We’ve still got 3 tickets for @AlterConf this weekend in NYC

Thanks to the generosity of AlterConf’s organizers, we’ve got three tickets for the I Need Diverse Games community for the upcoming event in NYC on December 10th.


AlterConf is a traveling conference series that provides safe opportunities for marginalized people and those who support them in the tech and gaming industries. By highlighting the powerful voices and positive initiatives of local community members, we build hope and strengthen the community’s resolve to create safer spaces for everyone.

The conferences go beyond the limited definitions and basic discussions of diversity to create a deeper, more nuanced conversation. Each conference features a wide range of speakers delivering critical analyses of tech and gaming culture and presenting their vision for what our community can be.

We invite you to join us as we work toward a more inclusive future.

If you would like one of our community tickets, please @ us on Twitter (@INeedDivGms) or email us at indg@ineeddiversegames.org with AlterConf NYC in the subject line.

We would like these tickets to go to folks who would otherwise be able to attend, so please keep that in mind before sending a request for a free ticket if you could otherwise attend.

Thank you AlterConf for supporting our community!

.@Official_GDC launches low-income free Expo Pass program


Organizers of the Game Developers Conference have once again donated a number of complimentary GDC 2017 passes that will be given away (via lottery) as part of a special low-income GDC pass program.

Part of organizers’ ongoing efforts to attract a diverse array of the game industry’s best and brightest, the complimentary Expo Passes awarded via the Low Income Pass Lottery are intended for participants who would otherwise not be able to attend GDC without considerable financial assistance.

The guidelines for applying are relatively straightforward:

  • One entry per person.
  • You may enter for this pass each year if you have need.
  • If you are awarded a pass, we will automatically register you.
  • These passes are non-transferrable and have no cash value.
  • If you have already purchased a pass to GDC 2017, you are not eligible to enter.

If you’re interested in taking part, please know that the deadline for applying to the lottery is January 18th, and organizers expect to announce the winners of these free passes by January 20th.

That’s a few days before the Early Bird deadline to register for passes at a discounted rate (January 25, 2017) in order to leave time for those who do not win a free pass to purchase one at a significant discount.

GDC 2017 itself will take place February 27th – March 3rd at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. For more information on GDC 2017, visit the show’s official website, or subscribe to regular updates via Facebook, Twitter, or RSS.

Gamasutra and GDC are sibling organizations under parent UBM Americas

Please support our work on this #GivingTuesday


I’d like to thank all of you for your support of I Need Diverse Games, our initiatives, convention appearances, intermittent Twitch streams and our work. It’s #GivingTuesday, a day to help out programs, foundations, non-profits and others with donations.Here are some ways in which you can support our work:

Patreon— It’s our only steady funding source for our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The more we’re getting per month, the more we can do for the community.

PayPal.me– For a one time donation to our organization, so we can keep up our work.

Support our Podcast — Fresh Out of Tokens— Supporting the INDG Patreon keeps us on the air. We might open up donations on the podcast page itself in 2017

I Need Diverse Games Spreadshirt shop Wear your support for diversity in games! Get tees, mugs, hoodies and more to show that you too need diverse games!

As for what we’re up to next, where we’ve been with the work? I’ve learned a lot from the past two years since #INeedDiverseGames became more than a hash tag, to it growing into a non-profit organization with a Board of Directors, and all that we’ve accomplished in a short time. Though 2016 has been a hard year on many of us, we’re still here and still fighting for more diversity in gaming.

We’re hoping for a better year, more growth and lots more interaction with you, our community in 2017. To do that we’re going to push ourselves to do more, be present at more events and get the word out about what we’re doing to our Patrons, our twitter, blog and tumblr followers.

Looking forward to a new year, a better outlook for diversity in the industry and to working with you all to make INDG’s third year unforgettable.

Follow us on Twitter at @INeedDivGms and let us know how we’re doing.

Thanks for a great year.

Tanya DePass
Founder & Director, I Need Diverse Games

Review: Tyranny


Developer: Obsidian

Platforms: PC

Release date: November 10th 2016

Website: https://www.tyrannygame.com/

The North is solidly under the control of the Overlord, and now they turn their hungry gaze South to the Tiers. The Overlord’s armies are strong and the fractured Southern nations are unable to unite, even in the face of certain doom. This sounds like your typical RPG plot, and it is, however the whole conquest takes place during character creation and instead of being the plucky adventurer destined to save the world, you’re one of the jerks doing the conquering.

