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Significant spoilers for scenes and story points in Mafia 3; also a major (really THE major) plot spoiler for BioShock because why not

Butch:

OK. Riverboat. Whoa, isn’t it just Something. Isn’t. It. Just. Whoa. Hang on, gonna need a minute.

I kinda loved it! It wasn’t what I was expecting! I was expecting elegant, and the whole “It’s SINKING!” thing gave it a whole lot of suspense (that was probably fake but effective). And I got hurt bad, but didn’t die, which is a mark of a good level! And the stuff knocking people out of cover was a nice touch! Bravo!

So….”Re-elect Jacobs” on a statue of Andrew Jackson. Wow.

So…in light of today…. The FBI guy was all “It’s impossible to believe that wasn’t a political statement.” Hard to argue, guy. Hard to argue. Very hard to argue. And yet we’ve been talking all day about whether Lincoln is political, cares about politics, etc. But FBI guy, gotta agree.

Which….

When shit like this happens in games, one starts wondering if the developers are making a point WITH the character or they’re making a point DESPITE the character. It sort of feels like they got to this point, made Lincoln a blank slate, and then someone in production was all “But….we should SAY something, man!” So they had Lincoln do it.

Ok, fine. Saying stuff is fine. But we’ve had the chat we’ve had ALL DAY about “Is Lincoln political? Does Lincoln care?” and now this. This is some SERIOUS activist shit, one would think. Wouldn’t one? So…has Lincoln been this activist all along and we’re just now noticing? Or is this out of left field? Or is Lincoln all “Oh, shit, that was Andrew Jackson? I thought that was Colonel Sanders. I didn’t really mean anything by that…..”

Powerful image. Yes. But one that’s in character for Lincoln?

He….hmm. Lot to unpack here.

He says “I want you to send a message TO YOUR BROTHER.” Not “to whitey” or “to those racist fucks” or “for equality” or anything. To your brother. “To your brother” is not exactly all activist. Is he PRETENDING to be an activist so people like him more?

I don’t know!

A lot to unpack.

Feminina:

Riverboat! I dug it too! The slight tilting from side to side was a nice touch, the fact that you’d get thrown off balance by an explosion every so often was cool. There was a lot of good sneaking and dodging, and the kind of flickering disaster lighting was effective. And as you said, the sense of urgency was PROBABLY fake in that it would probably have been a long time, if ever, before the boat actually sank under you, it was still effectively done.

And yes, it is very hard to argue with the FBI guy’s interpretation of the act of leaving a gutted corpse on a statue of Andrew Jackson with a ‘re-elect Jacobs’ sign. Very, very difficult to make a case for that not having any political intention. “It was just the highest thing I could find and I wanted the body to be visible”…is not very convincing–even if Lincoln had made any attempt to argue along those lines, which he does not. He doesn’t say it’s not political, and he doesn’t say it is.

He doesn’t say he’s not an activist, and he doesn’t say he is. We’ve tended to interpret this as meaning the he doesn’t really see himself that way, because he seems to be motivated more by personal revenge than by rage against the system, right?

Which I feel is still true here. Because as you pointed out, he says that this is a message to Lou’s brother. A message to Sal, not to the system. And I feel like maybe the message is, “you want to get into politics? Here you go. This is what trying to work the political system is going to get you.”

He didn’t leave the senator’s body on the statue: he didn’t even actively set out to kill the senator, though he seemed perfectly happy to have him caught up in the damage. If he’d left Senator Jacobs gutted on a statue of Andrew Jackson, THAT would obviously have been a message to the entire country, but leaving Lou there was meant for Sal, and I think was meant to say “hooking up with politicians won’t save you.” And Lincoln’s no fool, so he certainly knows that a lot of people will SEE this message besides Sal, and will interpret it in broader ways, so I do feel this suggests that Lincoln is kind of becoming more willing to take up the mantle of political activism when it meshes with his personal goals. Why not make a dig at racist politicians in general WHILE threatening Sal in particular?

I guess…I mean, we’ve played him for many, many hours, but we still really don’t know Lincoln well. He remains a bit obscure, in a way that is probably intentional, and that lets us wonder about his motives and read into his actions…you called him a blank slate, and I feel like that’s true.

