The 'Gamer Guilt' and Morality of Fable 2

Illustration for article titled The Gamer Guilt and Morality of Fable 2

David Nieborg has a thoughtful essay up over at Valuable Games on the subject of Fable 2 and its moral system — and the relative success (or not) of that system. As Nieborg points out, it would be entirely possible to play through the game and ignore the moral aspects, and in his view, the morality system is implemented more like a 'feature' or 'upgrade' — a nice add-on. While he finds a lot to like about the attempt to insert a morality system into the game, Nieborg does have some quibbles, especially when it comes to feedback:

In a way it is somewhat difficult to be really critical of a game which at least tries to implement a reasonably fleshed out moral system. Molyneux: “[In] Fable 2 there is much more colour to those choices: purity versus corruption, cruelty versus kindness, greed versus generosity. And then we play around with those moral choices. We want people to play as themselves rather than deciding to be good or evil.” The choices made are reflected in the player’s, the dog’s appearance, the world design and the way in which NPCs react to the main character. However, and this is my main problem with the game, it is not clear which ingame actions result in any of the world’s/NPC’s reactions .... Because there is a mix of major and minor moral decisions, it is not clear what the results of my actions are. My guess is that I took the game’s “good path”, because the city’s inhabitants seem to like me. But what made them like me? I don’t know. I raised prices 40 percent on all goods, I stole a lot of their stuff, I kicked a bunch of chickens all over the city square, and I married two women at the same time from the same town (one being a prostitute).

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He goes on to offer three potential design decisions that would mitigate what he calls 'gamer guilt' — the desire to get through and really understand a game, without having to necessarily play through two campaigns. It's a nice analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the morality system of Fable 2 and worth a read. Morality and “Gamer Guilt” in Fable 2 [Valuable Games]

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DISCUSSION

geminosity-old
Geminosity

While I love the idea of a social engine I think the whole good vs evil thing is silly really and totally the wrong way to tackle it.

First Fable II. Personally I don't think I actually gave a heck about anyone in the entire game-world nor the game-world itself because they had about as much depth or likeability as a paddling pool full of mud. I only did good things because of my natural moral stance (I'm not really capable of being bad most of the time, even in real life. I'm the kind of person who steps in if there's a problem on the street, like helping an old drunk who'd split his head open. Nobody even acknowledged the poor silly until I dropped my shopping and went over to guide him to a doorstep to sit on after which suddenly everyone was interested and I got the owner of a nearby shop to call for medical help. Dear god he smelled though :p).

The other reason I was good in Fable II and more important for me in games was vanity. The only time I was evil at all was when the choice was being good but being made ugly or sacrificing one of the game's silly NPCs instead. That NPC found themself in the line of fire before the question was even finished being asked :p

The choice at the end of the game filled me with utter apathy. I didn't really care about any of the choices.

Anyhoo, to get away from my personal experience a bit and tackle the actual mechanics a bit more: 'global' morality is flawed. If you killed someone deep in the woods with no witnesses there should be no way every single person you meet should know you did it.

Also, why is it totally fine to walk into someone and steal anything they have in a chest yet anything not in a chest is evil/corrupt? It's not consistant.

Is taking money and items from dead people not a moral question too? They might be bandits or whatever but you don't know the people nor what led them to this path of life: they're still humans. Yet when you kill them it's perfectly fine and heroic to scavenge goods from their lifeless bodies like some kind of battleground thief!

Rather than having a 'global' morality a better system would be to have it tracked by each individual (ambitious) or at least by geography. You could have burned down the town near to the current town but if no witnesses were left alive the current place has no way of knowing. Likewise, if you protected a village and helped it out the other villages wouldn't know that:

a) It had even happened until someone travelling carried word, which in most cases would likely be at some point AFTER you've reached the village yourself unless you'd left it a while.

b) They'd be highly unlikely to know it was you personally even if they'd heard of it. Sure, once your character is a bit more distinguished perhaps in appearance but if you're running about looking like a regular bandit or whatever they wouldn't guess I suspect.

The idea of your appearance being based on your 'alignment' isn't really great either. The purity/corruption thing could almost work if you just borrowed certain elements (e.g. smoking, drugs and generally not looking after your character would dull their appearance whatnot with more indulgence leading to looking severly unhealthy while avoiding that would leave them looking a bit more fresh faced and vibrant).

If you're going to look like a demon let it be from actions rather than a slider... working for the shadow should 'gift' you with inhuman changes (kind of like worshipping chaos :D ) but just being a jerk? Not so great.

As the article points out, 'evil' isn't well considered in Fable either. You can't join bandits or lead them or any other sort of thing: the only community allowed is the 'good' one. Rather than letting evil players essentially use monster cities and bandit camps as their villages while the normal, good, human ones become their 'dungeons' and 'bandit camps' you're just stuck in the same channel as good players.

I think morality is an interesting facet games could play on but they need to get out of the current rut they're in on this particular topic and start looking to stories, even some of their own stories, for guidance. The temptation of power at the cost of your humanity leading people astray so they become the terrifying villian with followers and slaves and an evil gothic castle is something ill-explored, except, it seems, when they're writing the plot for the guy you're meant to kill (even if your evil ways would have actually meant you were more inclined to work with them than kill them).