Continue reading

The Depth is In the Details: Stardew Valley and the Benefits of Earned Characterization


by Tyler Gausvik

The “farming simulator” genre is not a new one—in fact to many who play them, it is a genre that has gotten a little tired with age and lack of new ideas. The Harvest Moon series is the clear contender for the most known in the genre of games set in rural hamlets where the bulk of the gameplay is farmland living and cultivating relationships with whatever cast of characters happens to live near you. It is a charming premise, capturing all the magic and charm of rural life with a more passive and productive style of play that can be relaxing at times while also greatly engaging – and sometimes even a little chaotic!

However, to those folks who have played the games since their inception, things aren’t quite as enchanting as they used to be. After playing numerous iterations of what basically amounts to the same game with trivial differences to market, I personally became a bit disillusioned with the genre. I had my favorites, but otherwise it felt as if the genre, particularly the aforementioned Harvest Moon, had merely become a cash cow and instead of producing games with interesting mechanics and substantial characters that I wanted to befriend and connect with. I felt like I was being assaulted with gimmicks and superficial features that were aimed to distract me from the fact that I’d not only played this game before, but I hadn’t liked it the last time either.

So when I first saw Stardew Valley, my expectations were pretty low. Another game, beating the dead horse of this genre? Still, despite what I thought was my better judgement, I caved in and bought it. Something about it seemed promising—maybe since the developer was independent, they’d be able to approach it with a fresh mind. Regardless, I hadn’t played anything in the genre since the perhaps inappropriately named “Harvest Moon: A New Beginning” so I was ready to try again. Worst case, I’d be out a few bucks and I’d have satisfied my urge to see if maybe, just maybe, things had gotten better.

Things started pretty typically. My beloved grandfather passed away and left me a farm in a little town he called home. The first few days of the game encouraged me to introduce myself to the many denizens of the town, all of whom fortunately have their name, sprite, and affection rating in your menu for easy access and recognition. It all seemed pretty standard, and as I carried on I wasn’t expecting much out these characters beyond utility and simple archetypes.

As I ventured around town, desperately seeking to get the quest out of my notebook that mandated I introduce myself to all the folks in town, I began to notice some interesting things. Characters would go into their rooms, and unlike the general decorum of these games, I couldn’t follow them. “You aren’t good enough friends with X to enter their room,” the game would tell me. Sometimes, I couldn’t even enter the homes of characters for the same reason. While in reality this isn’t an unusual premise, it came across as odd in a game where part of my task was to meet and get to know these strangers. I carried on as best I could with these bounds performing the usual song and dance of connecting with characters. I met a can-do, good guy mayor, a gregarious and friendly barkeeper with exceptional culinary talent. These were all staples; I’d seen them before. As I started memorizing these characters and their schedules,I started to notice some surprising and unusual trends when I would talk to them and ply them with gifts.

Stardew 02.jpg

Although Stardew Valley’s cast of characters and the world they inhabit can seem superficial, another reflection of a genre that has sacrificed depth for flash, the game leaves much of the characterization and background to be found by the player’s own will. Town events, character events, developing closer relationships with characters to gain access to their space and to more intimate information about them—in Stardew Valley all of these require the player’s initiative to uncover and interpret, which makes the experience of “getting to know” these characters more realistic, organic, and satisfying.

Stardew Valley uses a slew of subtle clues and tips to make what seem to be mundane and trite characters into fleshed out and storied people, and these clues are very often things you must seek out of your own accord. Much of the novelty and effect comes from having come to the revelation on your own. The discussion ahead will feature what could be construed as spoilers and knowing ahead of time will certainly take the magic out of finding this information out yourself, so only read on if you don’t mind.

Perhaps one of the most evident examples of this kind of characterization that the player must seek out and draw their own conclusions about is the secret affair between Marnie, the gentle woman who sells you supplies for your ranching lifestyle, and the mayor of Pelican Town, Lewis. Despite the game featuring many couples that are married and will clearly tell you so, and despite it even allowing the player character to get married themselves, the game never openly states the relationship between Marnie and Lewis. The two stand together frequently at the bar and at town festivals, and Lewis’ schedule often brings him to Marnie’s home and place of business to “make sure her business needs are being met.” To the player who doesn’t take the time to cultivate a closer relationship with either of them, things might seem as simple as a healthy friendship between the two.