My SENSE of him is that he still wouldn’t really describe himself as an activist, he still is more driven by his personal need for revenge than by the injustice of the system, but that he’s happy enough to attack that injustice whenever he can, if it also helps him on his quest. Which…is selfish in that it’s focused on his personal needs more than on the needs of others, but this is true of most people–I’m not exactly out manning the barricades for justice myself–and also doesn’t mean that’s he’s not capable of doing really effective work for the cause, assuming you feel that the cause is well served by violence and murder.

And, honestly, it’s possible that Lincoln intentionally doesn’t explicitly claim the title of activist because he knows many activists would not really want him working vocally for their cause. Mass murder is fine for an out-and-out revolution, but kind of gives a bad name to nonviolent social movements, you know? How hard would the crackdown be on black protest marchers if Lincoln was leaving Black Power signs next to every corpse on that long trail of bodies in his wake? We’ve already got Remy Duvall equating the two, warning his white listeners about violent revolution and how the marchers are “coming to take what’s yours” or whatever.

Hm. I dunno. I still feel like probably he’s primarily motivated by his own revenge quest, but that he’s glad to murder a bunch of racists and shake up the system while he’s at it.

Except. Except. Except that it’s political not so much because of Andrew Jackson but because speaking of murdering…I liked the riverboat level mechanically, but also…dude. DUDE. It was intense. I went through the whole thing thinking “Lincoln kind of IS a monster.” Because the dead civilians, man!

People leaping off the sinking boat and getting eaten by alligators as I swam past! That lady on fire, screaming and dying on the deck! I felt…some kind of way about that.

Because this was a new line we crossed, wasn’t it? We’ve avoided killing civilians, I think. Though this is a player preference to some extent, since it would be possible to mow people down in cars and shoot them up in all the places we see them while we’re hunting bosses. We don’t HAVE to avoid killing them.

But this is the first time we actively did something in the story that killed a lot of civilians. We wrecked that boat, knowing there were a ton of people on it who weren’t specifically our targets.

And I figure I/Lincoln justified it by saying they were there to fundraise for a racist politician, so they are deeply embedded in the racist system, and this is kind of what they get. Except for the people who just drive the boat and serve the drinks, you know?

It’s terrorism, actually. Guerrilla warfare, if we support it. But either way, that’s the political statement: no one is safe. Your money won’t protect you, your class won’t protect you, your high political office won’t protect you.

And it’s kind of monstrous if that is a line we crossed just to get Lou and send a message to Sal. I don’t know.

I liked that it was intense, but man. I found it all rather harrowing.

Butch:

Very effective tension. As was the sense of (probably) fake threat in the “out of bounds” sections. Watching people jump to the “safety” of the bayou only to get chowed on by gators was rather harrowing. There was no real chance of winding up in the water yourself, but seeing it right over there was pretty spooky.

The casino bits were really good. One of the few levels where you really did HAVE to move. There was no way to let Kevin come to you, so picking your spots, darting to the next cover point, really planning, was nice. And, for some reason, I got so used to fighting “straight ahead,” that the last bit, when you’re going AROUND the front of the boat, was just disorienting enough that it felt new.

Nicely done level.

Also on the issue of probably fake threat, did you think that Lou, at the end there, when you’re slowly chasing him, could have shot you? I was trying to dodge, cuz MAN I was hurt, but I don’t think he was able to hit you. I don’t know, though, and not knowing is cool.

And maybe this was just a political statement of opportunity…but, as for not leaving the Senator’s body on the statue, he sure as hell left his NAME. He turned Lou into a very macabre political billboard. He didn’t write “Death to annoying radio ads” or “The Marcanos are doomed” or “Sammy and Ellis will be avenged!” He said “Re-Elect Jacobs.” By the way, did you notice there’s signs all over the French Ward that say just that? Like, normal signs?

An ordinary passer by might even think that the real target of the whole thing was Jacobs. Jacobs, after all, died, too, and anyone there knows that gators and all might make it hard to hang Jacobs up there.

Speaking of which, the ire towards Jacobs, putting his name up there, I don’t necessarily get that. A) the message is to Marcano, B), Jacobs didn’t do a whole hell of a lot wrong. Shit, did he even take the bribe? Lou and Sal were throwing this party TO bribe him. He got blown up and had his name used in this grisly way for the sin of being offered a bribe by Lou Marcano. For all we know, poor guy was in the process of telling Lou to fuck off. He certainly didn’t seem evil. He hung out on Lou’s boat. What’s next, killing everyone who did two-for-one happy hour?

