I Don’t Think Video Game Developers Actually Understand How Drug Dealing Works
“And of course in the center of the city is the historic French Ward, a run by Sal Marcano’s brother, known around town as Uncle Lou…but it’s Lou who deals smack and provides high-class call girls to wealthy VIP’s throughout the district”. These were the words that came out of my phone’s speakers as I was eating breakfast before work two week’s ago, and I cannot stop replaying them to myself.
Those words come from a trailer for “Mafia 3”, the latest installment in a long-running crime fantasy video game series. Mirroring the styles of mob movies throughout the years, the games have been over the top romps through the stereotypical mob fantasies one can expect. Gameplay runs the gamut from assigned hits to racketeering.
One staple of open world crime games for years has been drug dealing. Whether it’s something you’re putting a stop to, or actively doing, it’s there.
Generally, these activities are presented in a mini game like fashion. Like “race from one spot with the drugs in your car and don’t get caught by the pursuing cops!”, or “stop at these locations around the world to give these people their fix” and such.
I understand that most of these games are bombastic, satirical, presentations of real life. Games like Grand Theft Auto go so far to prove to you that they’re joking that almost nobody could miss that angle. It’s an easy way to portray depictions of mass murder, sex trafficking, and drug running as “Woah this is so zany and ridiculous!”, than it is to seriously and realistically do so.
As much as I love The Wire, I don’t think I ever want to play a video game representation of it. A show that shows just how terrible it is to be on both sides of the criminal life and does so in incredibly moving and precise ways, probably wouldn’t make a fun game.
When drugs are presented in this Mafia 3 trailer it’s done in a very knowing way. The person narrating the trailer says the word “smack” like we still refer to heroin as that in the year 2016. It’s all done with the same wink and nudge that pulpy crime movies from the 60’s have. “We know how ridiculous this is,” they say, “nobody probably even knows what smack is anymore!”
Herein lies my issue. Without going into it too much, I am very aware of what drugs dealing is like. I know the conditions under which this happens, I know the reasons for why people do it, and I know the consequences that can follow from it. Hearing some chipper young White guy saying the words “smack” or “sex rings” and “high-class escorts” sets my teeth on edge in a way that cannot be changed.
Games have taken queues from movies for decades, and Mafia 3 is no different than the rest. But I do think that there is a gigantic leap between “this character in this movie is dealing drugs as a plot point and you’re watching it” and “you are controlling this character and you’re going to take over this drug operation for bonus points”.
Drug dealing isn’t a subject that video games should steer away from. It’s a complicated, complicated, complicated sector of the world that rarely gets shown in a human light, which video games are well within the capability to handle. I just wish that developers would present it that way instead of something that is so edgy and gritty that it just proves how crazy and criminal your character is capable of being.
Instead, I wish they would realize that a significant portion of their audience probably partake in these activities daily, and it’s not that crazy for them.