Playboy in Mafia 3…why? (NSFW)

Mafia III_20161009143415

In this instance, you really can say you’re just reading this “for the article”

There’s something about nudity in video games that makes me uncomfortable. It’s a really juvenile reason, too. It’s the same way I feel when I’m watching a TV show in my apartment with the volume reasonably loud and a sex scene happens all over my screen — complete with loud moaning…and my windows are open…and I feel like everyone is listening “oh god, where the hell is my surround sound remote. JUST GIVE ME THE GODDAMN MUTE BUTTON!” By the time I wrestle the remote into submission the actress has reached her climax and I sound like a deviant to passersby. Why can’t I embrace the fact that I’m a grown ass man and sex happens and it’s nothing to be ashamed of?

Mafia 3 helped with that. To capture the essence of the pop culture at the time, Hangar 13 worked out a deal with Playboy, allowing them to pepper the vintage man-mags around the game world as collectible items. When you pick one up you’re able to open your menu and thumb through the pages. Some “issues” are just the image of the cover and one playmate picture. But there are some issues you pick up and there are entire interviews from the time period — and they’re fascinating.

Mafia III_20161008224945
Didn’t know this, but H.L. Hunt…kind of a piece of shit.

I had no idea who H.L. Hunt was until I flipped through the digital version of the magazine, but there’s a 7 page interview available for you to bone up on the guy. Turns out he’s basically a rich Texas oil tycoon who was probably racist and really corrupt. Hence why he’s in a game about the mafia in the south. This spurned me to do a lengthy google search on the guy and discover he’s the inspiration for classic TV icon “JR” on “Dallas.” To any readers born before 1990, you might have to do a search on every article of that last sentence, and that’s okay. So by not just focusing on the bunny spreads, the makers of Mafia 3 give further insight into what it was like to be alive in the 1960’s.

Sure, you just read the articles

At first glance you might roll your eyes at the inclusion of the basically-defunct magazine, but if you think about the time the game takes place (1968), Playboy magazine was huge. These were the days before internet porn, DVD and VHS, even. If you were a man and wanted to see naked women, it was either a Playboy or a trip to the public movie theater where you could enjoy some public masturbation with a room full of strangers. Yeah, I’d pick the Playboy too. Playboy magazine was a major publication that specialized in heady editorials and in-depth interviews. By the 1970’s its circulation reached 6-7 million people a month. Sure, the nude women helped move issues, but people really did read Playboy for the articles.

Authors like Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates contributed fiction stories to the magazine over the years. In 1963, Playboy ran an interview with Malcom X. In 1964 it was George Wallace. Add in MLK, The Beatles, Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter and you start to see how Playboy added value beyond just T&A. This is one way it makes it easier to accept why Playboy is in m’videogames. It wasn’t exploitative, it was informative.

That brings us to the fine line of sexism in video games. Obviously there’s very little appeal for women to pick up Mafia 3, and for good reason. You play as a very butch, deep-voiced male, you run around killing rednecks, cops and mobsters and you can collect vintage nudie mags. I’m not saying women can’t find this enjoyable, but the makers are clearly not keeping women in mind as the main demographic for their game. So why is this not an article condemning the objectification of women in video games? Well, it actually has to do with the nudity. (NSFW warning below)

Mafia III_20161009143504
The women of 1960’s Playboy

Above is a prime example. First off, at least three of these women would today be casually referred to as “Amy Schumer” body types or “plus sized.” Here’s a little newsflash for you guys — go fuck yourself. Every one of these women are classy, elegant and beautiful — Amy included (although classy might be a stretch). That’s the first thing that struck me when I was paging through the old issues — the nudity of the 60’s was handled with class. Nowadays when you see pornography it’s brutal, unrealistic and completely skewed toward males. Here, none of the women are looking at the camera with faux-wanton lust, cartoon breasts and legs agape. They’re presented as works of art to be admired and appreciated, not fondled and assaulted like certain presidential candidates believe.

So, like, racially it’s pretty cool

One of the spreads that really grabbed my attention was this one:

Mafia III_20161009143335
China Lee — Playmate August, 1964

China Lee was the first Asian-American playmate. In 1964. She was photographed a full year before the first African-American playmate (Jennifer Jackson – March 1965). Maybe it’s my naïveté over being born twenty years after 1964, but that seems a little too forward-thinking for an America entering the Vietnam War and still burdened by the “red scare.” Nowadays your bargain bin racist would refer to anyone of asian descent as “Chinese” because why put in the fucking effort to understanding the difference between China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, etc? With recent rumblings of China somehow becoming an enemy of the United States or blatantly offensive, unhilarious “news” segments coming from Bill O’Reilly, I’m reminded of how short-term the memories of so many people are.

When I looked through the pages of this issue the discomfort I described in my first paragraph melted away because the developers included snippets about Ms. Lee in subsequent pages. This helped my brain make the connection between looking at “porn” and appreciating these Playboys for what they really were and why they were included in the game — they’re a piece of American history.

Mafia III_20161009143342
China Lee, fully clothed and posing for “candids”

Race is a topic generally avoided in video games, so I have to applaud Hangar 13 and 2K for moving forward with a black protagonist and cherry picking the issues of Playboy they included in their game. Who knows, their marketing team could have only had $$$ on the brain when they made the move, but as a gamer I yearn for and appreciate mature storylines. It’s why I love the Witcher 3 so goddamn much (even though I haven’t completed it…), the sex and nudity in that game fits the world and it’s never explicit or feels forced and uncomfortable.

Mafia III_20161009143406

As an art form, games have the most potential to change the way people see the world. By including these dusty tomes of yesterday’s “smut” Mafia 3 ended up sending me to Google to uncover more information about the time period in the game. There are some very stark parallels between the United States in the late 60’s and the United States in 2016 and beyond. It’s almost as if the developers knew this and wanted to throw a smattering of “gotcha pop-culture” references at the player. I can’t be the only one who’s reading this deeply into the perfect timing of Mafia 3’s release. The game is acting as some kind of historical guidepost that’s screaming, “hey guys, we’ve already had this discussion and racism lost!”

For the first time in years, I don’t feel uncomfortable with nudity in video games. The whole idea seems trite to me now. With Mafia 3 I think my greatest unease comes from the sense of danger playing as a man of color in fictional New Orleans in 1968. The subject matter in the game is definitely handled as a caricature of actual historical events, but when you hear enemies dropping the “n-bomb” with reckless abandon, and threatening to lynch the player, some breasts are the least source of discomfort.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s