What follows is a slightly more personal and subjective account than I’d normally post on this blog. I hope you forgive me. It also contains heavy Fable II spoilers, so read at your own peril.
Cultural objects are often infused with our own individual meanings. Our lives intersect with media in uncontrollable and unpredictable ways. As a child, I was not allowed to see Mrs. Doubtfire because my mother was still feeling the after-effects of a custody battle. I still can’t watch it without being reminded of my family’s history. I also have difficulty listening to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, as I had it on repeat for a month while studying for my final high school Russian History exam. Listening to that great opening movement brings back facts and ingrained topic sentences that I didn’t know I still had in me.
And so Fable II has also entered my life, infused with meaning that Lionhead Studios could not possibly have foreseen.
I currently sit at a crossroads. After years of schooling, I’ve finally reached a point where I have no clear path to follow. I have applied for further study, but I am increasingly uncertain if that was the right decision. I feel drawn to employment and financial security it offers after years of the student lifestyle. I also want to take time off and travel with my girlfriend. I’ve been contemplating my choices with increasing confusion over the last few weeks, and it looks like I might be trying for a compromise between all three. Essentially, these are questions of grand designs; the mythically overblown questions that are faced by all newly minted adults on their rites of passage. Where to from here?
I decided after months of study and little else that I would pick a game and spend time going through it lovingly and slowly, like I used to be able to do as a child. After much deliberation, the game I chose was Fable II. I don’t know if it is coincidence, or if I subconsciously picked a game that so mirrored my own circumstances, but whatever the case, Fable II has become part of my crossroads.
Early in my experiences with Fable II, I wrote about how the game illustrates your own personality, and how it had revealed mine. At that stage, I didn’t yet know the full truth of my argument. Fable II has revealed more about my own dilemmas and choices to be made than I could have ever expected from a videogame.
My marriage dilemma aside, I first noticed the connection between reality and my actions in Fable II in the latter stages of the game. By this stage, I was ignoring the main storyline and side-quests in an endeavor to become Albion’s greatest property tycoon. As far as I know, there isn’t a building available in the game that I now do not own (except Castle Fairfax, and I’m planning on buying that next time I play).
My actions interested me. Why was I bent on monopoly? Money isn’t a huge asset in Fable – once you get a steady stream of income from a few houses and a business or two, you are rarely in want for more. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure why I wanted to have such an unfathomably large income to the point of disregarding my other priorities. It certainly doesn’t make sense in terms of the world of Fable II. But it does make sense in terms of my reality. I’ve always been a bit of a money hoarder. I never drop below a certain amount in my bank if I can help it because I want know that if anything goes wrong, I can deal with it. With my present situation, more than ever, I’m interested in earning and saving money. It feels like I’m approaching the real world and I’m not yet well enough equipped to deal with it, so money is a way to help.
Maybe that was me in Fable II. Despite the fact that nothing would ever go drastically wrong, I wanted to know that if it did, I could deal with it. I wanted to be safe. Just like in reality.
However, it was Fable II‘s ending that really threw me. As previously mentioned, I consider myself a ‘morality player‘. I make in-game decisions almost exclusively with regard to my own ethical judgement, and I find it very difficult to play ‘evil’. Earlier in Fable, I had forced myself to marry a woman I otherwise would not have because I felt sorry for her. I also didn’t even have to think twice about sacrificing my age and looks for a nameless stranger later in the game. I did it without hesitation – it was clearly the right thing to do.
Yet at the final decision, the final choice for Fable II, I changed. I chose love. I chose to revive my own family and dog over the lives of thousands. This was not a black and white decision, but fairly clearly, I chose the path that benefited myself over countless others. I chose the needs of the few over the needs of the many, despite my claim to morality in playing. Hammer’s devastation at my choice – “they had families too” – was mirrored by my own. “It’s just not the choice I thought you would make”, she said. I agreed with her, slightly disbelieving at my own actions.
Why did I do it? It felt so right. Family and loss are the primary concerns of Fable II. As Sparrow, my family had been taken away from me. I was a street urchin without parents, and my only guide, my sister, was murdered before my eyes. Family is taken from many characters in the game; from Hammer, from the antagonist Lucien, even from my wife once before in her life, as her husband-to-be committed suicide after she jilted him. It just seemed right that one character in Fable II would have his family live, survive and love him.
The results were wonderful. I was overjoyed, absolutely overjoyed to see my dog and my family alive again. When I returned home, I couldn’t find my kids and spent a few moments searching Bowerstone Market for them. My son had only just been born before I left, and was in a cradle before the climax of the game. To see him and his sister run up to me and ask me if I remembered him was therefore absolutely heart-breakingly brilliant. For at least a moment, I truly believed what I had done was right. But the others that I had chosen to sacrifice, as Hammer had reminded me, had families too.
My decision was not the choice of a morality player. This was not the choice I would normally make. Why should I chose to save a family that I never really cared for – that I was forced to marry into, in fact – over the lives of countless innocents? I could have simply re-married, found another wife, one that I had actually pursued and lived happily ever after. I would have been without my dog, certainly, but the lives of the many are surely worth that small price.
I can only conclude that I did it not because of my Fable self, but because of my real self. A part of me has been reflected in Fable II‘s finale that I might not have seen otherwise. Is this what I want? Am I desperately seeking family, love, a job, a house, a life? Are my hopes and fears about the future so ingrained that I will decide against what I thought I was? Maybe I am simply not as ethical as I thought.
I’m not sure what this post says more about. There is a quality to Fable II that I find amazing, and it also says a lot about the unique power of videogames to impact on our lives. I am no closer to a decision, but now, I think I know what it is that I want. Or at least what I want to try for.
Only one thing is certain: never let me chose between your lives and those of my family. You may never live to regret it.