So-called “Triple-A” video game development has become infamous in recent years for being one of the most risk-averse businesses in the entertainment industry. It’s often accused of studiously avoiding controversy, “caving” to pressure against changes to franchise traditions and focusing on established fanbases versus attracting new audiences. A major recent exception was 2K’s Mafia III, which featured a new Black protagonist and a storyline confronting racism and social issues.
Some gamers cried foul, but the gambit seems to have paid off: Mafia III is now 2K’s fastest-selling game ever.
The figure is even more impressive considering that 2K Games is one of the games industry’s biggest players, the name behind reliably mega-selling annual sports titles like NBA 2K and the WWE games along with with the hugely popular Borderlands and BioShock series. And while the Mafia series has been consistently popular, it’s also previously been seen as little more than a Grand Theft Auto also-ran by some gamers and critics – albeit one that delivers a less tongue-in-cheek approach to the open-world crime genre.
But Mafia III was touted as a game-changer from the moment its first trailers dropped, revealing that the action would relocate to a 1960s Southern U.S. setting and feature as its protagonist a Black veteran named Lincoln Clay who declares violent war on the Italian mafia pushing into his New Orleans-esque home town. Historically, few video games have featured Black protagonists outside of “create-a-character” options or instances where characters of multiple backgrounds are available to choose from; even fewer have asked players to confront the racism such a character would face (including encounters with the Klu Klux Klan) head on.
Sales figures, however, would suggest that 2K’s decision not only didn’t hurt the game but actively helped increase its prominence in the increasingly crowded gaming market. Mafia III has thus far shipped 4.5 million copies both digitally and to retailers in its first week, outpacing the prior entries in the series along with the rest of 2K’s previously better known, more popular franchises. According to Strauss Zelnick of distributor Take Two Interactive, the task was difficult but worthwhile:
“It’s tough to take on a subject material like this and treat it realistically and sensitively. We have to be sure not to put our words in the character’s mouths, but to make sure the words belong in the mouths of the characters.”
Mafia III is now available for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One platforms.
Source: Washington Post