“Who is Lincoln Clay?” by Various Authors

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To close out our month of articles on Hanger 13’s Mafia III, we wanted to highlight Lincoln Clay, the game’s protagonist and one of the most magnetic characters to appear in videogames in quite some time. 

Lincoln Clay is complicated. In an attempt to feature viewpoints other than our own, we asked a few guests to share their take on Mafia III’s star by answering the question: “Who is Lincoln Clay?”

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Blake Hester

Lincoln Clay is obsession. Lincoln Clay is hatred. Lincoln Clay is the toxic combination of both, an absolute force that not only wants to kill you, but will enjoy killing you. He is distilled anger, a feeling everyone knows. He has an insatiable thirst for revenge, something we’ve all felt—even if we choose not to admit it. In many ways, Lincoln Clay’s utter destruction in Mafia III is an extension of our deepest, darkest thoughts. It’s a love letter to vengeance, a romanticisation of malice, and it’s fun. Which is shocking. I, too, am angry at the Marcanos. I, too, wanted to send the knife repeatedly through that guard’s face. I, too, pressed the button to end Sal Marcano’s life like it was my God-given duty. I, too, am having a hell of a time doing it.

Mafia III is not a spectacular game, and aside from its story it doesn’t do anything all that new. Most games are violent, most games make their player kill hundreds of nameless foes—it’s the trope of tropes. But, where Mafia III differentiates itself is in the way it makes us killers, not simply objective fulfillers. Nathan Drake shoots a man to progress to a treasure, to find a fortune, to provide for his wife. Lincoln Clay kills to kill more. He kills uphill until he reaches the top, and is finally able to look down on his destruction. For 30 or so hours, blood will have blood, and you both won’t stop until the last drop falls.

Blake Hester is a KY-based writer. His work has been featured on Polygon, Kill Screen, IGN, and more. Follow him on Twitter @metallicaisrad.

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Jason Dafnis

Lincoln Clay is not a lens through which to view ‘60s blackness. He’s a kaleidoscope that refracts the thick social atmosphere of the Civil Rights-era American south into a panoply of identities and perceptions tied to the Black experience.

As a mixed-race person of color, neither of them strictly Black, Lincoln’s anger, passion, and struggle for autonomy exemplify an essential blackness rather than an iconic one: Even as he’s rejected by the world around him, he’s neither martyred nor put on a pedestal. Cassandra, his Haitian cohort, even has to remind him of the consequences his crusade is having for his fellow people of color. When she asks Lincoln, “What do you think people will see?” she’s not just talking about whites.

Lincoln’s multifaceted characterization allows us to see through a single man’s vengeful obsession and observe instead the diverse attitudes and perspectives of the “savage whole,” as Cassandra calls it, which the rest of New Bordeaux sees writhing behind every black face.

Jason Dafnis is a writer in Minneapolis. On Twitter, he’s @nintendufus.

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Harry Mackin

Lincoln Clay’s life is stolen from him twice. When the orphan joined the Army he was hoping to find a place to belong and to learn how to be a man. Instead, he learned how to kill. When the veteran finally returns home, his life is stolen from him again. When the soldier awakens from a bullet-induced coma, he dons his army jacket, shaves his head, and finally finds a place where he belongs.

At home, Lincoln goes to war again. He calls his CIA contact, establishes a “tactical center,” and begins conducting military operations “just like what I did in Vietnam.” Lincoln’s movements in combat—his ruthless efficiency—is almost mechanical. It doesn’t match his personality. When Lincoln talks, he’s brooding, angry, and human. When he kills, he’s a machine.

In period fiction, veterans have trouble adjusting to peace. But Lincoln is never allowed the privilege of peace. It’s not his familiarity with killing that marks him an outsider; it’s everything else. The problem is never that Lincoln is too bloodthirsty; it’s that he wasn’t bloodthirsty enough when he needed to be. Ironically, the skills that should have made life difficult instead make life possible. For Lincoln, America is a war unto itself. A war he excels at.

Lincoln acts because it’s the only way for him to survive. Lincoln doesn’t bring the war back with him; the war is already there. The orphan, soldier, veteran, and criminal is the natural conclusion to the capitalism and imperialism that make up the American Dream. It’s not enough to compete; we have to dominate. It’s not enough to win; we have to kill.

Harry Mackin is a freelance game critic from Minneapolis. He has written for Paste, Playboy, Unwinnable, and more. He never turned off Lincoln’s lethal takedowns. His twitter is @Shiitakeharry.

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Ed Smith

Lincoln Clay is handsome, cool, tough and wants to kill white people.

That’s all the convincing I need.

At its weakest, Mafia III mugs for nuance. The documentary frame-narrative and the game’s final hour are ways of protracting rather than solidifying Lincoln’s character. His dialogue is well-written, but I’m wary of relentlessly, joyfully violent games which also try to sell me on the idea violence is bad.

Aside from contextualising his combat abilities and access to CIA resources, I don’t care about Lincoln’s military past. When it comes to killing Sal Marcano, the last thing I want to see is Lincoln wringing his hands. Typically, he murders with a smile, and I smile right along with him. His crystalline resolve is a gun-butt to the faces not just of out-and-out racists but “actually, All Lives Matter” internet pseudo-intellectuals, who adhere to dubious statistics, false equivalencies and arguing the toss “logic” over raw, first-hand, human experience.

So when Mafia III starts questioning Lincoln—when he begins to look at himself, inside himself—I’m reminded of times, like during the Ferguson demonstrations, when white people will surmise “they’d get their point across better if they protested peacefully.” It sounds cordial and like it has the best interests of Black people at heart, but is an attempt, in fact, to not only dilute the ferocity of movements like Black Lives Matter, and so make them easier for white people to ignore, but to humble Black people before assumed white civility. Such condescension betrays a lack of basic empathy—expecting a people, marginalised, brutalised, and outright murdered by their own government for hundreds of years to then sit and peacefully talk it through would be perfect for the institution, since it would imply everyone is equal (they are not), has equal access to opportunities and communication with the system (they don’t) and that the discoursal, political process has the best interests of all people at heart (it doesn’t).

Likewise, when Mafia III starts to blur and complicate Lincoln Clay, it’s as if the game is expecting him to now act upon and be governed by the same moral codes as the white man. Maybe he’d get his point across better if he protested, peacefully.

Ed Smith contributes to Vice, The Observer, Edge, Play Magazine, and Kill Screen. Find him on Twitter @mostsincerelyed.