However, if you go beyond the surface, you can find out that these two are engaged in a romantic relationship. Lewis will eventually give the player character a quest to find his missing shorts, a quest he asks you to handle with a great deal of delicacy. Where do you find the shorts? Marnie’s bedroom, which you can’t have access to until you’ve gained two hearts with Marnie, which requires giving her gifts for a decent period of time due to the game’s two gift a week limit. Additionally, gaining two hearts of affection with the mayor allows you to enter his own bedroom, where you find a letter from a mysterious “M” asking him to spend more time with her. At six hearts of affection with both characters, the player can get an explicit confirmation of the relationship between the two by stumbling on a secret meeting between the pair.

From this, other more subtle bits of information begin to make sense and you start to see a bigger picture of who these two people are. Lewis is a man who puts his duty before a lot of things, but at the same time he is someone who, like anyone else, is trying to find love. Marnie is a woman in a secret relationship that she can’t talk about – perhaps for fear of scandal, or perhaps out of a genuine desire to keep things under wraps – who yearns to spend more time with the one she loves. They’re both still the characters they were when you first met them, but now, like real people, they’re myriad and more interesting – and you did the legwork required to come to those conclusions.

Other characters in the Valley also have hidden depths that are revealed through careful examination of their lives and continued friendships. Jodi is a homemaker who does her best to tend to the needs of her two sons, but underneath that she is a woman who is just trying to hold her home together while her husband is at war. Her family is no simpler: an event between her two sons, Vincent and Sam, reveals that the young Vincent, who we often see playing with his friend and attending day school, fears that his father might never return after overhearing the horrors of the war his father is fighting in. This requires Sam, still only a young man himself and also without his father, to stand up and be supportive of his little brother by giving him the hope that any bad things he hears do not change the fact that his father is coming home. Sam himself is a bit of a listless youth who skateboards, works at the local superstore, and plays pool and video games in his free time. He seems to straddle the line between a young man and a teenager.

Stardew 03.jpg

All of this information isn’t readily available to you unless you look for it by befriending the characters, going to certain locales when they’re present, talking to them at the many festivals that occur during the year, and through the player’s own inferences.Ultimately, this method of characterization proves very effective to the playing of the game. You can experience a pretty basic life in Stardew Valley by just farming and undertaking the tasks that are entailed, maintaining a minimal relationship with anyone you stumble across. Or you can engage more readily with the game, befriending the townsfolk by finding out their schedules and their favorite items and developing deeper relationships with them. This will lead you to engage more deeply with the game’s functions, like participating in the festivals, growing a wider variety of crops so you have some for your neighbors, and upgrading your home and farm so that you can craft or produce the items you need to strengthen the bonds with them. Not only does this method of earned characterization give the player something to chase after beyond the more immediate goals, but it also gives the player an added reason to enjoy and engage with everything the game has to offer.

Stardew Valley definitely exceeded my expectations in many ways—it took many farming simulator conventions and built on them and improved on them in ways that were incredibly gratifying. However, to me, the most striking thing is the characterization. Where other games like it tend to rely on a town populated by likeable character archetypes that give off a great initial appeal but end up feeling hollow, Stardew Valley gives the game a feeling of community by incentivizing interactions with the characters who seem simple at first, but provide rewarding and enticing hidden depths when you put a little effort into getting to know them. Games have always struggled with making relationships between the player character and others not seem too mechanical, but Stardew Valley’s system of earned characterization really makes the relationships that develop from it far more human and organic.

Tyler Gausvik is a games writer with an interest in narrative design and writing in games. He can be found on Twitter @griznergames

Final reminder about our @Official_GDC Scholarship application!



The I Need Diverse Games GDC Scholarship application closes November 1, 2016 at 11:59 PM PST (US/Pacific)

If you applied to a different GDC Scholarship program for 2016, that will not preclude you from applying for our scholarship.

All information on what’s needed to apply is on our form and the biographical information is optional, it is not required. Providing it will help us make a decision after our initial round of review is complete.

