Mafia Victim Families Fight Violent Video Games

Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.'s newly released game "Mafia II"Source: via Bloomberg

The Mafia killed Sonia Alfano’s father, Sicilian journalist Beppe, on Jan. 8, 1993. Now she’s fighting against video games that she says trivialize violence and murder.

A member of the European Parliament, Alfano opposes games such as “Mafia II” by Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., whose investors include billionaire Carl Icahn. The sequel to 2007’s “Mafia” for personal computers, Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360 and Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 3 lets players take on the role of Vito Scaletta, who rises through the organization’s ranks, going from petty robberies to mob hits, gunfights and combat.

“It really, really hurts,” Alfano, who’s also the president of Italy’s association for the families of Mafia victims, said in an interview. “We can’t allow this to happen, our wounds are still too fresh.” She asked the European Commission last week to consider banning the games.

About 26 percent of titles sold in the U.S., the biggest market for video games, in the 10 months ended October carried an M rating for mature content, up from 16 percent a year earlier, according to Anita Frazier, an analyst at industry tracker NPD Group Inc. That amounts to $5.54 billion in sales.

Titles including Mafia II were among the strongest contributors to the 32 percent increase in net revenue in the fourth quarter ended Oct. 31, Take-Two said yesterday.

Language, Violence Warning

Before the results were released, Mike Hickey, an analyst at Janco Partners Inc. in Greenwood Village, Colorado, wrote in a note that Take-Two may sell about 1.27 million copies of Mafia II in its fiscal year, bringing in $55 million and making it the New York-based company’s fourth best-seller in terms of revenue. Take-Two’s shares have risen 19 percent in 2010, outperforming the 12 percent gain in the Russell 3000 Technology Index.

Mafia II’s M warning comes from its gore, violence and strong language. In Europe, the Pan European Game Information rates it 18+ and warns against violence and bad language. The game has the greatest number of instances of the “f-word” among video games with 397 in the 75,000-word script and 15-hour single-player story, according to Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition 2011.

“‘Mafia II’ tells a compelling story about organized crime in America -- a subject that for decades has been featured in award-winning movies, television shows and novels such as ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Sopranos,’” said Alan Lewis, Take-Two’s vice president for corporate communications and public affairs. “We fully and completely stand behind our creative teams and products, including ‘Mafia II.’”

‘The Godfather’

Italian-American organizations opposed the release of Mafia II in August, said Andre DiMino, chief media officer of New Jersey-based Italian-American group, UNICO.

Electronic Arts Inc., the second-largest U.S. video-game company, has published titles based on “The Godfather” novel by Mario Puzo that was made into a film by Francis Ford Coppola.

“Movies and games reflect the allure and repulsion that people feel toward violence,” said Janet Murray, a professor of Digital Media at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “Games raise special anxieties because they are active and participatory.”

The Sicilian Mafia, or Cosa Nostra, is the most tightly knit and best known. It has existed since the middle of the 19th century, historians say. There were on average 116 Mafia and organized-crime killings a year in Italy between 2004 and 2008.

Gaming companies are becoming more sensitive to opposition in Europe to violent games. Microsoft introduced a Pan-European website called Play Smart, Play Safe this month that helps families determine what video and online games to buy.

Wide Range

“We have to deliver a platform that can offer the widest range of entertainment experiences possible,” Andrew House, head of Sony Corp.’s game unit in Europe, said in an Oct. 15 interview. Sony creates a “good balance” between games for mature users while delivering others like “Gran Turismo 5,” a car racing simulator play, for a broader audience, he said.

While violent content is generally rated by the likes of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, themes in games are more difficult to monitor, said William Lugo, a professor of sociology at the Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic.

“The only message within video games that is highly regulated is violence,” he said. “The harder and more complex messages, such as those having to do with race, politics, or in this case the Mafia, are outside the realm of responsibility of game companies.”

The video-game industry may become more socially responsible as it matures, Lugo said, a development the Mafia victims’ association’s Alfano would welcome.

“These games transform the Mafia, a reality of death and destruction, into a thrilling and hands-on virtual pastime,” she said. “Even if momentarily, players identify with brutal killers and for us who have experienced violence firsthand, it’s appalling.”

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