Mafia: Game of Sin?

Mafia is a game that many people enjoy playing. Basically involving an assassin, townspeople and mafia (there are variations on this). It’s a game where the townspeople and assassin are on the same side, and are trying to get rid of the mafia, while the mafia are trying to either get rid of the assassin or all of the townspeople. This is done through a process of voting or just plain killing.

One of the key concepts of mafia is deception, and this is the issue that I have with the game. Although lying is not compulsory in mafia, it is often necessary and encouraged. Many people say that it is ok, because it is within the game, and people understand that it is going to happen.


However, the lying in mafia does cause real emotions. People who are lied to, do feel deceived, and this can lead to broken relationships (in part or whole), an effect of real world lying. So in love, can we justify playing this game?

Also, if we are saying that it is acceptable to lie in mafia, is it then ok to introduce sinful ideas to other games. Can we play drinking games to get drunk, and say that they are ok because the drunkenness is within the game? I would say a definite no to that question, and that is why for a number of years I have not played mafia, or any other games that tempt me to lie.

Is mafia a game of sin?


19 Responses to “Mafia: Game of Sin?”

  1. 1 Steph May 30, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    aggression is a key concept in rugby, and in hockey. it is not compulsory, but it is often necessary, and is encouraged.

    for example, i have been in many games where in order to mark my player, i have had to be aggressive. the other player tends not to appreciate it, but she understands that i am just playing my position.

    conversely, when i have been hit in the chin with a stick, or had a ball hit into my knee in a short corner, i have been genuinely, physically, hurt. do i take that personally?

    sometimes in these games, a play will be made called a ‘fake’. it involves feigning passing the ball one way, but at the last minute turning it and passing it the other.

    this often leaves the other player feeling embarrassed, and genuinely deceived.

    sometimes the aggression gets out of hand, and goes beyond what is acceptable in the game. e.g. rugby brawls.

    but does that mean we stop playing these sports?

    i appreciate your concern for what might arise out of playing mafia. but i think that vigilance, self-control and thicker skin are better solutions to the problems you’ve outlined about the deception involved in mafia.

  2. 2 Calum Henderson May 30, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Good points Steph, Perhaps a more appropriate approach to these games (and all things) would be to ask the question. How can I show God’s love through this?

    I think that I still have issues with outright lying in games, I don’t think a fake is an outright lie. But I will be thinking more about how that type of deception compares with the deception in Mafia.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. 3 Nath Carter May 30, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Strikes me that the presumption of this post is that there’s no other sins occurring in the game. There are a thousand games that ask you to lie, cheat and steal, but it occurs to me that it’s sort of missing the other sinful elements of the game: murder, mutilation, destruction. Would you say it’s encouraging murder to play a game that encourages you to put bullets through skulls? I think it’s a little bit ‘double standards’ to say that lying in a game is bad, but shooting someone, totally legit. Not saying that you have double standards, Calum, but it does seem to me that if you want to count the sins in Mafia, you’d better have a pen, paper, and a few hundred hours to kill.

    If you want a *really* sinful game… try GTA IV. Running over pedestrians? Check. Breaking road rules? Check. Sexual relations with random women? Check. Full frontal male nudity in one expansion pack? Check.

  4. 4 Calum Henderson May 31, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Fair point Nath.

    I think my issue with the game is that it is the act of lying within the game.

    A game like GTA simulates murder and everything that you mentioned, but you don’t actually kill people. Lying happens in Mafia.

    However it is probably not that helpful to play games like GTA, but at the same time, is it ok to play those games assuming that they don’t cause you to sin?

  5. 5 Richard Glover May 31, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    “However it is probably not that helpful to play games like GTA, but at the same time, is it ok to play those games assuming that they don’t cause you to sin?”

    No. Jesus says:

    “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

    Matthew 5.21-22, 27-30.

  6. 6 Tim Mitchell May 31, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Interesting points- I enjoy playing Mafia, so I’ll make a quick attempt to defend it and answer your arguments- I am studying law after all, so this defense counts as study right…? 😛

    I think it comes down to your definition of lying. Would you consider acting in a play wrong? After all, you are telling the audience that you are someone who you are not. What about if the character says a lie as part of the storyline of the play? I’d say most Christians would consider these things OK, since its in a context where the intention is that things that are said are not to be taken as truth, and are therefore not lies.

    I’d say Mafia is something similar- players are acting as members of the Mafia. In the context of this acting game, again, it is clear that the intention of the things said is they they should not be assumed to be true. So how can we play it in love? By making sure that everyone understands how the game works before playing perhaps so people don’t feel deceived?

    I don’t think your example with drinking games is really comparable. Drunkenness is not the sort of action which is determined whether or not it’s a sin based on the circumstances- ie, taking something from something is sometimes a sin (eg stealing) but sometimes not (eg borrowing). Likewise, saying words which are false can be a sin (lying) but is not always, depending on the circumstances.