If you have a technical issue with the application, please email us at indg@ineeddiversegames.org

About GDC and our application:

I Need Diverse Games is excited to announce that in partnership with the Game Developers Conference, we continue to be part of the GDC Scholarship program!
We will be awarding 25 All Access passes to the 2017 Game Developers Conference, held February 27th – March 03, 2017 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. The GDC attracts over 26,000 attendees, and is the primary forum where game developers of all disciplines gather to exchange ideas and shape the future of the industry.
This conference features over 400 lectures, panels, tutorials and round-table discussions. The all-access pass provides entry to all 5 days of the event, including the IGF Festival, the Game Developer Choice Awards, all GDC sponsored mixers and parties, the Game Career Seminar and more.
I Need Diverse Games is dedicated to increasing diversity both in game and in studio, and we will be awarding these scholarships to members of marginalized groups (person of color, LGBTQIA, woman, or reside at an intersection of those identities) who would not have the opportunity to attend the GDC without financial assistance. Whether you make diverse games or otherwise intentionally furthers the agenda for diversification of gaming (though podcasts, streaming, or other media critique and content) we want to hear from you!

If you are not a member of these marginalized groups but your work is dedicated to increasing diversity in the video game industry, you are welcome to apply, however to uphold our mission statement and to give opportunities to those underrepresented in gaming, we will give preference to members of those groups.

We are also running a Go Fund Me Campaign to assist with travel grants to GDC as a week in San Francisco is costly no matter where you’re coming from to attend.

Help defray the cost for our 2017

GDC Scholarship Awardees

Please spread word of our fund raising if you can’t spare anything to help out.


Help @GXAustralia happen in 2017!

Hey! You lovely person reading our post. @GXAustralia is happening again next year, and the Kickstarter only has 3 days left with a bit left to go on reaching their funding goal.

Please back Australia’s most inclusive LGBTQIA gaming convention even if you can’t attend. Every bit will help this great event happen again.

If you can’t back, please, please boost!

Thank you!!

I Need Diverse Games


There’s just 7 Days left for the GX Australia Kickstarter to reach it’s goal of $60,000 to make the convention happen in 2017!!


About this project

Want to spend an incredible weekend hanging out with the friendliest bunch of geeks you’ll ever meet? Are you passionate about video games, or dreamed of making one yourself? Do you like to cosplay? Or are you an avid fan of card or board games?

Well listen up, because we’ve got some great news for you!

GX Australia 2017!
GX Australia 2017!


After our first hugely successful event in February, 2016, we’re super excited to be able to bring the convention to Sydney again for a second year. At the debut convention, nearly eight hundred attendees trekked out to the Australian Technology Park for two days of geekery and fun. For our second year, we’re making awesome…

View original post 1,798 more words

Help @GXAustralia happen in 2017!


There’s just 7 Days left for the GX Australia Kickstarter to reach it’s goal of $60,000 to make the convention happen in 2017!!


About this project

Want to spend an incredible weekend hanging out with the friendliest bunch of geeks you’ll ever meet? Are you passionate about video games, or dreamed of making one yourself? Do you like to cosplay? Or are you an avid fan of card or board games?

Well listen up, because we’ve got some great news for you!

GX Australia 2017!
GX Australia 2017!


After our first hugely successful event in February, 2016, we’re super excited to be able to bring the convention to Sydney again for a second year. At the debut convention, nearly eight hundred attendees trekked out to the Australian Technology Park for two days of geekery and fun. For our second year, we’re making awesome changes and taking on board requests, considerations, and feedback from the first event.

So here it is, GX Australia 2017! Lock in the 29th and 30th of April, 2017, because we’re going on an adventure!

If you didn’t make it out to GX Australia 2016, you missed a fabulous weekend full of tournaments, tabletop gaming, awesome and insightful panels and talks, and even an escape room! But that’s okay, because you’re getting a second chance in April 2017.

Photo courtesy of Jack Huddo.
Photo courtesy of Jack Huddo.


Wait, what's a GX thingy?
Wait, what’s a GX thingy?

GX Australia is the country’s most inclusive convention for video gamers, board gamers, tabletop and card gamers, cosplayers, comic book nerds, sci-fi film buffs — everything geeky and nerdy! It’s a weekend long celebration of what brings us all together in the first place. It’s a weekend where Star Trek and Star Wars fans can set aside their differences and make friends, where you’re appreciated and loved no matter what mana colour your Magic: The Gathering deck is, and where you’re accepted for who you are even if you prefer the PS4 to the Xbox One. It’s an event for you — yes you! — if you share in our vision that geekery and video games are for everyone.

Our first event was such a blast, and we’re dedicated to making sure Year Two is even better.

