228: Misinformants: How Games Get the Mob Wrong

Misinformants: How Games Get the Mob Wrong

Literature and films have done much to illuminate the inner workings of the Mafia on behalf of the law-abiding public. But the videogames that have tried to explore these themes typically opt for amusement over insight. Shawn Williams wonders what it would take for game developers to make a true-to-life Mafia game.

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I very much liked what you said abotu character empathy and fake morality in crime-based videogames.

I totally agree.

You should try "Mafia" and the upcoming "Mafia 2" games - they took a more serious look at the mob in the 1930-1940s era, I think (though Grand Spreadsheet Account isn't what this game is, heh).

You're spot on, although in a way the Mafia genre is just that; a genre. A genre has a set of rules, a particular type of language and particular types of scenery and costume which are used to identify it.

There is no attempt at "realism" in genres, and we can see similar silliness in the "cowboy" genre, which never features actual ranching, and the "pirate" genre, which never features the slaughter or selling into slavery of captured crews.

The "Mafia" genre is a fictionalised setting created for novels, films and video games which serves to glamorize an otherwise sordid and morally unjustifiable activity. Thuggery, extortion, drug selling and other forms of crime are hardly glamorous at all when you get down to it, and most of those involved in crime spend long times in jail or end up dead.

The flipside of course is the "Cop" genre where justice is only obtained by a single man working alone to bring down a crime syndicate without any forensic evidence; or the "Procedural Crime Investigation" genre, where putting together the clues magically whisks the suspect out of the air rather than being used mainly to secure a conviction.

It's all silliness but it probably doesn't bear detailed examination, and moreover, if you break the rules of a genre you have to do so knowingly, and with a full understanding of how to bring the player/viewer along for the ride.

"So why doesn't the gameplay ever reflect this intelligence?"

For one of two reasons, probably:

- The writer isn't skilled enough to make your character actually come across as intelligent.
- The average player isn't intelligent enough to appreciate an intelligent script.

I don't think it's at all impossible to create, say, a Mafia RPG that mixes action with planning, stealth and the like. I keep coming back to Bloodlines, but there really aren't that many good examples of good action-RPGs. VtM:B's plot was more or less built around various power-groups pulling your strings, deceiving you and ultimately trying to do you in. I don't think it'd be impossible to make an even more in-depth RPG, but it'd require a masterful script writer first and foremost.

The best part of Saint's Row 2's story is that it assumed your character was a self-centered jerk. The person who appeared in cutscenes, and the avatar I portrayed that threw grannies off bridges for fun was THE SAME PERSON.

Likewise, the most annoying part of GTA4 was Nico's quest for redemption juxtaposed with my love of driving on the sidewalk.

Doug:
You should try "Mafia" and the upcoming "Mafia 2" games - they took a more serious look at the mob in the 1930-1940s era, I think (though Grand Spreadsheet Account isn't what this game is, heh).

I was going to say that as well, I was fully expecting the first to be mentioned. Whilst you didn't fill out the paperwork, you still see the meetings between Salieri, Tommy and Paulie take place. As well as that, there's the use of informants and people exchanging information to the police for safety.

Can't wait for Mafia 2.

The Mafia genre of video games is as historically accurate as the Western genre.

Did you know the best cowboys were usually black or mexican? Did you know they worked constantly on the road and had no time for social functions? That the typical "duel" involved one guy shooting the other in the back?

Reminds me of those moments in Prototype when you're mowing down civvies in a tank and Alex wonders "If he's doing the right thing"...

The Mafia had a code, that, doesn't seem to make it into the games or movies or books. In the Mafia, you were NOT allowed to just run around and knock people off. You had to talk to a Don, who had to then talk to a Commission before the job could be done. If you snubbed a guy out, and you didn't get permission, you got a mark put on your head. If you do that in a game, you get a slap on the wrists, and continue on. In the real world, if you associated with a cop, you were considered a traitor, even if it was small talk. If you were related to a cop, you weren't even allowed to join! If you abused and/or killed a woman, you were killed. In fact, women weren't even allowed to know what the men were doing in the mafia.

Now, look at all of this. Look at games/movies/novels. Tell me, do those things sound realistic (the media)? No, they are far from it. The media depicts the mafia as a big club were all the kids go to hang out and stir up trouble. It was far from that in real life. When the mafia did something, they tried to limit any traces to them, which, is rather obvious, but, in ways that could put the blame on the other guy. In the media, they take this as a code of honor. "Oh, I killed five made men today, check me out!". Killing a made men was a major sin in the mafia, which warranted death. If you killed a made man without permission, you were done. Now, if I am to be correct, the St. Valentine Massacre was conducted by mafiaoso wearing police uniforms. Now, not only did they get away free, they made the police look extremely bad. In the media, what would happen, is five guys wearing shirts that said, "I work for (family), check me out!)", pew pew, and then gone.

Hopefully, as time progresses, the genre will die off completely, bringing a peaceful end to the genre that involved so many misconceptions, or someone will set a new stepping stone, that propels all writers into the future of fact checking.

A friend of mine informs me that someone made a spreadsheet-based drug-dealer simulator back in the mid/late 90s. He says it was good, but I have my doubts.

TheReactorSings:
A friend of mine informs me that someone made a spreadsheet-based drug-dealer simulator back in the mid/late 90s. He says it was good, but I have my doubts.

I think it's Drug Wars: Underworld. How much you like depends on how organized you are.

