Mafia 3 was almost too racist, reveals developer Hangar 13. In a presentation at GDC 2017, the developer explained that the team had to tone the game’s racist content down as it turned off players.
An open-world game with a mixed race protagonist, Mafia 3 doesn’t shy away from racism. Its portrayal of bigotry and ignorance – including the extreme and smaller microaggressions – received praised from non-white gamers in particular who face this in real life.
Mafia 3 Racism Nearly Turned Off Players
During the GDC discussion, Mafia 3 narrative director William Harms detailed the ‘racist language timer’ in which racist comments aren’t constant. Harms said that “If an enemy says something, it’s then ten minutes until another enemy, pedestrian, or police person says something that’s racially insensitive to the player.”
However, the developer originally made racist lines feature more frequently with “the most racist language you could imagine” in order to make a “more authentic experience.” Harms said that in focus testing, some players found Mafia 3‘s enemies far too aggressive and hateful and so the development team toned it down, considering enemy types and adding the racism to enemy conversations that offered more context about the enemy NPCs’ backgrounds.
The initial, extreme nature of the game’s racist content is something Hangar 13 has addressed before. Senior writer Charles Webb previously said that going overboard with the racist language created a “wall of noise” for players and they would ignore it or feel that it didn’t matter.
Mafia 3 is quite clear on its stance against racism and bigotry, with the game’s upcoming DLC also set to feature civil rights activists, but the developer clearly faced a huge challenge is presenting that and making the player feel just as strongly rather than apathetic. It’s a tough line and developers have to take a careful approach.
Though, despite the difficulty of getting right, Harms’ GDC talk also encouraged other developers and publishers “to take risks, and not shy away from controversial topics,” calling this the “primary goal” of the event’s discussion. The developer also said that “working on this game was hard. We had a lot of very uncomfortable conversations about race, about class, about how the world views our country’s history.” But those hard conversations paid off and many will agree that Mafia 3 is much better for it.