The way we play, or: How I was forced into marriage


One theme that has always interested me regarding videogames is the different ways that individuals play. Some play shooters amazingly confidently and aggressively, tearing through levels with little regard to personal safety. Others are obsessive compulsive players, who simply must check every single nook and cranny before moving on in case they miss something.

I am probably what you’d call a ‘morality’ player. I simply cannot commit bad acts or lead a life of evil in a videogame, unless I have no choice (ala Overlord). In Knights of the Old Republic I became a paragon extremely quickly, and in BioShock I never even considered harvesting a single Little Sister. I have tried playing the evil paths in games (I even tried being a Sith in KOTOR for about five minutes before I couldn’t go any further), but I just can’t keep it up. I can’t do the horrible things games like these ask you to do, despite the unreality of the whole thing.

I was at a press event recently and got in a conversation with a few journos and some PR guys about my problem. One journo was absolutely puzzled by my style of play, and for the rest of the afternoon treated me like I had some sort of disease. Others agreed with me, though there weren’t any with my level of fanaticism for the good path. Others still agreed in theory, but in practice, found it much easier to play evilly than not. KOTOR, for example, is much easier to complete as Sith than Jedi.

This leads me (there is a point, trust me) to my latest problem. I’ve been playing through Fable II over the last few days (and loving every moment of it – this is, on a level, how games should be made). My overnice tendencies have been rearing their head again, as expected, and I’ve been trying as hard as possible to stick to the good path, help all I can and love my canine companion.

Social experiences are an interesting aspect of the videogame. I have been experimenting with the expression system, even to the point where a few ladies, the game told me, would be amenable to proposals of marriage: not yet, I said, not until I can afford a house and an allowance for her. Then I’d pick out a nice barmaid somewhere, start a family when I could afford it, and maybe even get a business of my own. This would be hours and hours of gameplay away, well after I’d done my fair share of adventuring, and was moving on to the bulk of the game. Or so I thought.

Yesterday I encountered a ghost who asked me to seek revenge on a woman who had rejected him by wooing her and dumping her at the last minute. I wasn’t actually going to follow through with this, as I had bigger fish to fry, but when I found her hanging around the town square one evening, I couldn’t help but enter into discussion.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. To cut a long story short, I was eventually hit with the decision to marry her, or break her heart. I couldn’t do it. I simply could not do it. She sounded so hopeful, so earnest when she said that she never thought she could feel love again. Did I really want to consign her to a love-free and heartbroken life?

I am now engaged to a character I don’t much care for, earning a miserable crust as a blacksmith with only enough savings to purchase a modest house and with an entire universe to still to save. How will I earn enough to keep her? What if she wants to have kids? I could have picked any character in the game, I could have experienced the thrill of the chase, I could have gone on dates, bought her flowers, anything. But now I’m wondering if there is any way to get out of it. I don’t know how to break off the engagement, and I don’t think I would if I could. Murdering her is certainly out of the question, though it is – amazingly – possible.

I can’t help but think that a stronger player would have just broken the poor girl’s heart and continued playing the game to their plan. That would be the obvious thing to do. They wouldn’t let the sympathetic whimpers of a NPC distract them.

Does anyone else face this problem, or is it just me?



Filed under the way we play, videogames

8 responses to “The way we play, or: How I was forced into marriage

  1. I find my largest problem is that I don’t put myself in my character’s shoes quite the same way–I have a detached attachment, if that makes any sense. They are all characters that represent a part of myself, usually blown up to an extreme, that I then mold into fully sketched characters. As such, I have both sides of the moral spectrum. It is rarely a matter of good versus evil, though. Instead, it ends up being ideologies of the individual versus the greater society and whether or not this person feels entitled because of certain strengths.

    There is definitely a character of mine who would have been in your situation, however.

  2. You know, I was actually playing this exact section this afternoon. (You need to get a twitter account so you can join in the meandering, semi-pointless discussion =P)

    I completely identify with your play style. I played KOTOR as a Jedi and I have real difficulty playing as an ‘evil’ character… however, in this game I’ve somehow hit upon playing as a jaded and indifferent character scarred by the trauma in my past (or something like that). So when it came time to break her heart, I had no problem doing it and I fully expected to get some ‘evil’ points – but I didn’t! I don’t want to spoil it for you in case you play it again and try to break the habit, but it seemed to me like the designers either anticipated your situation to an extent, or just messed up and decided that breaking this woman’s heart and driving her to her death was just ‘funny’.

    Interesting that you think Fable 2 is a good example of “this is how games should be made”, with a qualification of course, but I don’t really get that vibe at all. It just seems like such a throwback to a bygone era to me. The Future looks more like Far Cry 2 to me which, while not without its own set of problems, is much more convincing in terms of the physicality of the world and embodiment within it. I mean, it can take just as long to DRIVE to a mission as it can to complete it. How awesome is that! It’s tedious, but then, so is life/war (so I hear).

    Whoops, kinda rambled off topic a bit. Great post Daniel.

