Monday, October 27, 2008

Infamy in Albion

I'm new to this whole "evil" thing. I've never reveled in the suffering of others, never hunted down innocents with malicious intent. My only foray into malevolent gaming was leveling an undead character in World of Warcraft. And I didn't even kill Alliance players.

But the dark side has its allure, so when I pre-ordered Fable II, I made the decision to be the most cruel and loathsome miscreant I could. I made a deal with a friend: he would be the noble hero of Albion, and I would be the villain. I am taking my time with Fable II, mostly working on my real estate empire, yet my wicked deeds have already had drastic repercussions. Though I'm enjoying the game immensely, it isn't easy being bad.

Before treading the path of the villain, I thought about why I usually play a champion of good. Maybe it's a bad excuse, but it is easier for me to relate to an honorable character. It may be my kind, cuddly, panda-bear sized heart, but I'm sure it has something to do with narrative as well.

I'm hesitant to believe anyone can do "evil" right. I saw Star Wars Episode III; thus, I know how ridiculously cliche becoming a Sith lord can be. Accordingly, I've always presumed game designers intended me take the holy route, allowing devilish deeds as an afterthought. Much to the disappointment of friends, I've never gone to the dark side in KOTOR. Fable II would be my chance to dabble in iniquity.

The game starts you off as a poverty stricken child of Bowerstone on a quest for gold. My first evil act was to give liquor to a struggling alcoholic. The choice was a clear dichotomy: Give the bottle to a caring woman or feed a poor man's addiction. That put me in an uncomfortable situation. How do I justify feeding the paupers booze habit for money when another woman is offering me the same reward if keep it from him? I'm a poor kid with a kind sister and every reason to help a fellow urchin get back on the wagon, but I was determined to go evil.

This early scenario was quickly followed up by similar decisions: Option A = good, Option B = bad, with both granting you the same compensation. I found these unsatisfying. Was I really acting in character? Sure there are some brat kids, but I found it hard to believe, with equal outcomes, I would make the villainous choice.

Upon entering adulthood, my acts of depravity grew to epic proportions. First, I started walking into houses to steal from strangers or sleep on their beds. Soon I was a hired assassin and a cultist, seducing men and women into marriage just to lure them to their death, sacrificing monks in fours. I felt most uncomfortable when I cornered a solitary child, danced to his amusement, and enticed him to follow me. I had become the pied piper of Albion! (Never fear, the game stops you short of killing children or bring them to your unholy alter.)

Early in the game, evil deeds are committed at the whim of the player, with little clarification for your character's motivations. Late in the game, you no longer need justification. With every evil act I commit, my appearance grows more hideous. Horns have sprouted from my head and men, women, and children run in fear whenever I walk into town, making human interaction nearly impossible. My devilish persona is hated, and I grow increasingly impatient with the citizens of Albion, opting to kill my way through the population rather than garner their favor to earn gifts.

Moral decisions in Fable II are simplified, offering an obvious dichotomy of pure good and pure evil. Offering little rationalization for your misdeeds, vile behavior justifies itself. Pernicious behavior is fun but often insincere.

I am enjoying the game immensely and can forgive it for some its over-simplification. It is a fable after all, and fables are known for such tropes. I've grown tired of fairy-tale-morality, but not fairy tales. In the future, If I am to control a character's moral compass, I would prefer ambiguous moral dilemmas with uncertain outcomes. All decisions should come at a cost. Fallout 3 may offer just that, but until I find time in this deluge of holiday releases, I'll savor my infamy in Albion.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. The original reason game developers offered the evil option was for us contrary bastards who just didn't like to be forced to be good. This origin clearly continues to shape the trope.

    Why am I giving booze to a boozehound? Because I'm tired of doing the good thing. It's not really supposed to be in-character because the option is there for people who are thrown out of the immersion by the relentless moralization anyway.

    The problem simply is that I doubt Molyneux or his staff were aware of this.