Didn’t come last year? Here’s some highlights of what you missed out on:






Image courtesy of Joshua Meadows.
Image courtesy of Joshua Meadows.


New venue!
New venue!

GX Australia 2017 will be taking place at the Sydney Showground! This venue is hugely experienced when it comes to video game events, hosting everything from Supanova to the EB Games Expo. We’re thrilled to be adding our name to their impressive roster, and the new venue comes with a tons of improvements over our old location:

  • Accessibility! While the ATP itself was fully accessible, unfortunately Redfern Station was not and this presented a challenge for our attendees with mobility considerations. Fortunately, there are lifts at the Olympic Park station and we’re only a short distance from the train. Further, this time around all of our event spaces are on the ground floor so there’s no fiddling about with lifts once you’re at the venue itself.
  • Bigger, but a better use of space! The ATP was an awesome venue, but given how large the complex was unfortunately we got spread out quite a lot — this gave the convention a very chill and relaxed feel, but you probably are surprised to know how many attendees we had! At the Sydney Showground, our convention space is fully enclosed and self-contained, meaning that it won’t be confusing or difficult to move between panels, or around the expo hall! All facilities and meeting areas  are within a short distance of each other, logically laid out and easy to find.
  • Air conditioning! Need we say more?
  • Lower costs! Because we aren’t holding the event around Mardi Gras this time, and because we’ve been able to secure more competitive pricing for hiring the venue, we’re able to pass savings on to attendees and bring the overall cost of tickets down as a result. While we gave away many tickets last time and remain committed to making GX Australia as accessible as possible, ultimately every ticket purchased ensures that we can run the event at its best and we’re happy that we’re able to bring costs down to make that easier for guests.
  • Streaming AND Recording! This was something we wanted to do last time around and while we were able to stream the Main Panel Room, panels didn’t get recorded. Thanks to Twitch, This time around we’re going to make sure that you can participate by watching panels online as they happen, or later on when convenient to your schedule.
  • Even MOAR diversity! Our biggest objective for Year Two was to make GX more diverse and representative. This is reflected across not only our amazing lineup of kickass Bosses of Honours, but the speakers we’re working with to develop incredible panels. Plus, due to our lower costs, we are able to splurge a bit more on helping people of colour and indigenous speakers to make it out to Sydney for the event.
  • 15+, or all ages with a parent or guardian! Another big commitment towards accessibility and access was to ensure the event could be open to people as young as possible. Like last year, you’re welcome to attend the event if you’re fifteen or older and have proof of age available. If you’re younger, just come with a parent or friend over 18 who will watch out for you!
Photo courtesy of Jack Huddo.
Photo courtesy of Jack Huddo.


What will be at GX Australia 2017?
What will be at GX Australia 2017?
  • Incredible guests! You can see our initial guests below, but trust, we have some even more amazing guests yet to announce! One of our favourite things about GX Australia was how accessible guests were, and our feedback from guests was how wonderful you all were. More of that!
  • Amazing panels! Last year we were lucky enough to host some absolutely incredible panels, and we intend to do the same again this year. Check out our schedule from last year to see what kind of awesome content you can expect in 2017! http://www.gxaustralia.com/panel-schedule/
  • Bigger tabletop space! This was hugely requested, and we’ve already started thinking about how we can make our tabletop section bigger, better and more exciting! With scheduled games, a library of games to choose from and brilliant hangout times, we can’t wait!
  • More games and experiences! We’ll have a play section this year with wonderful Australian, queer and diverse games, and plan on having some awesome physical group games to participate in!
  • An awesome show floor! We’re taking all of the incredible feedback from 2016 into account and making the show floor for 2017 more intimate, varied and fun!
  • Exciting VIP events! Based on this year, our VIP events next year will be TOTALLY MATHEMATICAL. We can’t wait to see you there!
What's at the Sydney Showground?
What’s at the Sydney Showground?

This historic venue hosts everything from the Easter Show to big events like Supanova. We’re super excited to be using them for GX, and think you’ll agree that our new location is a huge step up from our first year. We’re booking out space for panels, a return of our “GX Campfire” chillout space, plus rooms for meet & greets, media, and more!

Photo courtesy of Jack Huddo.
Photo courtesy of Jack Huddo.


Bosses of Honour!
Bosses of Honour!

