Monday, November 15, 2010

low stakes

As promised, more on Fable 3 – this time tracking closer to Mr Wasteland and Brainy Gamer’s conversations.


Assuming we’re all gamers here – we’ve all faced moral “dilemmas” in games. In Dragon Age, we can sell elves into slavery for profit! In Mass Effect, we can choose to save dangerous space aliens at our own risk! In Mass Effect 2, we can choose to save dangerous space aliens at our own risk!

Those decisions are barely more complicated than choosing if you should save up money for your future or stab your parents to get your inheritance now. Instead of true dilemmas where you have to negotiate a delicate moral balance between following your principles or making sacrifices to fight another day, you’re more often left with the choice between:

(1) Do something that breaks social taboos or violates common sense for immediate benefit, with a murky chance of repercussions that won’t end your game outright

(2) Do something good for no immediate benefit, with a slightly higher chance you’ll be rewarded in other ways (Exp, alignment points, etc. ).


(1) Do something hilariously evil for no purpose for minor gain and with no negative impact whatsoever

(2) Do something moderately-to-hilariously ambiguous-to-benevolent in order to avoid option (1).

And it’s always weighty. It’s always, fate-of-the-world-is-in-your-hands, do-these-civilians-live-or-die.

Fable 3 threw me for a loop by giving me chickens.

At the end of the Chicken Chaser quest, you get a lengthy and hilarious debate between a farmer and his wife about the fate of the runaway chickens (“They could have destroyed the town! Possibly the world!”), ending with the farmer pleading: “You’ve lived among them. You’ve seen their ways. You decide what to do”.

Your options are:

(1) Kill the chickens.

(2) Save the chickens.

Also, this entire time, you’re wearing a chicken suit. Completely absurd. Over-the-top ridiculous.

And I was stuck.

Let the chickens live cooped up, occasionally breaking out and threatening the civilian populace (Well… probably threatening them. They did cluck out a marching song as I led them back, and that’s clear militarism) – or kill the chickens and let the villagers have some peace of mind?

After all, killing chickens isn’t really “evil”. It doesn’t bump up against my moral boundaries. In fact, I do it all the time. I had chicken fingers this week, as well as chicken breast, and chicken stock, and even some eggs!  And this early in the game, I wasn’t committed to a particular ideology. So I stared at the screen and thought about how to choose between mercy-killing and stuffing chickens into captivity.


Fable 3 handed me a choice that was inconsequential, but completely critical to how I would play the rest of the game. It ended up being the point at which I chose the alignment I would keep for the rest of the game. If it were elves in those cages, it would have been a completely different situation – the moral choice would have been stark and quickly decidable . Low-stakes, absurdist humor was able to get my attention, and create an ambiguous moral situation in a way heavy “evil enemy is amassing on the horizon” setups couldn’t.