    (But I can also see how it could potentially be bad- I’ll have to think about it a bit more!)

  7. 7 Calum Henderson June 1, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    @Rich Good point, but how strictly do Christians actually adhere to this…

    @Tim Excellent points! I think you will make a great lawyer.

    I think acting is fine, as no one is being deceived through it. I don’t watch a movie, and feel like Bruce Willis has personally hurt me.

    I still think that the deception involved in Mafia is important to avoid, and I don’t think that it is ok to say that just because people are aware of the deception, means that they need to toughen up. I think that lying in that manner can destroy real trust.

    Maybe there is space to play mafia without deception… I don’t know if it would be fun at all though. (are you the mafia? Yes)

  8. 8 Tim Mitchell June 2, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Maybe you can play it without lies- have a rule that no-one is allowed to claim they are or are not one of the Mafia, or ask anyone else if they are or not.

    So the only statements made are about what people think others are- opinions, not lies.

  9. 9 Andrew Murray June 2, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    I clearly haven’t played intense Mafia games. Played enough to be familiar with what it is, but there is clearly a level beyond judging from this discussion. So I guess I’ve only experienced the tame form that Tim suggests.

    I have heard people comment on the fact that the game Cheat involves lying, but I really do think that is okay. It’s very confined in Cheat. The declaration of ‘Two jacks’ may or may not be true. This is widely acknowledged. There is theoretically no potential for someone to be hurt or insulted by the lack of truth, because it is declared from the outset that those two words, and those two words alone, are possibly not the case. No more concerning then offering bait in a game of chess – where you have explicitly made aware that your moves will do all that is humanly possibly to wipe out the other pieces, and if that involves a temporary feeling of success on the part of the other player, to be followed be a feeling of defeat, then so be it. Such things are an inherent part of the game. Again, as long as you’re clear about the confined nature of it.

    Having said that, I’m not encouraged experienced players to attack new people in unexpected ways, because they tend to be surprised. The key is to operate on a level that the other people can reasonably deal with.

    But others may disagree with me on my view of chess there.

  10. 10 Calum Henderson June 4, 2009 at 11:30 am

    @Tim I like that rule, I could see it working. I like the fact that it discourages lying without ruining the fun of the game.

    @Andrew Maybe chess and cheat fall under a different category to Mafia. Mafia itself involves a lot of discussion and communication, which is where I think people can get hurt. Through chess and cheat I think that the deception is through the action, which is expected, similarly to how deception through faking in a sport would be considered legit.

  11. 11 Richard Glover June 15, 2009 at 1:57 am

    Replying rather late in the piece…

    Calum, how strictly do we adhere to anything Jesus says? Do we take his words at face-value, or decide that he must have meant something less hard that we just need to discover through careful ‘interpretation’?

    If ‘face-value’ isn’t our starting point, we’re on dangerous ground.

    Also, nothing we do for ‘fun’ is ever totally divorced from who we are. Playing games that encourage lying surely have some effect on our wider perceptions.

  12. 12 Calum Henderson June 15, 2009 at 9:54 am

    @Rich I think we definitely don’t adhere strictly enough to some things that Jesus says, and we need to work together towards a life that is Holy (though this can’t be attained). It’s awesome that God already sees us as Holy!

    Thanks for your input

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  15. 15 HD February 22, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    Calum, I am in agreement with the avoiding Mafia. The topic isn’t brought up to be right or wrong, but to be a light and examples and leaders of mission. I don’t like the biggest deception of them all: everyone thinks it’s fun and just pretend. Compare it to whatever they want to make it sound as good as they want! I’m a humorous person too! BUT Something comes too close to the heart when people practice lying (witnessing Christians “pretend” lying) even when it is just for fun! That’s the great enemies joy in all of this. Satan loves that most everyone is just right at ease about the game. I’m looking at the speck in my own eye though and just ask for more of God’s grace and also the prayer that people will choose other Holy Spirit filled activities than mafia. It is a narrow path and mafia is a popular game to play. I suppose my heart is what I protect by not playing it and in hopes that it will catch on. Not many of my friends feel the conviction. But I announced my peace and conviction to them honestly, boldly, and in love. As God’s children do we want to make this a popular game? Are lying lips an abomination to God whether pretend or not pretend? It depends on your heart and intention I suppose. I can only judge myself and pray for others. Giving it up to God 🙂 I like this blog topic! God is the only one who can convict! All glory to God and His wisdom.

  16. 16 Sunshine January 28, 2018 at 5:28 am

    I totally agree with you and struggle with this. I find myself being seen as a spoil sport when I say this to others.. but I feel convicted that I shouldn’t play this game anymore

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