The power of labels in Mafia

A few years ago, I read an SF novel by Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17. In the novel, during an interstellar war, one side developed a language that was actually a weapon. Learning the language would turn the learner into a traitor by changing how they could think and what they could think. The language was initially thought to be some sort of code or cypher. The novel explores the “peculiarities of language, how conditions of life shape the formation of words and meaning, and how the words themselves can shape the actions of people.” The novel was based on Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, also known as linguistic relativity, which posits that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its respective speakers conceptualize their world, i.e. their world view, or otherwise influences their cognitive processes. The strong version of the theory is pretty deterministic - linguistic categories limit cognitive categories. The weak version of the theory states that linguistic categories and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behavior.

The theory has been long discredited, and in fact I think had already fallen into disrepute before this novel was written. Language and linguistics have been subthemes in several of Delany’s novels, including his Neveryon series, that takes place at the dawn of human civilization.

So, what does this have to do with mafia?

When I first started playing mafia, I often struggled to explain my reasons for thinking another player was scum because the mafia vocabulary in use on the site was pretty limited. “because behavior X is scummy” works for absolute tells (a bad word, but bear with me), but completely failed to capture the significance of relative tells: “because player A tends to exhibit behavior X in situations like Y”. I started importing non-mafia concepts into my mafia vocabulary in an effort to better express cases. “pattern matching”. “body of work”. “trajectory”. “appetite for this lynch” and assorted other phrases that conveyed my observations and conclusions better than “because behavior X is scummy”. Basically, I could write a longwinded explanation of “pattern matching” - something that goes by terms like “meta analysis” elsewhere - give it a snappy label and hope it caught on. And, maybe I wouldn’t have to write another long explanation the next time I caught someone doing something I thought was scummy for them given their historical play and how their game had developed over time.

I wasn’t alone in vocabulary enrichment of course, and the mafia lexicon grew deeper, more complex, and I am not even sure whether the language drove player improvements or player improvements drove the language in that environment.

Since then, playing in environments where the communities’ raison de etre is Mafia and they function as a sort of Mafia Mecca, I have found that the lexicons in use are orders of magnitude more rich and varied than on sites where the same 30-50 people play games over and over and over again.

But, I think that language is still something of a limiter. Some terms may have distinct meanings for a while, but over time they dissolve a little, become too generalized, and perhaps too well known. This is particularly true of named tells, e.g., Amished. Awareness of a particular scumhunting tool or technique shapes player behaviors, and the tool’s “finds” become less pronounced and less of a sure thing regarding a player’s alignment. I liken it to an arms race.

Is the language of mafia practice and theory robust enough? Are there concepts that have fuzzy expression or virtually no expression? How does a more or less agreed upon vocabulary shape or limit the way the game is played? Are poorly expressed or intentionally unexpressed or mis-expressed scumhunting concepts or techniques a competitive advantage? Or do they limit a player’s effectiveness in making cases and influencing other players?

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Honestly I thought you were going to talk about labels in this article rather than language in general. As a linguist myself I have to say that labels (like how people get labelled “bad”, “scum MVP”, or “au*****c”) are one of the most subtle elite tier tools that can be used by elite tier scum. According to the social psychologist Henri Tajfel, the use of labels can create “ingroups” and “outgroups” within players, which significantly affects how people in the ingroup and out group think. So, with the conscientious and calculated use of labels, a scum player can manipulate town into thinking what the scum want and achieve certain objectives that benefit scum wincon. I personally used this strategy a couple of times especially in high tier scumgames. Usually players who are smart enough and such an acute ability to manipulate language so well are usually great scum players anyway, who would likely win 90% of average games with average opponents without the use of such forbidden ancient tools. But, I don’t really see much of good for the use of labels as town because it isn’t really so useful to manipulate how others think as town. So mainly a God tier scum tool that requires fine manipulation and key understanding of how language works.

As for mafia language and terminology itself, I can see how it would have been a problem in the old days without the vocabulary to properly articulate ones scumreads. Truth be told in the past I was a great accurate scumhunter but lacked quite a bit in the skills of articulating why I scumread someone. That kind of skill doesn’t come with mafia experience, I think the ability to explain oneself comes more from maturity and also IRL education. In the past I’d just say “X is scummy” and hope it sticks, though you can imagine this wasn’t taken too well until I had a proven track record of accuracy. A player gave some advice, saying that I could use “X is scummy because of gut”, it would make arguments at least substantiated, but as you can imagine that probably wouldn’t convince many people either. I think in general it’s rather difficult to get people to see your way or to convince them of another perspective anyways, and mafia does help us get trained in that skill, be it by hook or by crook (brute force or logical arguments).

Anyway, forum mafia is played with language so obviously language is going to be the main foundation here. Those who are more articulate, charismatic, and perhaps having a fine grasp of the language such that they can weaponize it for their own purposes are going to be the strongest players

Another way you can see how labels are weaponized in real life, look no further than good president Donald Trump. He did a pretty effective 1v1 campaign against calling her labels such as “Bad!” and some other stuff you’re probably more familiar with than me. And Hillary pretty much crumbled because she didn’t really have a good label to counter Donald trump with. Your political views aside, it’s undeniable that he did achieve success with his campaign (he won) and one good factor I would argue is because he harnessed the power of labels in his effective 1v1 versus Hillary.

How does this relate to mafia? Well, now that you understand the power of labels, you can do this too next time you 1v1 someone, maybe it will help you win it

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oops, realized I necro’d a one month old thread :stuck_out_tongue:

sometimes I catch scum!!! but I dunno how to explain they are and nobody believes me D:

Fake a guilty on them

Just be sure to be correct


but then people might yell at me… SO I’M SCARED!!!

They won’t yell at you if you’re correct


Okay. Please be correct with your reads. Have fun Riley!

How could you do this, @Metal Sonic, don’t teach riley wrong :<

tbh, that’s not something I’d want to see in mafia games. The toxicity would go far beyond a single game.

Yeah don’t be mean mafia is a game where everyone is nice to each other and everyone gets along and there is absolutely no death in a game of mafia no body dies and everyone lives happily ever after and no one insults or calls each other “bad” either because we’re all friends who want to treat each other nicely.

Is there a reason why you want to recast my comment in these terms?

I mean, this isn’t a mafia game, it’s a theory discussion. We can take each other at face value and don’t need to put words in each others’ mouths.

1v1s are a part of the game. The toxic effects of Trump’s namecalling didn’t magically go away on Inauguration Day.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah I’m sorry for memeing :frowning:

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I think I need a srs-detector checkup!

No, if you are using labels effectively you don’t necessarily have to be toxic. I was just giving example. I also had to pick a very obvious and also very undeniable and universal example to prove the point

that certainly is one way to play it though, no kidding. LOL.

What if ya are mafia and ya call ya teammate a cutie so everyone else likes themsies?

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That’s one good example to use the power of labels yes! Smart cutie!!

why are you bolding the word labels?