As Real as it Gets?
“Made Man is about as close to really being in the mob as a game can be. You turn your back on the wrong person, that’s it, game over. I have worked with author David Fisher to make sure every level, every scene, every detail, actually represents the inner workings of organized crime. No question about it this is as real as it gets.”
-Bill Bonanno, Real life Made Man and former high-ranking member of the Bonanno crime family.
At the risk of sounding unreasonable, I have seen every episode of The Sopranos and the whole Godfather Trilogy, and I cannot imagine that the new video game Made Man is the most authentic experience of mob life ever presented in the media.
Sure, I am comparing fictional worlds here (though The Godfather has some literal seeds of the truth to it), but if verisimilitude is what these works of mob fiction are in part about, Made Man seems to lack that quality in spades.
Though, perhaps, making a comparison between film and television and this video game is entirely appropriate given that what Made Man most seems to want to be is a film.
This mafia “simulation” certainly contains a healthy dose of scripting as it is organized in a nonlinear structure by a frame tale. By nonlinearity, though, I mean that in the narratorial sense, which is quite different from the way that nonlinearity is typically defined within electronic media. The game is not a free roaming experience a la Grand Theft Auto where you can make choices that drive the story in a direction of your choosing. Instead, it is a series of missions divided by chapters that tell the story of the rise of a mafia soldier named Joey Verola.
In the present, Joey is on his way to being made. Driving with a colleague to his destination, he recounts about three decades worth of his experience in the mob as well as some related incidents in Vietnam. The ordering of the stories has a kind of authenticity to it in the sense that Joey leaps back and forth in time in order to link up various events and characters in his narrative—much as anyone might who is attempting to fill someone in about their past. As noted, though, this narratorial structure is a fairly traditional cinematic style, though, with the frame tale used as a device to advance key plot points and showing us the significance of this end to Joey’s quest to get made. In that sense this attempt at authentication seems to really lend itself more to dramatic need than any naturalistic tendency.
Indeed, though, once the voiceover narrative ends and the missions begin, any signs of naturalism and authenticity go out the window in favor of the same old video game conventions of a third person shooter. Joey trots along, collecting weapons, medicine, and ammo while unloading on hordes of rival mafiosi and FBI agents. I am not sure that these old conventions reflect any kind of realistic aesthetic.
I realize that folks in the mafia tend to get their hands dirty. But, do they really kill hundreds of people at a stretch?
I also realize that combat elements are essential to many video game experiences, but haven’t games like Grand Theft Auto and The Godfather shown that there are a variety of ways of providing a more holistic depiction of a gangster’s lifestyle simply through sheer variety of mission types representing crimes ranging from pimping to dealing?
Haven’t the aforementioned cinematic depictions of the mafia suggested the same notions and, for that matter, that violence has more than physical consequences? The “realism” of The Sopranos or The Godfather has very much to do with violence as a lifestyle, but they also engage the subject of violence in a sophisticated ethical, sociological, and psychological way. For that matter, so, too, do the video games that I just mentioned. Both Grand Theft Auto and The Godfather, for instance, deal with the function of physical threats, the economics of violence, and the rewards and ethical consequences of such actions.
I realize that Made Man is a simple budget title with little opportunity to develop the kinds of bells and whistles necessary to add the variety of gameplay styles that lend themselves to a more thoroughly realized world, which might lead to more of an experience of the criminal lifestyle rather than a scripted story concerning it. It just seems that making claims that “this is as real as it gets” begs for such criticism in a media that has already managed to get much realer than folks like Bill Bonanno claim it can be.