In the game of social justice, the only right move is not to play. There’s just no way to appease the perpetually outraged, regardless of how many warnings you add.
Mafia III has come under fire from Rock Paper Shotgun’s John Walker for its realistic depiction of 1960s racism in the newly released open-world game, which features a black man as its protagonist.
As we’ve written, Mafia III opens with a warning that the game wouldn’t be pulling any punches with regards to its use of racial epithets and hate crimes, ostensibly to avoid social justice warriors like Walker from accusing them of racism.
Walker had previously accused the game’s predecessor, Mafia II, of having too many problematic elements, claiming that its makers took some kind of glee in depicting its characters as being all-around jerks.
“Being the types of gangsters they are, in the era they’re in, there’s a great deal of sexism and racism, as you might expect,” wrote Walker in 2010. “But it really does seem to revel in the opportunity. “
“Chinese people are called ‘Chinks’ so many times that you begin to wonder if someone writing really has an issue,” Walker wrote, delighting in taking umbrage to the game’s writing. Incapable of separating a work of fiction from its creators, Walker sounds as if he’d prefer it if every game were toned down to the point of being a Saturday Morning Cartoon, with the dialog replaced by lines from Skeletor.
In his new review, Walker has no problem expressing his extensive disdain for Mafia III, which is fine in and of itself, were it not for how he takes issue with the aforementioned warning that shows with the game’s introduction. The senior editor of Rock Paper Shotgun admonishes the developers for how they worded the card, calling it “odd,” adding that it would have been both “unnecessary” and “paranoid” if they’d kept it simple.
“Lincoln Clay isn’t real, the city is fictional, and his is not a story that was going untold until some people in a room invented it,” writes Walker, forgetting that he’d once accused the developers of Mafia II of being secretly racist and sexist in their depiction of good old days bigotry.
“Anyway, this is all to say that the game is jam-packed with racial epithets and abuse, oozing out of every pore, as the character you’re playing is insulted, jeered, rejected or dismissed,” he continues, “And that’s a novel experience for a white dude in the UK – I cannot speak for anyone else’s perspective or experience, and clearly am not a victim of racial abuse in my daily life.”
Walker adds that he wasn’t fazed by the game’s use of the n-word because he watched all 13 episodes of Luke Cage prior to writing his review. He further condemns Mafia III, stating (albeit with rambling incoherence) that the game’s depiction of racism is incongruous to how things actually were during the time and place it’s set in.
I think it might be partly that I’ve just sat and watched thirteen episodes of Luke Cage, and heard the n-word an awful lot in doing so, and perhaps been too recently fatigued by its use. I think it might be more significantly because of the bubble gum frippery of the writing, a muddle of “I’ve watched the Godfather a few times” gangster speak, and “Cor, isn’t it terrible how people were awfully racist” condemning scripting. The latter is, I think, the bigger issue, the game too frantically making sure you know the sorts who use such language are all dreadful, rather than more intelligently capturing the larger horror that such language – and the societal status it implied – was indelibly a part of the vocabulary of the era. That it simply wasn’t a perceived big deal that people would say this, ostensibly “decent” people would use such words without a surface-level burning ill will. It, in being so busily worried about ensuring everyone knows that they’re not a racist some of their best friends etc, they’ve ended up diminishing the impact and severity of the language used.
Who better to educate the game’s writer, Charles Webb, on the subject of racism toward African Americans than some white guy living in the UK, who in his own words is “not a victim of racial abuse”?
Walker isn’t the only one to voice his discontent with Mafia III. On The Verge, Chris Plante produced an op-ed condemning the game for being a “power fantasy,” and a shooter, claiming that the game’s message is rendered moot by its adherence to being a video game rather than some kind of walking simulator. In contrast, our own review of Mafia III states that its weakest point lies not within its narrative, but in its stale and uninspired gameplay.
Its shortcomings aside, the creators of Mafia III have no reason to apologize for their art. And far be it for someone as unqualified to discuss racism as John Walker to admonish anyone on the topic, much less someone who lives through it. They wanted to tell a story, and they did just that.