Seems a bit harsh.

And it’s true that he’s still a blank slate….but is that good writing? After many, many hours, shouldn’t you have SOME sense of character? I suppose you could say that leaving Lincoln blank increases the player’s own responsibility, but I’d only really buy that in a game with real choice. It’s hard for me to feel very responsible when I’m not choosing the whole thing. I didn’t say “Hey…let’s hang him from Andrew Jackson…” Lincoln did. And, if he’s gonna do that, shouldn’t we know why?

On another note, in the “I’m only reading it for the articles” department, the playboy close to the brothel was a) November 1968 which featured b) a woman on the cover surrounded by flags and campaign buttons (strategically placed) and c) wait for it…a long interview with Eldridge Cleaver, leader of the Black Panthers.

They plopped that there. And included the interview. In its entirety.

Making a point?

And about being a monster, yeah…

But. But. But.

Yes, I give you that we did that. We blew up the crane, sank the boat, led to a lot of people dying, including burning women and screaming people getting eaten by gators as we watched.

But. But. But.

The architect of all of it wasn’t Lincoln. This was Donovan’s plan. Donovan put the damn wires on the crane (why didn’t he do the rest? Details). You say “terrorism.” “Guerrilla warfare.” True. All planned by the CIA guy. The same type of guy who planned such warfare and then sent “disposable Negroes” to do it to brown people halfway around the world. You know. Like Lincoln.

If you’re asking “Is Lincoln a monster?” aren’t you also asking the same of all the “disposable Negroes” sent to do awful things to innocents AT THE URGING/ORDERING of jacketed, blond, holier than thou white guys? People like Father James? Father James isn’t a monster. We talked earlier today about Donovan being the one saying “Do it. DO IT!” Just like he did in Vietnam.

Who’s the monster? Lincoln, who did it? Donovan, the mastermind of it all who knew full well innocents would die? Or the player, who stood idly by saying “Well, things are linear, it’s gonna happen even if it sucks?” Like so many people did, and do, in life?

Feminina:

Yeah, you’re right, the plan was Donovan’s. Many, many of the plans are Donovan’s. Arguably, the whole thing is Donovan’s, because without Donovan’s intel about who to go after and where to find them, Lincoln wouldn’t have been able to go forward with this plan at all.

We see that the first thing he does after he recovers from being shot in the head and all is call Donovan: he NEEDS Donovan. One could certainly argue that he’s just being manipulated by this mastermind who’s using Lincoln to pursue his own goal.

I hesitate to say that partly from a metagame stance because it’s awkward narrative to have your protagonist turn out to be someone’s patsy (BioShock pulled it off well, but that was an unusual twist and worked partly because it was so unexpected), and it’s especially not a good look to have your black protagonist turn out to be just someone’s patsy, so I don’t think they would have intentionally gone for that angle here.

But also, I hesitate to say it because Lincoln WAS the one to call Donovan to set the thing in motion. (Or, rather, he asked James to call Donovan…which still haunts James. But the point is, it was definitely Lincoln’s idea.) He wasn’t just hanging out minding his own business when Donovan showed up and said “hey, you know what you need to do? Kill them all!”

I think Lincoln needs Donovan, and he knows he needs Donovan, so he called him, and is using his information and willingness to plan (and partially set up explosive charges while he’s at it). He’s using Donovan as a valuable resource for getting this thing done, no doubt knowing quite well that Donovan is using him for something as well.

Does Donovan think of Lincoln as his disposable negro? Just a useful tool who can be pointed in the direction Donovan wants him to go? Quite possibly. I’m skeptical about how deep their friendship actually goes.

IS Lincoln in fact just a useful tool, in the sense that maybe Father James and other soldiers (even Lincoln, while in the army) could be considered to be–just obeying orders, likely doing things they didn’t really want to do, in the service of a white man’s war they didn’t choose?

I’m going to say no on that. Lincoln isn’t obeying anyone’s orders, and he definitely chose this war.

