Mafia III “is not about racism, but is about race on some level”

This weekend, PAX East 2016 was host to the panel Mafia III – Defining a New Era of Organized Crime which featured a discussion moderated by Adam Sesslar and panelists Haden Blackman (studio head at developer Hangar 13 and executive producer on Mafia III), Andrew Wilson (executive producer on Mafia III) and Bill Harms (Lead writer on Mafia III).

Some of the discussion during the panel included the launch of Hangar 13, the studio’s philosophy around making games, and its approach to creating a game for the Mafia franchise. There are a lot of things different about Mafia III than previous Mafia games including the year of 1968, the location, which is a New Orleans-like fictional city called New Bordeaux, and the protagonist, Lincoln Clay, a biracial American (one parent is white, the other is Black) and Vietnam veteran.

The story revolves around Clay returning home to New Bordeaux from Vietnam, reconnecting with family and friends, and shortly thereafter, he finds them slaughtered by the mob. Clay obviously is looking to seek revenge while simultaneously trying to build up his own empire.

While the discussion included the reasoning behind choosing 1968 as the year the game takes place and the history behind mafia activity in New Orleans in the mid-1900s, the panelists also wanted to make it clear that they’re not ignoring what New Orleans was like for Black Americans in the 1960s.

In discussing the different districts of the game’s map (there are nine), which includes areas like downtown, the shipyards, the bayou, an industrial area, and an area inspired by the French Quarter, each area has its own community and vibe. The mob also has different illegal businesses in each of these areas. These districts also have different racial identities and Lincoln Clay is treated differently in each area..

“We’re not shying away from the fact that it’s 1968 and Lincoln Clay is a mixed race protagonist,” said Blackman. “There are areas that he’ll go to in town that the reaction from civilians and pedestrians and policemen will differ because he clearly stands out where it looks like he doesn’t belong, given the type of thinking in that era. We put in a lot of work to make sure that is seen throughout the game as well.

“We’re not so naïve to think that one game is going to cure racism,” Blackman continued. “The game is not about racism, but is about race on some level because of who he is and who he is fighting against and who he decides to work with. So our goal is that if you go to one area of town and suddenly there’s a police presence on you, you realize why.”

“Plus we decided that it would be extremely weird to try to ignore that,” Wilson added. “The whole purpose of the game is to be authentic as possible to that time period, and to take this very prominent piece of that era and completely gloss over it wouldn’t mesh at all.”

The discussion continued that Clay is also a unique character that offers a fresh perspective and a different view of the world that’s not often explored in games. Along with being biracial and a Vietnam vet, he’s also an orphan and has been forced to create his own family, which is a prominent theme throughout the game’s story.

Mafia III will hit stores on October 7 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.