We’re super excited to make the initial announcements of our incredible Bosses of Honour. These are some of the amazing people we’ll be featuring at GX Australia, and stay tuned since we’ll have more names to announce as our Kickstarter campaign progresses.

Added in Update #5 (Oct 17 2016):

Tanya DePass
Tanya DePass


Felix Kramer
Felix Kramer


Brett Leavy
Brett Leavy

 Kickstarter launch Bosses:

Katherine Cross
Katherine Cross


Stephanie "Hex" Bendixsen
Stephanie “Hex” Bendixsen


Kim Allom
Kim Allom


Jordan Raskopoulos
Jordan Raskopoulos


Eve Beauregard
Eve Beauregard


Tim Cain
Tim Cain


Lucy O'Brien
Lucy O’Brien


Rae Johnston
Rae Johnston


Ken Wong
Ken Wong


Backer rewards!
Backer rewards!

Depending on your pledge, your support for GX Australia 2017 also includes a choice of the awesome games below! We massively appreciate the developers who have donated keys for us to give to our backers, and we hope you enjoy the games as well!

Photo courtesy of Jack Huddo.
Photo courtesy of Jack Huddo.


Stretch goals!
Stretch goals!

$60k will allow us to handle the costs involved in hosting the event, hiring furniture, and some other minor costs. If we surpass that, we’ll be able to extend the convention even further. Here’s how!




??? – ??? We’ll get here when we do!

Why Sydney again?
Why Sydney again?

We’re eager to make GX Australia as accessible as possible. We’ve run extensive public polls both before the 2016 event even happened as well as after to see what factors encouraged or discouraged attendance, and it became resoundingly clear that most of our audience wants the event to remain in Sydney. We’re hoping that by holding it a little later in the year when the calendar is less full, we’ll be able to ensure people can afford to travel if they aren’t already nearby.

Image courtesy of Joshua Meadows.
Image courtesy of Joshua Meadows.


Let's do it!
Let’s do it!

In February 2016, we managed to bring GX to life with a small handful of volunteers, tons of support from the Australian indie scene, and awesome people like you. We want this convention to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, energised and inspired, but most importantly loved and welcomed.

We can’t do the convention without you, so please spread this campaign far and wide; if you came to the first one, we hope to see you next year. If you didn’t make it before, we hope to meet you as a brand new friend!

Special Shoutouts

We’d like to make a special shoutout to Marcomatic, the creator of our fantastic logo and animated spiel, to Jack Huddo Photography for the brilliant photography from last year, and to Steph Westwood, who donated her time to create our amazing Kickstarter video!

Additionally, we’d like to thank ALL OF YOU for helping us make GX Australia 2016 happen last year. We literally couldn’t have done it without you, and we’re so excited to be able to do it all again for 2017!

Risks and challenges

While GX Australia 2016 took place to great success, we certainly did have some challenges! Our biggest was unexpected expenses and bills with regards to hiring the ATP that hadn’t been communicated to us early on.

To avoid that stress this time around, we’ve clearly and specifically sat down with the Sydney Showground to be as detailed as possible for our expenses and any additional costs. We’re confident that we won’t have unexpected bills sending us scrambling for cash, and our costs for running the convention have come down a lot from the final amount we had to spend just to book the ATP.

Contracts have been signed and the date is locked down. We’ve ensured that our space will feel comfortable if we have the same number of attendees as last time, but of course we’re eagerly hoping to smash that record!

As before, all of our rewards are digital and what physical items we do have are very limited so we aren’t spending funds on shipping or production.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Mafia III: Catharsis Through Extreme Violence @TheBlackNerd on @PasteGames


By Terrence Wiggins

Revenge tales are a dime a dozen. It’s a well-worn story trope that’s been used in videogames almost from the beginning. For me, these stories never felt truly important. They were a means to an end, way stations between gameplay segments. But Mafia III is different.

The game starts you off in the racially turbulent time of 1968. Set in the faux-New Orleans city of New Bordeaux, you’re put in the combat boots of Lincoln Clay, a black biracial orphan returning from the Vietnam War. He’s reunited with his adoptive family of Sammy and Ellis Robinson, and the man who raised him in the orphanage, Father James. Sammy is the leader of the Black Mob, currently indebted to another mob headed up by Sal Marcano.