And it’s true that he wasn’t the one who planned the attack on the riverboat, but he went along with it. I, the player, didn’t really understand how destructive it was going to turn out to be (I thought maybe the crane would just crash into the water and STOP the boat or something, rather than completely wreck it), and so maybe Lincoln didn’t entirely foresee the level of destruction either. I think certainly we can argue Donovan is more culpable for the civilian deaths than Lincoln is. But Lincoln–who, again, chose this war, and chose to call in Donovan and to accept and use his information and assistance, and knew the boat was full of civilians–is hardly blameless.

As much as Donovan is using Lincoln as an attack dog to bring down [something he hates that isn’t completely clear], Lincoln is using Donovan as a supplier of information and ideas. We see this in their interactions: Donovan spurs Lincoln on with reminders of how the Marcanos killed his family, but Lincoln casually orders Donovan to “let me know when you have something,” or, in the most recent conversation I saw with them, to “get the information and figure out a plan.”

Lincoln is the action guy and Donovan is the plans guy, and it’s easy for the plans guy to think that he’s in charge because the action guy doesn’t know what to do without information, but it’s also easy for the action guy to think he’s in charge because nothing will actually get done without him.

Maybe they’re both kidding themselves about how in control of the situation they are.

But I think Lincoln doesn’t get off the hook because he didn’t plan the attack on the boat. He wasn’t ‘just following orders’ when he set off the charges. (Though as you say, we the players basically were, since we had no other options if we wanted to follow the story. And maybe this lets US off the hook. WE’RE not monsters! We just pressed the only button there was to push! What else could we do?)

Good thing we didn’t play anything else we need to talk about right now.

Butch:

I’m curious how it’s going to go when we get to the other capital S Something you mentioned.

He does need Donovan. It all stems from Donovan. Quite literally, really. The start of each district, each “catch the boss,” each story mission ALWAYS starts with “Talk to Donovan.”

And in the beginning, we have Father James saying “I wish I never made that call,” the implication being that if James hadn’t involved Donovan none of this would have happened. Lincoln would have done, what, something else. But something that James, in retrospect, would have preferred.

But right, Lincoln chose this. And it isn’t a Bioshock kinda deal, cuz in that your mind was being controlled. You weren’t being urged, per se, you pretty much HAD to do anything that came after “would you kindly.” Even if this is Donovan’s plan at Donovan’s urging, there’s no weird mind control going on (or, if there is, that’s fucking cheesy and I’ll be pissed). And a lot of the methodology is, we assume, Lincoln’s. Sure, Donovan wants them dead (it seems), but there’s no indication that he’s the one going “Hey, you know what would be really punchy? Hang the dude from the Ferris wheel.” That seems to be Lincoln through and through.

So even if Lincoln is being used for something he doesn’t know about, he’s hardly doing it because he can’t help it, and he doesn’t seem ALL that reluctant. Indeed, he’s adding quite the flourishes himself. With gusto.

No, that’s true. But as for the “disposable Negro” angle, if Lincoln and Donovan do share a mutual goal, if for different reasons, then Lincoln, the black man, still is the one with something to lose. The FBI guy, in the present, is talking about investigating Lincoln. You don’t see him saying “Donovan is a monster,” or “Donovan was the prototype for modern crime.” No, his focus seems squarely on investigating, and, we assume, arresting Lincoln. We certainly don’t see any indication that Lincoln could sit before Congress with a smile on his face saying “You’re goddam right I murdered them all” like Donovan (sorta) did. Donovan seems completely insulated from any type of legal risk. Lincoln does not. And that’s pretty much the same as the way that white politicians/generals were with the black soldiers. The black soldiers were killing and dying while the worst the white dudes had to face was grilling from Congress five years later. If that.

So no. Lincoln has a lot to answer for. That he does. But, I think as we learn more, we’ll probably be able to justify what he’s doing more (or, maybe, less) than Donovan is doing. Certainly killing racists sits better than…whatever Donovan is doing.

And yet, you have that blame angle, that societal blame angle mentioned above.

So even if they are equally culpable, they’re not being treated as equally culpable in the present. Which is saying something.