The Infamous Scamola:
I very much liked what you said abotu character empathy and fake morality in crime-based videogames.

I totally agree.

I second this. It often creates a false illusion that, in reality, would indelibly be shattered by the immense scale of intrigue, betrayal, and politics that make up the organized crime scene.

Think Donnie Brasco. Al Pacino played an old-timer who never backstabbed the family, carried out orders, never strayed too far out of line. Yet for all his loyalty and hard-work, he never got ahead, he always got passed up for promotion, etc. Then his one big mistake, Johnny Depp, ends up killing him. It's a cold reality that players should actually be able to warm up to, rather than be lured into a false sense of security, that being the good, loyal man will get you ahead, because, after all, being nice, avoiding conflict with your superiors, should work out for you. Instead, players could be given a free reign on just what they want, and how much they want it, like a real sandbox game would allow.

After all, as endearing a character as Niko Bellic was to me personally, it's unlikely that such a guy would make it far in the crime world.

More examples:

Casino (though the good guy sort of makes it in the end)
Goodfellas
Carlito's Way

I very good article, I really enjoyed it.

I think Tommy Vercetti from GTA: Vice City was probably the closest thing you could find to what an actual member of the mafia would be like. He starts out being let out of prison and the first thing his "family" does is ship him to Vice City under the pretense of him working on a new branch of the business. In reality, they just want him out of their hair.

Tommy's no fool and he realizes this and so he sets out to build his own empire in Vice City and he makes NO APOLOGIES about it. Compare him to CJ from GTA: San Andreas and Nico Bellic from GTA IV. Both of those guys got knifed in the back and jerked around again and again by people they trusted. Yet they were both nice guys who wanted to do right by the family (whatever family might mean to them at the moment).

I always liked Tommy most because he was self serving and didn't give a damn about anything for himself, because he used to be part of a family and they turned on him. He learned his lesson and was going to make it his own way. And, of course, Tommy was betrayed as well but he had no hesitation taking care of that either. >:D

The only example of persistent police attention I've ever encountered is that in 'Uplink' (Hacking sim... Thing)

You can't argue with the emotional involvement and- in this particular case- strain that comes from knowing people could catch up with you for a crime you committed last week. Simply because they've been passively recording your patterns and leapt on a hot lead that only existed for a few minutes.

The fact that you can only save on quit doesn't help either. Man. I hate Uplink.

Well, i see two things here.

A) The best sandbox crime games are those where you play as a jerkass - Vice City, Saints Row 2. "Innocent men in the wrong place" like Nico Bellic and all his likenesses can go throw themselves off a bridge.

B) Someone's gotta make a Mafia-themed RPG about Roaring Twenties. Tommy guns, Prohibition, all that jazz. And in the center of it all - you. A small-time crook of Italian descent joining the Family and rising in ranks. Planning elaborate schemes, ensuring that routine operations don't get compromised, helping in expansion, and so on.

That was a pretty well-written article just to say "hey someone should do a real serious game about the mafia, I think it'd be real cool."

domicius:
...and the "pirate" genre, which never features the slaughter or selling into slavery of captured crews.

And, of course, scrub barnacles off your ship, which took up 80% of the time of any pirate who wasn't dying of scurvy.

Generic_Dave:
Reminds me of those moments in Prototype when you're mowing down civvies in a tank and Alex wonders "If he's doing the right thing"...

Eh, he's talking about killing the soldiers that want to stop the infection (and therefore himself). It's a cheezy line, but it's not like he spouted it at random. Plus, late-game Alex becomes quite nicer and sympathetic towards the weak fleshlings. I'd even say he's a humanitarian.

One thing I would like to add is the influence of media and it's portrayal of organized crime has actually inspired or at least gained the attention of actual criminals.
I have heard (on 60 minutes) wiretap recordings of gangsters talking about The Sopranos. In
Italy the cabinerri are always frustrated at a crime scene because the young soldiers have no formal small arms training so they hold the gun sideways the way they saw Samuel Jackson and John Travolta hold their guns in Pulp Fiction. Anyone who as ever had basic firearms training will know that you lose all accuracy if you hold the gun sideways so the forensics teams would come to a scene of utter chaos and violence. Since the soldiers fired inaccurately the victim would be riddled with bullets in their arms and legs but the gunshot that killed them would be a shot to the head delivered at near point blank range.

Thus why games like Fate on BYOND and the text bassed Drug wars are never and will probably never be made into full gamesthough i did hear a new game is coming out with a more true approch to mafia and its an mmo

let us pray

The Random One:
Eh, he's talking about killing the soldiers that want to stop the infection (and therefore himself). It's a cheezy line, but it's not like he spouted it at random. Plus, late-game Alex becomes quite nicer and sympathetic towards the weak fleshlings. I'd even say he's a humanitarian.

Oh I know, but the simple fact that you spend most of the game accidentally killing everything that moves, regardless of guilt, innocence or civilian attachment makes the comment completely ridiculous. I never found him sympathetic, just fun to play. But maybe its just the way I play, that whips thing just made me kill everything...as quickly as possible.

Reading this article, it's indeed true that most devolepers don't dare to venture beyond the simple gun-n-kill mechanism. I'd love any game that challenges me and forces me to make decisions/delegating responsibility as I go up the ranks within a certain family.

And yes, I am one of the suckers that love the 'loyal/good' kind of nobody that would do anything to please the Don.

 

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