There’s a line in the song “Get It” by Run The Jewels in which Killer Mike raps “So even if you got seven figures, you still a nigga,” and that’s a good description for most of the story in Mafia III. No matter how much power you have, how much money you accrue, the kind of allies or friends you have, you’re still viewed by your skin color. In the first mission of the game Lincoln is going undercover as a bank security guard and is being briefed that even though his partner will be acting friendly towards the other security, he means nothing he says. Lincoln responds with “It’s not like I haven’t been called a nigger before.” And that statement resonated with me. Because it’s true and blatant. Ask any black person you know, no matter what walk of life, whether it’s in person or on the internet: they have been called a nigger before.

As I stated before, this game takes place in 1968. The game is steeped in the style of the ‘60s. Clothing, hairstyles, the music, the aesthetic are all very much of this era. You can overhear NPCs referring to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I had NPCs tell me “You don’t belong here boy.” The game will throw up a visual indicator of when the police are watching you, even when you’re not committing a crime. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never felt the watchful eyes of someone on me solely because I have a certain skin color, if I said that, much like Lincoln Clay in New Bordeaux, I didn’t feel uncomfortable in rich white areas because I didn’t feel like I belonged or was wanted.

But unlike real people, Lincoln handles racism with force. After being betrayed by the Marcano family and having his only family murdered, he sets out to get revenge. He raises hell up and down this city, taking over, and murdering without mercy. And I’m not going to say it’s not cathartic. Having an NPC say to me “What are you going to do, nigger?” and Lincoln slitting his throat, stabbing him in the chest, and throwing aside his body as if it was trash is extremely cathartic.

Read the rest at Paste Magazine

Mafia III tackles racism with brutal honesty and candor – Review by @LJay90

Mafia III_20161007224141.jpg

by Justin Jones for I Need Diverse Games

The news cuts in, updating me on the latest in the trial of a white man who murdered two black men on his stoop. He claims self defense; he claims he was reacting to rampant reports of “black rage” against white people. He feared for his life. The families claim that the two men had just returned home from the war, and were just looking for help with their broken down car. The newscaster quickly reminds me that the defendant was a war veteran himself. The newscaster signs of and the music starts up again. I turn down my radio at a stop light and hear the people crossing the street. “How can we expect white people to value our lives when we don’t respect ourselves?” I pause the game, no longer certain if I’m in 1968 New Bordeaux or 2016 Washington DC. From the palpable tension from a white woman clutching her purse when I approached to characters complaining about inconvenient protests and waiting for a more “appropriate” time, I can’t help but see the similarities to my own experience.

From the onset, Hangar 13 doesn’t shy away from the turbulent times of the late 1960s. There’s a disclaimer that explains that you will be exposed to the racism of the times. They explain that not showing it would be disrespectful to those who actually lived through it. The opening mission features a white security guard who laments how it’s “a sad day when a god fearing white man can’t get a job but any ol’ nigger who staggers in is hired on the spot”. The language isn’t what makes me recoil, but how casually it’s said. How casually it’s accepted in mixed company. And how I know that those sentiments still exist, it’s just not “polite” to say them out loud anymore. Mafia 3 is able to capture not only how disgusting the racism of the time was, but also how normal and widely accepted it is. It’s not just the overt racism either. Hangar 13 does a great job at capturing a wide variety of microaggressions as well.

From the limp handshake Vito gives you in the beginning, to white NPCs talking about “changing neighborhoods” when you walk by. The disgusted tone in which I’m called “boy” for “loitering where I don’t belong.” So often racism is framed as a monstrous system purported by monsters, when the truth is more in line with the world that Mafia 3 presents. An oppressive constant like the air itself that weighs you down with each breath you take. It’s not just the lynchings, church bombings, and systemic violence that break your spirit, but the thousand tiny cuts from “well meaning folk” who just think it’s best for you to come in through the back so you don’t upset everyone at the yacht club. It’s the slow, sad realization that maybe you don’t deserve to drink from the “whites only” fountain.

Mafia 3 is far from the only game that tries to address racial disparity; both the latest Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Bioshock Infinite attempt to within the last few years. But, they both fall short of accurately capturing the disparity. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s much bemoaned marketing campaign revolved around two phrases. “Aug Lives Matter” and “Mechanical Apartheid”. If you’re going to co-opt Black Lives Matter, or invoke the horrific history of Apartheid, then you can’t miss. The conflict that Deus Ex tries to capture revolves around humans and their distrust and subsequent oppression of their mechanically augmented brothers.