Feminina:

That is a very good point, that Donovan is chilling in front of a congressional committee or whatever, seeming not at all concerned about the potential consequences, whereas the FBI guy has been pursuing Lincoln for almost 50 years. As far as we know (so far), the FBI guy isn’t even aware of Donovan’s involvement–he seems to have just come in, played his part, and slipped away, leaving Lincoln as the symbol of all the destruction. And the fact that Lincoln is entirely willing to serve as this symbol doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s an inaccurate reading of the story, and lets one of the two fairly equal players off without responsibility.

Lincoln is the scary guy who gets the blame, even though Donovan (who did plan the boat wreck, as well as gathering all the information on every other target) is as much a monster as he is. Maybe moreso in that he gets to sit back trimming his nails, in the manner of plan guys everywhere, while the action guy takes the physical risks, gets the actual blood on his hands, and takes the moral blame. You mentioned how Donovan set up the wiring but couldn’t be bothered to actually attach the explosives, or whatever, and leaving that for Lincoln to do…that seems like another careful distancing from direct responsibility.

“I gave him the gun, but I never pulled the trigger. I set up some wires, but I never hooked up the C4 or pushed the button. I told him where his enemies were, but I never actually killed any of them myself.” Donovan doesn’t want to get his hands dirty, and as far as we’ve seen, he never does: he keeps just far enough in the background, all the time.

And you’re right, that does have a very pointed social angle to it, because it seems entirely likely that that’s exactly what WOULD happen. Hm.

Butch:

And did, in the war(s). And in countless other endeavors this country has seen. Indeed, did you hear the Voice’s take on how Black people built the theme park? And built New Orleans? And, like, America? All while white folks didn’t get their hands dirty?

Hmm.

“The scary guy.” Yes, yes indeed. And, well, we have some degree of knowing why, right?

After all, there’s some parallel between Lincoln and Donovan in terms of perceived threat and Lincoln and the Marcanos, or even Kevin for that matter. The Marcanos are killing dudes. Kevin is hanging out, heavily armed, everywhere. Marcanos guys are loan sharking, killing dudes in slaughterhouses then trashing their bodies, extorting construction workers and union laborers, etc. But who are people afraid of? The “Killer black man.” They happily come down to Uncle Lou’s for happy hour, but when a black guy does stuff? Fear. One could think that Donovan could open a pub called “Donovan’s finest Ales” and it would do fine. No one would be afraid. Cuz he isn’t “scary,” if you know what I mean.

Shit, maybe FBI guy DOES know about Donovan, but doesn’t care. He’s so focused on the scary black man, and will be happy busting the scary black man, letting the veteran go (protecting the white veteran at the expense of the black one…hmm…where has that come up?)

Feminina:

Yeah, the “scary guy.”

We’ve talked plenty about white fear of black men, and whether Lincoln is intentionally using it to spook his targets, and how even if it is kind of useful to him it can rebound on other people…it can definitely also be the case that Donovan is using it too, relying on it to keep everyone’s attention focused on the (scary, black) action guy, letting the (harmless-looking, suit-wearing, white) plans guy keep to the shadows and take basically none of the fall.

If Donovan (or, say, Vito, or Burke) goes after the Marcanos on his own, it’s a gang war. Nobody in power is happy about that, really, there’s violence in the streets and all, bad for business…but it’s essentially a gang matter, and doesn’t threaten the social order. Because Lincoln does it, it’s a race war, and everyone freaks out: he challenges not just the gangs, but white control of the city, indeed, the rightful place of white people at the top of the hierarchy.

And if Donovan helped Burke or Vito–which we imagine he could theoretically have done, since they had legitimate gripes against the Marcanos and might have been moved to action by the offer to provide really good information and workable plans–it could have been harder for him to hide behind the shock value and the news draw of the SCARY BLACK MAN story and stay out of sight, where he apparently prefers to remain.

Of course, if/when anyone DOES find out he helped Lincoln, he can be seen as a race traitor as well as an accomplice to gang murders, so it’s kind of a trade-off, but apparently, as we’ve repeatedly noted, he’s not too concerned about that. I guess as long as he’s facing congress instead of the Southern Union, he figures he can handle it. Like him, these are guys who don’t want to get their own hands dirty.

Butch:

He figures he can. That he can.

Though it’s hard to say who exactly he IS facing, Congress wise. It’s no accident that the senator who is the most interested in him is explicitly southern (is he from Louisiana? I forget) and, therefore, possibly from the Southern Union himself, something that Donovan would likely know.

