As I was playing through what I hope is the endgame of Fable 2 -- I finally got back around to the game when I realized the imminent release of Fable 3, which I can’t justify buying if I haven’t finished the second one -- I came upon another of the games moral choices. Namely, do I force a young woman to sacrifice her youth and keep myself healthy in order to better complete my mythic quest, or do I make the sacrifice on my own and deal with the consequences?
This was to be a weighty choice, a moment where I should be living up to my in-game reputation as a paragon of virtue. I was, after all, running around the vaguely European fantasy world of Albion with a literal halo over my head as the result of my conscientious approach to helping those in need, giving to the poor and eating a health diet of mostly vegetables. I had worked hard at saintliness.
Still, I found myself unable to give a good goddamn any longer, so I made her get old and decrepit so I could hurry up and finish this damn game already.
Probably not the choice context Peter Molyneux was shooting for.
You’d think that moral choices in an ironically humorous fictional universe would be just the sort of videogaming experience that would light my fire. And you’d be right, if we were talking about Fallout 3.
I have to say that Fallout 3 (I never played 1 or 2) is one of my favorite games ever. It’s often wildly funny in its creation of a post-apocalyptic world that’s aesthetically frozen in the post-war, can-do 1950s American ethos. But, unlike Fable, the humor inherent in the fictional world never really detracts from the feel of weight on the choices you make to be “good” or “evil.” In large part, this is because Fallout presented multiple characters to interact with -- characters with motivations and backstories to be discovered depending on how you choose to play -- while Fable mostly presents a parade of automatons who laugh when you fart.
My default position when playing moral choice games is to play as the good guy, at least on the first run through. After I finished Fallout 3, maxing out my character through the main and downloadable quests, I still wanted to play some more, so I created an evil character. I took her through the same story as my more saintly character, but making the choices that were selfish and cruel. Fairly early on, to keep the story moving forward, I nuked the entire city of Megaton, killing all the characters -- death in Fallout is a permanent and consequential thing.
I actually felt kind of queasy after I did it. Not long after, I put the game aside. It just felt wrong to me.
I don’t say that to put some moral judgment on those who enjoy playing the evil side in a role-playing game -- no different than literature and film, evil characters can be some of the most compelling. It’s just that, for me, it seems I prefer experiencing evil less vicariously. I’m happy to thrill at villains making despicable choices; I just don’t want to make those choices for myself.
Unless the game is really boring. In which case, I’m as evil as the next bastard.
So Fable 3 and Fallout New Vegas are both out in the next week or so. I think my choice is going to be pretty obvious.