Mafia: Survival Game


We’ve all seen childhood games taken and turned into big budget flops (alas, poor Pac Man), but sometimes the pastimes of our youth turn into something not only new, but worthwhile. When I was a kid, the most popular game at sleepovers, lock-ins, and dull afternoon hang-outs was a game called Mafia (or Werewolf, depending on your friends). You’ve probably heard of it.

Although some versions of the game include additional characters (nurse, sheriff, narrator), there are two primary groups: the civilians/innocents and the mafia. At “night” everyone closes their eyes, and the mafia choose a victim. In the “morning,” the victim is revealed, and everyone must decide who is a mafia member. At the end of each round, a player is sentenced to death by popular vote. The game ends when the mafia have all died, or when there are more mafia than civilians (because they have control of the vote).


It’s a relatively simple game, but even adults enjoy playing, and there’s no easier way to undermine that sweet, naïve trust you have in your friends than to watch them cackle in glee after slaughtering you and everyone you love. It should come as no surprise that Mafia/Werewolf began as a psychological exercise. The game originated in the USSR; Dmitry Davidoff claims to have first introduced Mafia/Werewolf to his students at Moscow University in 1987.

Fittingly, a Russian cyberpunk film is set to release in 2016 featuring not only the title, but the nefarious mechanics of the infamous parlor game. Remember our article about the upcoming Russian superhero film, Guardians? Mafia: Survival Game is headed by the same director, Sarik Andreasyan. This can only mean good things, and the plot synopsis is promising.

Like the Captiol citizens in The Hunger Games, residents of this dour new world take their pleasure from watching very literal violence in their “game” shows. Contestants, trapped in robotic chairs (or coffins) play to win, because failure ends… messily. Around them, the arena twists in horribly beautiful contortions of the human form: layer upon layer of figures, faces, and hands. It’s a clever metaphor for the game’s deeper meaning, and it evokes an edgy sort of classicism against the wires and lights dominating the center stage. Examining the entertainment industry is a favorite cyberpunk angle, and the diversity of character types in the trailer indicates a broad and well-developed world.


There are many references to the real-life game, even in the trailer. Everything from the arrangement of contestants’ chairs to the doomful narrator’s particular wording evoke little trips down memory lane (“The city goes to sleep…”). Instead of obnoxious pandering, however, these little details serve to draw viewers into a clever new story. We may be able to empathize, but we’re definitely headed into new territory.

The movie kicks off the new year, premiering in Russia January 1st, 2016. Those of us trapped on other continents can only wait (im)patiently for a digital release. In the meantime, who would like to play a game?

Leigh Hood is a rare beast of the Cincinnati wilderness typically preoccupied with writing, nerding, and filming The Spittoon List. For more articles and stories by M. Leigh Hood, look HERE.


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