rifle and throw a grenade to thin out the herd.

Those dressed in white hoods begin to run, but they are no different in my or Lincoln’s eyes from the men aiming weapons. They’ve spent their lives promoting hate speech up until this point, and letting them go would be a liability to my operations in the city. Once everyone’s dealt with, I go to Duvall’s bleeding form, as you must do to complete the mission, and blast my remaining ammo from both my pistol and rifle at him. It doesn’t affect him in the slightest, but I did it, I then realize, just to fuel my own desires. It felt like something Lincoln would do just hours after watching Duvall’s men chain up black people and sell them to the highest bidder in a grocery store.

The leader, shocking as it may seem, isn’t a good guy; not only is he the head of the Southern Union cell in New Bordeaux, he also takes the time to preach racist sentiments on his radio show. It comes as little surprise that someone who disguises his racism under the guise of God’s receive a religious style death, so Lincoln hooks him up to the flaming Crucifix and lets him burn. The committee learning of this from Agent Donovan certainly think it’s overkill, but given Duvall’s background, Donovan replies in more colorful words, Lincoln’s actions aren’t incomprehensible. Perhaps mine aren’t, either. Instead of worrying about the consequences or rage-filled rants of a shock jockey on the radio, I found myself filled with a dark sense of success.

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