On its face, they make the comparison fairly well. Drawing parallels between how Americans view they can’t compete with the “efficiency” undocumented labor and how the denizens of Deus Ex view they can’t compete with augmented labor. On it’s face, the parallel is sound. However, unlike real life, augmented humans *do* have an advantage when it comes to labor. Immigrants, and let’s be honest we’re talking specifically about brown immigrants, do not have an inherent advantage over white labors in terms of “efficiency”. Much like how black people were viewed as “more suited for labor”, the idea is rooted in racism as a means to enforce the status quo. In trying to tackle a “racism” narrative without actually using black and brown people, Deus Ex makes unfortunate implications about how we view race.

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One of my son’s favorite shows is Disney’s Lion Guard. It’s basically Simba’s kids being awesome in the pridelands and teaching lessons to the audience about pacing yourself, trusting your friends, and being nice/respectful. We recently watched an episode where Simba’s son, Kion, befriended a Hyena who taught him that prejudice is bad and how we all play a part in the circle of life. It was really well done for a kids show, and it was underscored by Kion admitting that there’s good animals and bad animals, but we can’t just decide all of one species is bad because of a few bad apples. That’s an important lesson for young kids about prejudice that they need to hear, and using animals as an allegory works.

However, when we graduate from Racism Is Bad 101 and graduate to Systemic Oppressive Theory, it’s hard to teach those same lessons without actually including black and brown people. Just saying “you can’t judge robots because they’re robots” doesn’t have the same resonance as “hey maybe killing black people for no reason and blaming them for their own deaths is bad.” Including race in your narrative, however, isn’t a guarantee to convey a meaningful message.

Bioshock Infinite gives us the Vox Populi, which is essentially a post slavery/Jim Crow rebellion of black people. They’re presented as one might expect the children of slavery to be. The opening sequence gives the player the choice to assault a mixed race couple. That’s not some alternate history fantasy, it’s rooted in American history. However, Bioshock Infinite pratfalls with its depiction of racial oppression by turning the Vox Populi into mass murdering oppressors themselves once they have their MacGuffin, showing that the real problem was power corrupting otherwise good people. It’s a disgusting devotion to duality that completely undercuts what otherwise would have been a powerful depiction of the reconstruction revolt that never happened.

Instead of challenging the audience on how they view systemic oppression and racism, they let them off the hook with by saying that everyone in inherently evil and it just so happens that black people are getting the short end of the stick now. But it’s ok! Because if black people had the power, then white people would be the ones oppressed, and that’s the real lesson, according to Bioshock All Lives Matter.

Wherever you find a Black Lives Matter rally or march, you will inevitably find a party who thinks that “both sides need to just come together.” Some enlightened individual who can see both sides of the issue. They agree that the disproportionate murder of people of color by the police is bad, but they also see where the cops are coming from. Just fearing for their lives from these scary super predators who would tear them limb from limb if given the chance. So really, we just need to come together, both sides, to reach a resolution. This is a fallacy, an appeal to neutrality, a way to appear engaged on an issue without actually tackling any of the complexities of it. It’s an attempt to absolve from actually taking any stance and remaining “above the fray” and position yourself as a thoughtful person, when in actuality it’s a craven act that doesn’t require any level of intellectualism. And it’s that cowardly attitude that games take so often when trying to discuss race and racism.

Too often when tackling narratives revolving around racism, the goal becomes trying to appease all parties instead of creating provocative art. Whenever fiction tries the delicate dance of delivering an analogue for current racial strife without including actual races, it runs the risk of missing the point that it tried to initially make. These sort of allegories work in children’s fiction, where the lessons about prejudice are simplified and don’t require any level of nuance. But when dealing with a mature audience, a simple “don’t judge people based on their appearance” message isn’t enough. In an attempt to avoid offending or even challenging the audience games tell simplistic stories with equivocating messages. If you’re going to tackle subjects as serious as systemic oppression and racism and be honest about them there you can’t leave the audience in the middle.

Art is like a protest in that regard; it should challenge us and make us feel uncomfortable. Mafia 3 manages to make a bold statement about race and racism but without any allegory or metaphors, it simply shows a black experience. And there are few things that are more challenging and uncomfortable than forcing someone to abdicate their privilege and see the world through the eyes of someone like me. Even if it is just a video game.

Justin is part of the Three Fifs Podcast, a weekly podcast dedicated blackness in pop culture and politics, with a side of ratchet couture