  3. I first did that quest as my evil (male) brutish character, so breaking her heart was no problem. The next time through (I’ll be blogging later this week about why there is such a quick next time through), my charming (female) good character agreed to help the ghost until she realized that the guy wasn’t so bad after all.

    But she couldn’t bring herself to marry him. Not her type–a bit mawkish. But neither could she be openly cruel to him (particularly since I knew the end result of that behavior). So when faced with the opportunity, she destroyed the ghost’s letter and then didn’t ask him to marry her. So, that’s a quest that won’t be completed.

    But how awesome is it that we’re even in that position within a game’s storyspace at all?!

  4. Daniel Golding

    I think the most interesting part of this discussion is the realisation that others treat characters more like fictional people than extensions of yourself (though I’m sure that also plays a part somehow). Maybe this is where I’m going wrong; in order to commit deeds I wouldn’t even think of in reality, convincing myself that “it’s what the character would do” might make it palatable.

    To some degree I guess I already do this. In GTA IV, for example, at certain points I chose the good path mostly because the fiction of the game had convinced me that it was what Niko would do (and of course also partly because of my paragon-complex). But I think that Fable II’s lead is too much of a cypher for anything other than self-projection.

    I definitely agree, though, Corvus – that even a simple 10 minute sidequest can draw such a variety of responses says volumes about the quality of Fable II.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking comments, guys.

  5. My inclination is to play as Han Solo/chaotic good characters with the occasional streak of dark humor and plenty of sarcasm. As I’ve grown as a gamer, though, I’ve learned to develop and inhabit roles that either represent part of my own personality or even foreign personalities that I would like to experience and better understand. My first time through Mass Effect I played as someone desperate for the acceptance, appreciation, and approbation of others. I’m playing through Fable 2 as the quintessential “boy scout” (Leonardo, Cyclops, “lawful good,” goody-goody type). Generally, I dismiss this archetype as being overly shallow and not dynamic enough to keep me interested.

    When I hit the ghost side quest, I thought I would try and help the poor ghost guy, since he’d been wronged. I told myself that I would just be letting her know how much she hurt him, so that she would learn her lesson.

    I read the note and didn’t like it. I’d turned from disciplinarian into tool in a vindictive plot — and with no indication that I’d even mention the former lover, but instead simply burn her as she had burned the ghost. Still, I was curious to meet her when I noticed her in Bowerstone.

    As a side-effect of being such a nice and helpful guy, everyone in Bowerstone already loves me. I didn’t have to convince her of anything. She seemed truly remorseful, and I was glad that things had settled in as good a way as they could after the ghost’s suicide.

    Suddenly, I was stuck with the choice of the terrible act of vengeance or getting married. I had been looking for a wife, but wasn’t comfortable taking that plunge. Like in the BioShock golf club scene, I wanted nothing more than to turn and run. I actually noticed my left thumb pulling back hard on the analog stick.

    No luck.

    I later wandered past the ghost, and noticed that there was a second ghost. My heart sank, knowing that the ex had also committed suicide, and that I was largely to blame.

    Then I walked closer and overheard that they seemed to be making up. Things were looking good for the translucent couple! Somehow things had worked out. I was happy.

    Then she saw me and realized that it was all a plot to repay the hurt she’d caused Ghosty McEmo. Everything went to pot, and I ran off, depressed.

    I really appreciate that actions in Fable often have unintended or unforeseen consequences. On the other hand, I do wish inaction were a more constant option. There was an in-game reason for disallowing inaction in BioShock, but not here.

    I still love the game, though. It may be mostly because of how much I love Dogmeat.

    I may have to visit a rescue shelter soon if this keeps up.

  6. You are going to hate Far Cry 2, then. The game doesn’t really give you a choice : You’re there to assassinate The Jackal. You have to do one nasty job after another to get the information you need to find The Jackal. Everywhere you go you’ve got to blow your way through someone to get there. Your “buddies” are all malicious lunatics who are constantly goading you into doing even worse things.

    Maybe that’s one of Far Cry 2’s faults, though.

  7. Dammit, I’ve yet to even boot Fable II but I’d like to clarify my position on how I play games, especially RPGs, and that is to go with my gut.

    As a result, I will often find myself swaying between good / evil, or whatever.

    In other words, when playing a game like Mass Effect where you have a variety of dialogue options that arguably lead to the same eventual outcome, I would find myself reacting to a character based on what they were like and how I would have reacted. If, say, I was making a reasonable request which someone had rejected and I didn’t like them for other reasons, I’d likely threaten them at gun point.

    Faced with a similar situation with a character that I felt was deserving of some respect I’d try to coerce them with niceties. If this failed, I’d give up.

    Unfortunately, many games such as Mass Effect and even BioShock (where I harvested every little sister I came across until I met Tenebaum later), which only reward for choosing a path and sticking too it.

    I haven’t yet played Fable II but I hear that the game is about trading consequences and managing sacrifice and that appeals to me — it means that I should be able to play as “me” more or less and to live with the results of my actions.

  8. Pingback: Living in Fable « Subject Navigator

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