But, on the other hand, his testimony was, until recently, classified. We still don’t know why. And he’d likely know THAT, too. He’d know that his testimony wouldn’t see the light of day.

So, is he talking freely? Or to someone behind the scenes?

Feminina:

Also good questions! Who is Donovan really talking to?

And another question: is he ACTUALLY getting off as free as he seems to thinks he is?

He acts all calm and confident, but we don’t actually know that this attitude is warranted. As you say, his primary interrogator is southern (I can’t remember if it’s specifically Louisiana either). For all we know, he was quietly murdered in a dark alley the day after this testimony was recorded, because whatever connections he counted on to protect him were done with him.

Based on his confidence and the resources he’s able to bring to Lincoln’s problem, we can guess he’s got real support from somewhere to accomplish something, but there’s no guarantee that will last once his usefulness on that something is done.

Butch:

Well, it is something that we haven’t seen Donovan in the “present.” That testimony was in 1971. And, while he could just be dead of some natural thing in 2007, maybe not.

Feminina:

Dead of natural (or at least unrelated) causes, or else alive and refusing to comment.

“I said what I had to say back in 1971. Now get off my lawn, you punk documentarian game-makers!”

Butch:

Hmm. Also true.

Man this game. When it’s good it’s so good. But….

Feminina:

So much bloggage! And then some long, quiet times where we just kill a bunch of Kevins over and over.

It’s the circle of life.

Butch:

This could have been a great game. Period.

I have no idea why they decided to do what they did to it.

Feminina:

Well…it’s a game, and it was probably supposed to be a certain length, and it needed enough recognizable game elements to get it there…and a lot of people probably wouldn’t have bought something that was straight-up called “A Meditation on Race Relations and Social Injustice in the American South in the 1960s”…I’m sure you have to balance a lot of competing demands, making games.

Butch:

But even without Kevin all over, there’s s lot of GAME. And some Kevin is ok. But why SO much?

Especially when the not repetitive levels are so good. Riverboat. Amusement park. Quarry. That’s more than just a rumination.

And why be long? We’ve played AAA games that aren’t 60 hours and been more than happy.

Balancing elements often leads to clutter.

Feminina:

We have been happy with more concise games, we have. But I wonder if there’s a sort of assumption, in game consumers generally, that if a game isn’t really big, it’s not…you know…a Big Game. Worth the price, and the serious consideration, of a Big Game.

I mean, I’m not arguing with you about whether or not they made the right call (from our perspective, and even in general based on the numerous complaints about repetition). Sure, it could have been shorter and more focused and that would have given the more intense story bits–more intensity!

But I can see where, when you’re in the middle of making the thing, maybe it seems like that’s not the right answer. Or maybe even if it seems like the right answer to some people, maybe they get overruled by other people who say “no, it needs to be a 60-hour Big Game! Put in more stuff to do or people will feel cheated!”

I feel like I can imagine how it happens, is all I’m saying.

Butch:

Oh, no doubt they did. Games, in general, seem to be suffering from a desire to be many things to many people, but that often leads to being a jack of all trades, master of none.

And it makes SOME sense. After all, games are expensive as hell. You can’t make a game that’s TOO niche, or you’re gonna lose money. It’s easy to forget that they are an art form, yes, but also a product. I get that. But there have been very successful single player games that don’t try to be all things. TW3. Horizon. God of War (so I hear). Uncharted. Those didn’t give everyone this sandbox thing, and people liked them, and they made money.

It’s a tough balance.

And it may well get worse. After all, games have, if you figure in for inflation, gotten MUCH cheaper. A AAA game has been 60 bucks for many, many years. Shit, I think I paid 50 bucks for text only games back in the 80s. 50 bucks in 1985 is a lot more than 60 bucks today. So games are getting cheaper as they get more expensive to make. Either a) they’ll get cheaper to make, which is unlikely, b) they’ll start charging more for them, which no one will like or c) they’ll keep trying to broaden their potential customer base by being too damn big.

One hope I have is the advent of digital. Used games have a lot to answer for. Yes, people bitch about not being able to sell discs and all that, but if more people had to buy their stuff new, then that’s more money for the developers, which might solve some of this problem.

Maybe.

But inflation is what it is, and budgets are what they are.

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